Sunday Box Talk – How To Take a Sabbatical


I’ve taken sabbaticals a couple times in my life.  While it’s scary to buck the accepted norm, doing so can teach you a lot about yourself and why you’re on this planet.

The first time, I was twenty-five.  I decided to make a solo climb on Mount Lassen, in Northern California.  I got nearly to the peak and sat down to take a break.  Looking south over the Sierra Nevada Mountains, I realized something:  if I followed what my parents wanted me to do, I’d end up where they were – and I didn’t want that.  I didn’t want a predictable, safe, corporate life.

I wanted to be a writer.

I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was very young.  Unfortunately, writing isn’t one of those career choices that overjoy parents, particularly when their priority is to have the kind of offspring that they can brag about.  My mother died ashamed of my career choices, convinced that the life choices I made were going to send me down the path to failure.  Fortunately for me, by the time she told me that, I knew in my bones that being a writer was the right choice for me.

But to get there, I had to walk through fire.  At twenty-five, I ran my own department at a large corporation in Silicon Valley.  When I gave notice to quit, the Vice President – General Manager of one of the three main business units called me into his office.  He offered me the assignment I’d busted my ass to earn:  Market Research Analyst in a team that had offices worldwide – including Russia, which directly related to my bachelors’ degree in Russian.

I turned him down.

Instead, I moved north to the town of Mount Shasta.  We lived on fifty acres of forested land, seven miles out of the tiny town named after the mountain.  I worked in a local bookstore for a dragon of a boss, one of the first abusive bosses I had.  The torture was worth it:  I spent all my time writing or hiking.  In the year that I was there, I produced over fifteen hundred pages and learned a very important lesson:

Publishers don’t knock your door down with contracts to publish your book.

I realized that my next step was to get a good day job that would support my writing passion.  I moved to Las Vegas for two years, which was an awful idea.  Las Vegas is not the town for me.  I found Chicago.  I’ve been here ever since.  After working in the finance industry for almost ten years, I realized that I wanted to downshift, and took another sabbatical.

And now, I realized I have some ideas on how to make sabbaticals work.  I figured I’d share with you.

Five tips for a successful sabbatical.

  1. Be brave.  Be willing to face the possibility of failure.
  2. Lower your financial expectations.  You’ll be surprised what you can live without if you try.
  3. Learn to save.  Even if you can’t take a year off today, you can start saving money so you can do that when you want to.
  4. Shorten your timeframe.  I know a year-long sabbatical sounds romantic, but sometimes we just can’t swing it due to financial realities and family commitments.  If that’s the case, try swinging a weekend or two weeks’ vacation.  Get a hotel or even a youth hostel and work on your writing.
  5. Decide what your priorities are.  Do you want to be successful at your corporate job, working for someone else’s dream?  Or do you want to be a writer and follow your own pied piper?

3 Replies to “Sunday Box Talk – How To Take a Sabbatical”

  1. You have a degree in Russian? I took Russian 101 when I was in my 20s and loved it. Got the highest score in the class. On to Russian 102. Guess what. The class got cancelled because the students didn’t sign up. They thought it was too hard. 🙁 Anyway, it has been a long, long time and I have forgotten so much. But now there is a neighbor down the hall who is Russian and doesn’t speak English. Time to dust off the old textbook, get my Russian program going and give it another try. There is a potential problem though. I’ve been wanting to learn Polish, which I need for genealogy research and the two languages are similar — some of the same words but accent on a different syllable. Can I do both? What a challenge that would be!

    1. I’m sorry they canceled your 102 class; that’s too bad! Russian and Polish are similar but not the same, and you can learn both. I’m not sure if trying to do so at the same time will be as comfortable, but it can be done. You might check if your Russian-speaking neighbors speak Polish; they might help tutor you. 🙂

  2. I thought about that. I also have a neighbor that asks for help with various things, but she speaks Bosnian. She is very old and gets upset easily when she can’t remember the few English words she learned. Need to learn to be able to communicate with her as well. Good grief!

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