It was probably around the Christmas 2015 that the idea of making some life changes started to take form. The year 2015 had been a particularly tough and frustrating year at work. I had a growing sense of frustration with the direction that my working life had taken. I realised that I used to eagerly wait for mondays or the holidays to end to return to work. I LOVED my work: loved to be a researcher at the university and the challenge of writing an article or preparing a presentation. Most of all, I loved to be paid to read and to learn.
But that Christmas I realised that that joy was long gone. Somewhere, along the road, something had changed. May be it was me or may be it was the job, but I felt that my passion for what I was doing was gone and now I dreaded Sundays because it meant that soon I will have to go back to work again.
As it usually happens, I turn into books for answers to what I was feeling. I started with a book that has become the standard present to all our friends experimenting a job crises – How to find a fulfilling work by Roman Krznaric (2012).
I went through all exercises with a newly found energy. I made a “map of choices”, portraying changes in work passion, values and priorities, I prepared a job advert based on my talents, passions vales, sent it to friends for feedback about possible jobs and listened carefully to their suggestions. [side note: the response was amazing…even friends with whom I had not been in touch for a long time took time thinking about my request and providing feedback! THANK YOU!]. The result was clear, all my previous work changes had been driven by passion or talent, and I had lost the passion for the topics that I was working with. My heart was with conservation issues and animal welfare and I felt strongly that I wanted to make a difference in the real world. So, the next step was how to make that change. While Krznaric was a terrific book in terms of analysis, it did not go very deep in providing strategies to make the change happen in practice. For that, and after some trial and error, I ended up with Herminia Ybarra’s “Working Identity: Unconventional Strategies for Reinventing your Career”.
This great book starts where Krznaric’s “How to find a fulfilling work” ends. The main idea is that we all have different identities and that it is very difficult if not impossible to find a work that fulfil them all. The book is very practical in offering advise on how to experiment with different jobs/selves before making any irrevocable decision. The book offers very hands on suggestions on how to make the shift. Two stuck in my mind: to devote one day a week to experiment with something new and to take a sabbatical. The seed was implanted…
So, in 2016 I started to work 4 days a week (something that Frank had done for a long time) and devote the fifth day to nurturing my new identity: read about conservation, get specific training on sustainability, start building new networks in conservation and sustainability and work as volunteer in conservation. This lasted for almost a year…until I changed jobs and had to go back to working 5 days (and 6) a week. But the new job offered me an opportunity to link my old focus on innovation with the new on sustainability and sustainable development. I took a course on Ecological Economics in Oxford and another course in Sustainability at the Stockholm University, which convinced me that I was on the right path. My passion was back….and with that the unstoppable stream of books about….ecological economics, sustainability, biodiversity, innovation in conservation…(may be another blog entry). The idea of taking a sabbatical to volunteer in conservation and wildlife welfare took another step forward.
I started searching for funding sources for a sabbatical. In Sweden, where we work and live, sabbaticals are not well established in academia as in other countries like Norway, Canada or the Netherlands. In these countries, sabbaticals are considered to be a way to generate new ideas and possibly spark new research agendas for the following years. In Sweden, there is only one source of funding for sabbaticals by the Rijksbanken Jubileum Fund. Surprisingly, the funding is only meant for writing a piece of work consolidating PAST work…but not for learning new topics or developing new research agendas for the FUTURE. So, the only alternative for a “renewal” sabbatical is to take a leave without pay for the university and self-fund the sabbatical.
So, this is exactly what we decided to do. I should say that although these all sounds like a one person journey, Frank was my sparring partner for ideas all along. And it was no different when we started talking about the possibilities to self-fund our sabbatical and do it…instead of waiting for the right (funding) opportunity to arrive. So, we made the decision and we set a date 2020.
The date was set for practical reasons- the new projects that I had started in my new job would be consolidated by then and the project in which Frank was working was to be finished at the end of 2019, so the it was possible to plan his absence for 2020. But it had also an emotional reason. In 2020 I will turn 50 and I had seriously considered what I wanted to do in the “other half” of life (mid term crises?). Spending my 50th year on a sabbatical after working non-stop for more than 25 years sounded wonderful.
We also decided on Costa Rica for different reasons that I will explain in another post. So, date and place set, I could start the REAL planning. And guess what? I started searching for books about how to plan a sabbatical. After many frustrating reads, I ended up with Allen´s et al book “Reboot your life: Energize your career and take a break”.
In contrast to other books in the market, this book is not geared the 18 year old person that decides to take a gap year nor the ones that are retired and are looking for a place in the sun to stretch their pension but it explicitly focus on people with some working experience that decide to reboot their lives by taking a break. It even discusses the challenges and possible motivations of work breaks for those in the forties and fifties. BINGO!
The book starts discussing the different types of sabbaticals (career enhancement, reinvention, family-related, emotional healing, volunteering, life-enhancement and pre-retirement) and their challenges but most of the book is devoted to planning the sabbatical: from funding the sabbatical to planning the sabbatical to executing the sabbatical…month by month 😉 YIPIIEEE! (I can almost hear the voice of my dear friend Helena saying that Virgos love planning!). It even contains a planning check list… the ultimate happiness tool for a Virgo 😉
What happened next is going to be the focus of other blog about how we started our own planning and the inspiration we got not only from the book but from other sabbaticals.