Planning My Sabbatical

Updated: Dec 11, 2019

When I left my job a couple of years back to take a 6-month sabbatical to travel and volunteer in the Himalayas, a lot of people in my organization came up to tell me that they had always thought of doing something similar but didn’t. So, at that point of time, I had documented my thoughts on how I went about with making up my mind about the sabbatical and planning out what I wanted to do in this time.

One of the first things I did after I started toying with the idea of a sabbatical was to type these words in Google search- ‘Should I take a sabbatical?’ That threw up a Pandora's box of wildly different opinions. There was one gentleman who said it ruined his life and was the worst thing he had ever done. He went on to describe how several people he knew took a break from work to live in smaller towns and spend time doing things they liked all came back frustrated with all the free time and the sudden lack of a tangible social life to spend it on. ‘The only good thing about taking a break from work’- he went on to say- ‘is that you come back with a newfound appreciation for your old routine.’ There was of course the standard feel-good study done by a certain professor at Harvard that lists the benefits of a ‘gap year’ to rejuvenate the soul. Sometime during the day, my mother sent me an email titled ‘Why Quitting Your Job to Chase Your Dream Is a Terrible Idea’ with yet another story of disappointment. At the end of it, I had anything but clarity on what I wanted to do.

Lesson learnt. Do not count on Google to make your life decisions for you.

‘I am bored of my work so need a change.”

“I need to get over a heartbreak.”

“I need to reevaluate my career choices.”

“I want to follow my hobby full time.”

“I have a plan which will help me learn some new skills on the go and help me in what I want to do in life after this break.”

I think these are the worst and best reasons to go on that big break, in that order. If boredom or heartbreak is the reason you want to quit your job and try something new, I suggest a short leave after which you can get back to your regular routine with a fresh perspective. A cousin was recently telling me about how traveling in Kashmir for a couple of weeks helped her get over a breakup. Another friend said a one-month backpacking trip to Europe helped him gain some perspective and get back to work with a lot more focus.

I admit I had rather flimsy triggers for wanting to quit my job, and realized I needed a better reason to justify this drastic change. Going off to small towns in the Himalayas for 6 months at a stretch would mean a lot of things. Irregular internet access, no salary, obsessing over small expenses, struggling to find odd jobs, not being sure of having access to filtered water, an even bed to sleep on or a toilet with a door. Even the lack of a possibility to head to a pub on a ladies night for a drink can be overwhelming. That’s when you need a hook- a strong reason to do what you’re doing.

I think identifying that is as important as the journey itself. You can’t find the right answers if you are asking the wrong questions. These are some of the questions I asked myself when deciding whether to take the leap:

1. Finding the hook

Keeping money out of the equation, is there something that you feel very passionate about? Something you can keep doing for 6-8 hours a day over a few months and not get bored. It could be writing, painting, photography, pottery, teaching or a mix of 2-3 of these.

In my case, I felt strongly about feminism, education and environment. So I decided if I could spend 6 months volunteering at different organizations working in these domains, I would get by.

2. Is there a hobby I want to work on?

To make this period more emotionally fulfilling, its a good idea to identify a skill you want to develop or a hobby you would like to spend more time on. In my case, I want to be able to write more.

3. Am I financially sorted?

Do you want to live simply or lavishly? Calculating how much money you need each month, factoring in a little extra for any health related expenses is crucial. In case you are falling short of the figure, either stick to your job till you can save that much or find alternative ways of earning. There are several opportunities for freelancing I have been exploring- Hindi to English translators for publishing and production houses, freelance writing, website UI design and so on.

4. How comfortable am I with being alone?

Solo travel is a great way to meet new people, experience the local culture and get to know yourself better. But it may also require you to be on your own for long periods of time. If you are not comfortable with the idea of being alone, will you be able to acclimatize and get to know people over a few weeks? If not, getting associated with a local organization is a great way to get to know more people and feel at home at a new place.

5. Long term purpose

It is alright to not have clarity about this. But it is good to ask yourself- if you did not have to worry about money or feasibility, is there any one thing you would like to achieve or start doing by the end of this break? In my case, I have always wanted to start something of my own so I plan to take time out to work on that as a side project.

Exploring the answers to these questions helped me streamline what exactly I wanted from this journey and got me to plan better.


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