Of the nearly 15 books that I have read about sabbaticals and career change, there are a couple that I would recommend wholeheartedly to anyone thinking of going through this renewing and re-invigorating experience. One of them is “Reboot your life” by Allen, Bearg, Foley and Smith. They talk about four phases of a sabbatical: creating space, reconnection, exploration and re-entry.
The first phase, creating space is about creating the mental space for a sabbatical. It is a bout closing the running projects and setting up some time off to really enjoy the disconnection to your everyday life. For me, it was about making sure that I could take a year off work, by making sure that all my responsibilities at the university could be taken over by someone else.
The second phase, reconnection, is about recovering energy. For us, it was the month holiday in Guanacaste at the start of the sabbatical, when we did nothing else but sleeping, reading, blogging, trying different types of coffee and getting an overdose of vitamins with a diet intense in fresh veggies and tropical fruits. Only at the end of that month we were ready to learn new things – surfing for Frank and …..doing nothing for me 😉
The third phase, the exploration phase is about trying out new things. This has been the core of our 8 months of volunteer work in a large conservation organization, a wildlife rescue center and a biological research station, where we have learnt among others things about tropical ecology, turtle conservation, marine protected areas, the functioning of conservation NGOs and wildlife rescue centers, wildlife rehabilitation and in the near future about research stations and research tourism.
The last of the sabbatical phases, the re-entry phase, is about reflecting on what the sabbatical has taught us and how we want to apply it when re-entering our work life. For some, it is about changing jobs altogether and using the last part of the sabbatical for job hunting. For others, it is about introducing changes in their existing job, like working less and focus on those activities that provide you more joy, trying to keep the stress at bay.
Even though we are still in our exploration phase, we have both started to think about our re-entry. These is the last quarter of our sabbatical after all and we start seeing the darkness at the end of the (sunny) tunnel. And to be completely honest, I get a clutch in the stomach every time I think returning to Lund and Sweden in the middle of the winter.
For me, some of the most important insights of this sabbatical is how important it is to work on something that allows me to have a direct impact on wildlife conservation. Spending years to publish something on innovation that very few will read does not appeal to me anymore. I would like to focus on fewer projects that will allow me to go deeper. I would also like to reduce my level of responsibilities. Being a nobody in the organization has been greatly refreshing so I would like to give up all types of leadership roles, even if it means a cut in the salary. That is probably the item in the wish list that will require more work. Being a full professor and not leading anything is highly unlikely. But I will try.. In terms of lifestyle, it is clear to me now how important it is for my mental health to live in a warm sunny country, where I can live outdoors and wear flipflops.
How I will achieve this is a work in progress. I feel like a piece of a puzzle that has changed shape…but needs to come back to the same place in the puzzle. The good news is that I still have three months to figure that out!