The Sabbatical Experiment Completed

Sunset at Holly Point, North Carolina

Sunset at Holly Point, North Carolina

The Sabbatical Experiment Completed

In February of 2017, my husband and I quit our jobs, sold our home of 35 years, and headed out on a trip that was to last a full year. It sounded marvelous. So many years of balancing two careers, raising a family, tending to aging parents, and active roles in community service left us feeling a bit empty. This break was all about recharging our batteries and re-discovering our mission for the next chapter of our life. Now, at the end of our sabbatical year maybe it's time to consider what we learned. 

There are so many things that changed us during this year of fallow. On the more esoteric side, we learned the road less traveled is the road to take. Because we know time is limited, we enjoyed the serendipity of this year taking the opportunity to experience the ever-evolving adventure. 

I can say in all truthfulness that the sabbatical was different than we planned or expected. Part of that is due to the interruption of real-life. A move from an apartment to a shared house and completing those renovations meant we had to stay closer to home than expected. 

So, instead of heading West to see the National Parks there, we adapted our travel plans to explore the East Coast. We ventured out for three major trips lasting three to five weeks each, and we made dozens of shorter, more local trips to fill in the gaps. Along the way, these two "city-kids" fell in love with camping, hiking, and kayaking while enjoying serendipitous adventures from Key West to Maine.

We expected to spend a lot of time with other RVers seeing new places. Instead, our travels took us back to our childhood hometown where we caught up with old friends, walked the streets of the old downtown, and wistfully accepted the changes time had wrought. 

We expected to spend a lot of time at the beach, our favorite destination but marveled at countless sunrises and sunsets at lakes, rivers, and bays. There are coastlines at the edge of every body of water and the same sun and moon preside over them all. We found a new love for woodlands and mountain forests. Natural beauty can be found everywhere so why limit ourselves to one genre?

We expected to visit big destinations but developed an appreciation for authentic small towns set away from the tourist areas. Visiting local hardware stores, mom and pop restaurants, and enjoying quaint downtowns helped us to understand that people are pretty much the same everywhere. 

We expected to keep trips short because of the confined space of our tiny RV, but found five weeks on the road was quite comfortable in just 200 square feet. Our need for material goods and the space to house them was overrated. A simpler life is lighter and less confining. 

Looking back, what we expected might not have been as enjoyable as what we actually experienced. Adapting to change and embracing serendipity is often a good thing. We had spent many years carefully planning our day-to-day activities. We scheduled our calendar with the expectation of multi-tasking every sector, 'To fill every minute with sixty seconds of distance run' as Rudyard Kipling said in his poem, "If". Serendipity is the enemy of planning but is the harbor for a curious mind. A curious mind makes adapting to change more of an adventure than a crisis and that attitude benefits every part of our lives. 

I suppose the most prominent realization we had during this sabbatical, was that accomplishing work is not the same as accomplishing life. Although we may gain skills and accolades from our work, those become outdated and forgotten. It is the development as a person that matters in the long run and we have a limited life to accomplish that development. 

We have enjoyed our careers, and this time off helped us put our work into perspective. Looking back over all the jobs we have had, we discussed the personal and professional developments we experienced from each. We also gave consideration to the things we enjoyed about each job and talked about how those activities, people, and places shaped us. And, perhaps, that is a key to loving your work. When the way your work shapes you as a person matches up with the person you hope to eventually be, your work can be a source of joy. Conversely, if our work does not develop us in some meaningful way, then it leaves us feeling unbalanced. We will tend to be continually seeking something more, looking for work that draws out our best and challenges us to develop as a person. 

I used to think that dedication to my work and doing my best would provide growth through the experience - even if I didn't like the job. Now I am not so sure. When there is no joy in our work both we and the work suffer. We are focused on just getting the job done. Our task is more about building efficiency into the work rather building ourselves or improving the work. We miss the potential that arises from personal engagement in our work. But, when we enjoy the work, fully engaging in the activity, embracing the issues to be solved, we bring more than just our capacity to get the job done. We bring our unrealized potential to the work, developing new ways to improve ourselves and our work.  

Our sabbatical experiment harbored change as a development tool and it has expanded our capacity to do and be more than we have already done and been. From here, we will look for a new challenge - A project or career that requires us to bring our unrealized potential to the table. And we know what we have learned during this sabbatical year prepares us for the inevitable changes ahead.