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.