Why You Should Consider a Career Sabbatical

How would you like to take six months off work and travel the world?

Crazy or strategic?

Some believe it’s the later. Modern professionals even have a modern career-related word for it – career “sabbatical”.

A career sabbatical is a break from your 9-to-5 that allows you to recharge and refocus your direction. Sabbaticals can be completely customized to the professional. Some take off a few weeks, others a few years. Some quit working during the sabbatical, while others line-up a different type of work for their sabbatical duration.

Outside of trust fund heirs and academic scholars, I hadn’t heard of a career sabbatical until a few years after business school.

One of my colleagues had poured his heart and soul into a Silicon Valley tech startup, made some money, lost some money, made a little money back, and was completely burned out. Long hours, business deals gone south, and a no work-life balancehad left him hating his work and questioning his career path. Instead of doing a complete 180 professional-wise, he went on sabbatical, taking a few months off to hike a few mountain ranges.

That got me thinking…maybe sabbaticals are something that can benefit everyday professionals?

Then my spouse was injured during military service, and career came to a screeching halt as we spent years going from hospital to hospital. Almost overnight, my once-stable work transformed into a start-stop-start-stop mess that *eventually* leveled out into my current day job as a marketing professional.

My unplanned career sabbatical turned out to be an invaluable experience that helped me develop new skills and find new professional clarity.

career sabbatical

Why take a career sabbatical?

Some professionals may schedule a sabbatical to reflect and recharge, figure out their next career move, and prepare themselves for exciting new things.

Others – like myself and millions of other family caregivers – find a career sabbatical forced upon them due to circumstances outside their control. Unfortunately, many established organizations fail to provide flexible work environments necessary to allow caregivers to remain within the competitive workplace (even though necessary technological tools readily exist).

Whether you choose to take a career sabbatical or find one forced upon you, a temporary step back from your current career path can provide the opportunity for a professional pivot that has the potential to spark worthwhile long-term career goals.

career sabbatical

How can you make a career sabbatical work?

Are you interested in taking a career sabbatical?

Want to know how you can practically (and responsibly) do it?

Read on!

First things first – you’re going to have to pay bills during your career sabbatical.

Good news: there are actually tons of ways to do this.

Here are a few of the monetary options I’ve come across amidst fellow sabbaticals:

  • Join the Peace Corps (they now offer short-term assignments starting at three months)
  • Paid fellowships (typically found within academia or NGOs)
  • Get a part-time gig somewhere cool (this is what I did, just not somewhere cool)
  • Freelance (I also did a lot of this)
  • Start your own location-independent business (what my freelancing developed into)
  • You can also save a lot of money, but that typically only works for planned sabbaticals – not unexpected one’s family caregivers often face.
volunteering career

Once you’ve got the money side of your sabbatical covered, you’re going to need to do some savvy communication with your existing network. Why do they matter? Well, you’re going to need quality references and work leads once you return from your sabbatical. Don’t want to burn any professional bridges that you don’t absolutely have to.

A few tips on your pre-sabbatical networking tasks:

  • Communicate enough details about your unique situation that your colleagues and employers don’t feel sidelined by your absence.
  • Communicate when you’ll be returning (doesn’t have to be a specific date, just an idea) so your professional relations don’t feel ghosted.
  • Consider including your select members of your network in your sabbatical journey. Start a blog that talks about your travels or write an update email newsletter that you send out quarterly. You don’t want to fall off the map.

What a career sabbatical did for my career:

While my career sabbatical wasn’t planned (hospital waiting rooms aren’t nearly as exciting as hiking adventures) and it certainly interfered with my goals (my student loans are not paid off), it provided me with a unique perspective that continues to shape my professional direction.

I had to support my family after the war. This meant working multiple part-time jobs, starting a blog (the one you’re reading), exploring career opportunities I would never have before – like teaching college or starting a consulting company, freelancing in a variety of industries, and cultivating new skills (coding, anyone?) that I would never have if my original career plans had remain uninterrupted.

Looking back over my career interruption-turned-sabbatical, I’m amazed at the scope of influence this period of time continues to have on my professional pursuits. I learned a lot, I changed a lot and gained a LOT more self-awareness that helps me figure out what my next career move looked like.

Taking some time off from the normal 9-to-5 can be a great way to assess your direction and adjust accordingly. Career sabbaticals are challenging. They stretch you. They test you. They have a low margin of error. Whether you’re burned out at a job you hate or just wondering what else could be out there, a sabbatical can truly be career – and life-changing.

Have you ever taken a career sabbatical?

Share your career sabbatical tips in the comments below!

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