The past few weeks, Cristina and I have been shocked to notice that the sabbatical year will be over soon. Super soon. It led us summing up all kinds of things about the last year : What were the best things and experiences? What have we learned about ourselves? What new skills have we acquired? What do we like and dislike about Costa Rica and the tropics? Last but not least, what have been the outcomes of the sabbatical? This post is about that last question.
For Cristina and me, the general purposes of the sabbatical were to recharge the mental batteries, and to think about what to do with the remaining 15 or 20 years before our retirement – assuming that there still will be something like that when we get there.
Let’s start with the mental batteries, because I have not much to say about that. Recharging the mental batteries for me simply means to not have to be busy with my regular work. It is not that I dislike my work and desperately needed some time away from it simply in order to keep going. In fact, I have loved all the jobs that I have had since I got my Masters’ diploma, 22 years ago. If I didn’t need the income, I would have done them for free.
So recharging the batteries, is simply that : like a long holiday. Some time off in which I do not have to think about the daily affairs (the good and the less good) of my job. In these 22 years, I have occasionally been unemployed for some months and I enjoyed those months very much. I could decide on a daily basis what to do and that feels relaxing to me. This year has been amazing, if only because it was a really long holiday where we could decide what to do on a daily basis, in an exceptional place with the best company I could wish for.
Now, let me go back to my last period of unemployment to explain about the other outcome of the sabbatical for me. It was in the first half of 2014 and my academic career had come to a stop. It’s a long story, with a short version as well but neither are worth repeating here. After the mourning was over, I was ready to find something completely new. I got lucky because I ended up getting a job that involved building a database. That is one of my childhood passions and something I had been doing as part of my academic jobs. On top of that, it was my first permanent job, which I thought I would never acquire. And the cherry on the cake: it was a job at a university – the one place I thought I would never see again from the inside. I was 45 and thought that that first half of 2014 basically was my midlife crisis.
Except that it wasn’t. Remember 2015? The Paris agreement? The one where virtually all countries of the world and in any case those big countries that could not care a piss in the sea about the climate, poverty, the environment and human rights (in case you had not noticed, they are a package deal), finally agreed something needed to be done. Urgently. And then they went home and started not doing what they promised the planet and humanity. It got me angry and I started realizing that my approach of ‘change the world, start with your own life’ was not going to be enough.
I also realized that if I want to do something meaningful, it is time to get going. Not only because of the big urgency, but also because 15 to 20 years is not a lot of time. My problem was that I did not know what to do. I wondered what is the single most important thing that needs to be done first and foremost to kickstart the urgent and massive change that the entire United Nations thought necessary. Except for a fling with sustainable investment, I could not come up with a good idea. That was until this sabbatical year, in which I made some progress while doing the volunteer work for Osa Conservation
As you may remember, they asked me to glue about 60 spread sheets together with data from their sea turtle program. Instead of manually cutting and pasting, I decided to make a database tool to help me with the work. While developing that database, the pieces of my puzzle finally fell into place.
I am going to make databases for nature conservation and other sustainability goals.
The ridiculous part of this insight is that it really is not so mind blowing. As I mentioned, databases are a childhood passion of mine, and the past few years I have been thinking of launching a company to build database applications for academic research. Apparently, it took a trip to Costa Rica and a volunteer project on sea turtles to simply re-direct this company idea to sustainability. It is also not so mind blowing because it is not even a radical re-direction. After all there is a lot of research (academic and non-academic) being done for sustainability purposes.
Is it the one single thing that will save the world? Obviously, I don’t think so. But in the end, it is not the most important thing for me. The most important thing is that, right now, it is the one single thing that I can do to try to make a meaningful difference. And I am going to work on this as hard as I can for as long as I can.