The When, Where, What and Why Of My Sabbatical
When I took a sabbatical in 2016, I didn’t even know I was taking one. I did know that I needed some time to clear my mind, to pay more attention to certain latent interests, to explore the possibility of changing professional tracks and transitioning into another phase. I knew there was so much I wanted to know, learn and experience, starting with a month-long road trip that had been in the making since my second year of college. The road-trip was the starting point of a journey that in some ways still hasn’t ended.
Over the next year and a half, I would edit a book on Kashmir, interact with local youth leaders in remote villages of Gujarat, attend a writing workshop in the Himalayas, learn yoga with my mother, walk on a frozen river for seven days, work with my friends on the website for their new NGO, write copiously about the city that shaped me and meet some incredible people so far removed from my limited social circles. Most importantly, I would test the waters in the social sector before eventually jumping in full time. I freelanced for an NGO in Baroda while continuing to write and travel on my own time. Actually, it was all my own time; time to savor my experiences, process my observations, pause and reflect on my feelings without the looming presence of a manic Monday morning in the background.
Sometimes I wish I had structured my time more constructively and packed in more during the 18 months. But one of the biggest takeaways from my ‘me time’ has been that it’s not always necessary for all experiences to translate into something tangible that you can capitalize on later on in life - like a new skill or important contacts.
Sometimes, it’s necessary to just be. To cut grass on the steep Himalayan slopes because your awkwardness amuses the hard working women of Sarmoli. To wade down a muddy river in a tropical rainforest in flip flops because you truly believe it’s the shortest way back. To spend a week with your friend while she’s immersed in field work because that’s the only way to really know someone - by living their life with them.
Veering off the course and wading into uncharted territory - professionally and personally - is a leap of faith. There’s no way to know what awaits you on the other side, but there are ways to ensure you land on your feet or at least cushion the fall if you don’t. The first is recognizing the privilege you have if you are even contemplating a sabbatical. Secondly, understanding what you wish to explore, doing research on prospective experiences, interacting with appropriate people to learn more and not treating your sabbatical as one big vacation to combat a professional burn out. Going on sabbatical is also hard work. The third and most crucial point is ensuring you are financially secure (with a little buffer) for the months that you intend to spend on your sabbatical.
It’s impossible to predict the outcome of a sabbatical, and that’s probably part of the appeal. You may choose to change professional trajectories or you may return to your previous employer with a renewed fervor. You may move to another city or you may feel closer to your family and friends. The options will be endless, because the experience is bound to offer you new perspectives and expand your horizons. If you feel the need to explore, to experience, to absorb, to slow down, to dig deeper - take the leap of faith.
Because if not now, when?