Sabbaticals are extended breaks from work and they are becoming prevalent these days.
While people used to take sabbaticals because of burnout from work, there is a growing trend in people taking sabbaticals to attend to other more urgent priorities or rethink their career direction.
A sabbatical is just like taking a pit stop during a long cross country car journey.
After 4 hours of non stop driving, you need to rest, freshen up, get food, petrol, check on journey progress and plan your route ahead before hitting the road again.
This makes sabbaticals a necessary or useful event in managing your career, rather than something frivolous or disruptive to your corporate climb.
In 2015, I took a year long sabbatical without pay to think through my career direction and refocus on the relationships around me.
It was a very refreshing experience which changed my perspective on work and life. So if you are considering a sabbatical for yourself, good for you!
However, as good or useful sabbaticals can be, you must properly manage your sabbatical, otherwise it could potentially damage your career plans.
Here are 5 tips on how you can use your sabbaticals to develop your career!
Apply for only what you need, be thankful for what you get.
Many people asked me how I determined the duration of my sabbatical.
My reply? “Take what you need.”
This implies that you need to know what the sabbatical is for!
Don’t take a sabbatical for fun or to escape from your dreaded boss.
A sabbatical is only purposeful if you have a purpose!
That purpose will also determine for you how long you need to be away from work and also justify to your employer for your absence.
I was very blessed to have a supportive company who approved my sabbatical.
Many companies don’t have the practice of granting extended periods of no pay leave.
So if you do have your company’s support for your sabbatical, be very grateful.
Even if the approved period is shorter than what you need, be grateful and readjust your sabbatical plan to see if the approved time frame works for you.
Remember, justify for your sabbatical and be grateful to your company. No employer likes an ungrateful worker.
Keep yourself connected with your workplace and the developments.
Not working could result in “out of sight, out of mind”!
You don’t want your employers to forget you, especially if you intend to return to the same department.
Keep in contact with your colleagues and bosses.
Festivals, birthdays and celebrations are an excellent way to do that because you can send your well wishes, catch up and find out how they are doing at the same time. Make it into a meetup if possible.
If you bump into someone from work, say “let’s catch up sometime for coffee” and make plans for it by setting a date.
These coffee sessions could fill you in on the latest developments and what you have been missing within your company.
Being in the “know” keeps you relevant in conversations with colleagues and more prepared when coming back to the workplace.
Start engaging people and activities that help you explore and develop your interests.
If you are planning to explore a different job after your sabbatical, make it a point to discover and develop your interest areas.
Talk to a Career Coach if you are unsure of your interests.
There are many of them in both private and public sector. A simple Google will reveal them.
These coaches would do profiling tests and exercises to help you discover things that are meaningful to you and your preferences.
These are important as they guide you towards certain direction.
Once you know where you need to go to, get going!
Look around your network to find people who could give you more information or even help you with a referral!
If your network is small, make some effort to build it up.
Attend networking events, professional seminars to meet more people. You never know, the next person to meet you could help you in the next step of your career!
If you can, volunteer or help on pro bono basis because most people will not reject help. Through this, you get to experiment, learn and clock in valuable experiences!
Set a goal, track your progress, avoid the lazy trap!
With time on your hands, it is easy to become lazy.
Waking up late, not dressing up, watching television, or focusing too much on domestic chores.
All these don’t bring value to your career.
Set yourself weekly goals and monitor your progress at the end of each week.
This keeps you on track towards your sabbatical purpose.
During my sabbatical, I used a 80-20 rule.
80% of my time was used on activities such as networking, taking courses that help build my career. 20% of my time was used on enjoyment or domestic chores.
Managing your time is really important because you no longer have a boss to be accountable to.
You are your own boss and it is really up to you to make full use of the time.
I would advise you to share your goals and progress with a close friend to build accountability.
We tend to be more motivated to work towards what we planned when there is someone we need to be accountable to.
Reconnect with people and build up your relationships
During your sabbatical, don’t forget to spend time on building healthy relationships with the people around you.
Having strong relationships will benefit you, consider it as a investment for your future because when you go through a rough patch in life, your relationships will become your network of support.
The people goes beyond family; it includes friends and acquaintances.
I reconnected with a university friend after 6 years when I bumped into him at a cafe.
We had a good catch up and are now planning some potential business projects together.
Remember, the bigger your support network, the better prepared you are for your uncertain future.
My year-long sabbatical was enjoyable and wonderful, a decision I never regretted.
If you are taking a sabbatical, I wish you the very best for your sabbatical and may you be refreshed and filled with renewed purpose for the next lap of your career journey!