How to Survive an Unplanned Sabbatical

You know all those posts about how busy is bad? Well, what if you sud­den­ly weren’t quite so busy? What would you do with the time you got back? Who would you become?

I had planned to write this in Decem­ber after start­ing a new job in down­town Detroit, recap­ping the eight months I spent ask­ing and answer­ing those ques­tions. Now I find myself back on the mar­ket after a quick two-month stint and am ask­ing the same ques­tions all over again. 

That said, I’ve dis­cov­ered a few tenets that seemed to real­ly help. I’ve shared them below.

  • Get lucky. This is the most impor­tant part. You don’t man­age to keep your life intact with­out hav­ing land­ed the kinds of jobs that pro­vide stock grants that you can cash in on your raini­est day. Plen­ty of peo­ple work real­ly hard every day and have no rainy day fund. If you are lucky, make sure you acknowl­edge it and be grateful.
  • You are not your job. This is one you see every­where. It’s still cru­cial to remind your­self, espe­cial­ly if you’ve been in roles where you’re con­sumer-fac­ing and or your iden­ti­ty can be eas­i­ly attached to the brand itself. After eight years of brand dig­i­tal and social media, it’s hard to sep­a­rate your­self from it. It’s the kind of thing that is help­ful to rec­og­nize may have had some neg­a­tive reper­cus­sions when it comes to work-life bal­ance. If you can work through this, you can make some impor­tant self-dis­cov­er­ies and path to roles that aren’t so tax­ing on your emo­tion­al well-being.
  • Talk to every­one. This isn’t net­work­ing. This is actu­al­ly con­nect­ing with peo­ple. There’s some­thing Musa said about look­ing at your life and career as a blank piece of paper, but this is big­ger than that, I think. Instead of approach­ing every con­ver­sa­tion as a trans­ac­tion, seek coun­sel. Con­nect. Recon­nect. Find a men­tor. You’ve been through a trau­mat­ic life event! It’s ok to open up and be vul­ner­a­ble to find deep­er truths about what you want to do with your one pre­cious and wild life.
  • Take your health back. Noth­ing above mat­ters if you don’t use the time you’ve got­ten back to work on every­thing from your diet to sleep. I chose to run an ultra­ma­rathon. I hope to run an even longer race this year. We under­val­ue the “life” por­tion of work-life bal­ance or inte­gra­tion or what­ev­er. That’s bad. Sure we have dead­lines and impor­tant projects, but we’re not sav­ing lives. Well, I’m not.
  • Find new favorite things. When I was­n’t run­ning, I was try­ing to feed my head with new ideas and cul­ture. I went to the library often. I rearranged my social time­lines. I watched a doc­u­men­tary series and became a fan of the Grate­ful Dead. The impos­si­ble sud­den­ly seems pos­si­ble! I did as much as I could to cut down on the screen time that had defined my work­ing life. Mak­ing your hob­by a job can have dan­ger­ous consequences.
  • Fig­ure out who you want to be next. This isn’t just a career thing. This is molt­ing the lay­ers of what­ev­er encas­es who you are when you’re not who­ev­er you were at work. For me, it meant paus­ing and real­ly get­ting to know my four year old. The time we spent togeth­er changed our rela­tion­ship entire­ly and was the pater­ni­ty leave I nev­er had. I became a bet­ter part­ner, too! Alter­ing your pri­or­i­ties has all kinds of unfore­seen knock-on effects. Embrace them.
  • Artic­u­late the vision you have for your­self. After a few months I was able to step back, gen­uine­ly reflect on my career, and put into words where I want to go. Caveat! Your next role might not be per­fect, but it should be some­thing you can see fit­ting into that vision. For me, mov­ing into con­tent was a step out­side of dig­i­tal and social. It’s impor­tant to think about your­self holis­ti­cal­ly, iden­ti­fy gaps in your expe­ri­ence and find places that might help you fill them.

That’s it! These are the rules I dis­tilled from my expe­ri­ence last year. I plan to use them again now, just hope­ful­ly for not as long. If you’ve been affect­ed by a job loss, don’t hes­i­tate to reach out. 

A Runner Reborn

When I lost my job in March, I knew above all else that I need­ed to start run­ning again. Not only did I need to get my arms around my car­dio­vas­cu­lar fit­ness after 8 straight years of being glued to a screen, I need­ed to get some time to reflect on my pri­or­i­ties now that I was­n’t star­ing into the gap­ing maw of the Internet.

But if you’re friends with me or have spo­rad­i­cal­ly read this blog, you know my track record. I had­n’t suc­cess­ful­ly com­plet­ed a train­ing cycle since 2009! I have so many shirts and so few fin­ish­es to show for it. How could I break that pat­tern and not suf­fer anoth­er demor­al­iz­ing injury? 

Well, for the first time ever, I lis­tened to my body. I stuck to the plan I out­lined here. I let myself rest. I did­n’t obsess over splits. I laughed at the idea of speed work. What I need­ed was time on my feet, which trans­lat­ed into the time to reflect and time to rebuild my spir­it. And even though I broke a car­di­nal rule and signed up for a race, I nev­er once thought about a hard and fast time as a goal. I set my sights on just fin­ish­ing. And it worked!

After a chal­leng­ing month of trav­el and tem­per­a­tures in August that knocked me off my usu­al train­ing reg­i­men, I toed the line at Run Wood­stock wor­ried that maybe I’d some­how under­trained after months of 50+ mile weeks. That was silly. 

The race was an amaz­ing expe­ri­ence. I ran a sol­id first loop that start­ed in the pre-dawn hours and end­ed with me dis­cov­er­ing that I’d worn mis­matched shoes! I met my pac­er and she guid­ed me through a chal­leng­ing sec­ond loop on very tired legs and an increas­ing­ly fuzzy mind. 

The fin­ish felt tri­umphant as I sprint­ed to the line. I fin­ished just out of the top five in my age group and in the top 25% over­all. But after break­ing my leg in 2016, just being able to com­pete and fin­ish is all I needed.

None of this would have hap­pened with­out the fan­tas­tic com­mu­ni­ty of run­ners sup­port­ing me, both local­ly and online. The Grosse Pointe Run­ners group has been invalu­able. My friends Britt and Jesse back in Philly have been great coach­es, reas­sur­ing me that I’d put in the work. Last­ly, the ultra­run­ning com­mu­ni­ty online, rang­ing from elite ath­letes over­com­ing their own per­son­al chal­lenges to the run­ners doc­u­ment­ing the scene, espe­cial­ly Gin­ger Run­ner.

After a decade of false starts it feels great to be back, but it feels even bet­ter to be in con­trol, mak­ing deci­sions that are mak­ing my life bet­ter in ways I’d hard­ly imag­ined. Get­ting to the start healthy was one goal; get­ting to the fin­ish healthy opens the door to adventure.

Cat Power — Wanderer

If a new album from Fred Thomas was­n’t enough, the news that Chan Mar­shall will be releas­ing her first record in six years made my week. I’m not usu­al­ly crazy about album trail­ers but I’ll make an excep­tion for Cat Pow­er. She’s one of those artists I don’t know I need until I hear it. The Great­est still haunts me twelve years lat­er. Now I just need some­thing to dis­tract me from the fact that this won’t be out until October.

Fred Thomas — Good Times Are Gone Again

I saw Fred Thomas open for Eleanor Fried­berg­er last year at Third Man Records down­town. His ver­bose indie pop on last year’s Chang­er caught me com­plete­ly off guard. How had I over­looked an artist whose music so res­onat­ed with me? “Open Let­ter to For­ev­er” is the per­fect mix of poignan­cy and com­e­dy. It’s a song that makes me smile every time I hear it.

Yes­ter­day, Fred’s first sin­gle from After­ing debuted at The Fad­er. I can’t wait to hear the rest of the album in September.

How to Defeat the Infinite Scroll

We all stare into the infi­nite scroll. Sure, it was once a ques­tion­able UI solu­tion that cre­at­ed an even more dubi­ous UX for sur­fac­ing con­tent on web­sites — don’t like what’s on the menu, well, what if that menu were end­less — now defines how we con­sume con­tent online, inter­rupt­ed only occa­sion­al­ly as the time­line lags. It’s an exhaust­ing, indis­crim­i­nate way to inter­act with media, but what’s the alter­na­tive? We lit­er­al­ly look at mobile devices hun­dreds if not thou­sands of times a day and the social web waits to scratch an itch our brains have to be con­stant­ly entertained.

Ever since the elec­tion, I’ve striv­en — unsuc­cess­ful­ly- to change my media diet. As some­one who con­sumes a ton of con­tent that streams through my var­i­ous time­lines for pro­fes­sion­al rea­sons, I’m try­ing to be more mind­ful of and inten­tion­al about my media con­sump­tion and the habits that enable it.

I’ve long admired Jason Kot­tke’s work and late­ly I’ve appre­ci­at­ed how he’s doc­u­ment­ed his media diet in much the same way one might keep a food jour­nal. Here’s a recent exam­ple.

To that end, I’ve com­piled a list of things I’m engag­ing on purpose!


  • Yo La Ten­go — There’s a Riot Going On. Seri­ous­ly just what the doc­tor ordered to start an unsea­son­ably cold spring. I did­n’t think they’d match the bril­liance of Fade, but this is a great coda on a won­der­ful career.
  • Stephen Malk­mus and the Jicks — Sparkle Hard. Ever since I heard the first sin­gle, “Mid­dle Amer­i­ca,” which sounds like it would fit com­fort­ably on Ter­ror Twi­light, yet still sounds fresh.
  • The Breed­ers — All Nerve. Ugh I know this has been very “Remem­ber the 90s” but the new Breed­ers has so much atti­tude! “Ner­vous Mary” is one of my favorite songs of the year.
  • Kamasi Wash­ing­ton — Heav­en and Earth. A per­fect­ly defi­ant record. It’s how I start Sun­day morn­ing in 2018.


  • Abbott. Sal­adin Ahmed’s phan­tas­magoric thriller set in the ’70s about a Detroit reporter inves­ti­gat­ing mur­ders in Cass Cor­ri­dor is reminscent of Lau­ren Bewkes’ fan­tas­tic nov­el, Bro­ken Mon­sters, but less nou­veau Detroit.
  • Red­dit. I remem­ber when Red­dit was cas­ti­gat­ed as being the inter­net’s cesspool, but now the notion of self-mod­er­at­ed com­mu­ni­ties that you can vis­it inten­tion­al­ly feels pret­ty great.


  • Every­thing trail and ultra run­ning, start­ing with The Barkley Marathons: The Race that Eats Its Young. The Barkley Marathons aren’t an insane race, they’re an exis­ten­tial cri­sis. A friend of mine from high school went this year to observe the race and he wit­nessed its bru­tal majesty first­hand. There were no fin­ish­ers this year. Check out The Year Barkley Won in Trail Run­ner Mag­a­zine, too.
  • Baby­lon BerlinJason wrote a bit about the music here, but I was pos­i­tive­ly spell­bound over 16 45-minute long episodes. “Zu Asche, Zu Staub” is a show­stop­per. Baby­lon Berlin is thrilling and punc­tu­at­ed by fan­tas­tic song and dance numbers.
  • The 2018 Philadel­phia Phillies. I’ve been bull­ish on the Phillies’ rebuild, but had not expect­ed them to lead the NL East in the first half. I also did­n’t expect the Braves to be at the door so quick­ly either.

I’ll try to update this on a quar­ter­ly basis. How do you man­age your cul­tur­al con­sump­tion habits?