When we hear about people taking a sabbatical, it is often a story of having an enviable, high-profile career and discovering that it wasn't all it was cracked up to be. These stories are dramatic and get press coverage like this one from Bloomberg:
But it's possible that your career has been closer to average. My career was (and continues to be) pretty average. Some hits, some misses. Generally good but not wildly successful. Does that sound like your career?
This self-evaluation can make you feel like you haven't earned the right to take a sabbatical. It can feel like you haven't achieved enough in your professional life to step back and take a break from it.
This thinking is dangerous because when we impose an outstanding career as a prerequisite to taking a sabbatical, we risk not taking the break we need when we need it.
You don't need a perfect career to justify taking a sabbatical.
A sabbatical is not a reward for succeeding at work, and we shouldn’t expect that only people with high-profile careers take one. A sabbatical is an extended period of time away from regular employment to rest, reflect, and re-plan (which is a great thing to do when your career isn’t going well). A lack of career achievements or milestones shouldn’t be a blocker to this exploration, and may even be a signal that you could benefit from a break.
The decision to take a sabbatical should be motivated by your needs and your resources, not somebody else’s story. With that in mind, how can you use an average career to your advantage?
Using Your Career Story Productively
When I was thinking about taking a sabbatical, it was useful to think about aspects of my career trajectory and how they fit into the story I wanted to tell myself.
Your sabbatical story is an important part of the sabbatical process because human beings are natural storytellers: we tell stories to ourselves and others to make sense of our motivations and actions.
To help figure out how to integrate your career experience into your sabbatical story, see if any of the following situations resonate with you. Maybe you:
- Worked for a certain number of years?
- Accomplished the goals you set for yourself when you started working at a particular company, in a certain role, or on a project?
- Are excited for a new direction; is there something you want to learn or do during your sabbatical?
Use these elements in your narrative to help yourself and others understand why you’re taking a sabbatical. Reflecting on these questions helped me break out of the inertia of work, and they may help you do the same.
It’s important to use these answers positively and to resist the urge to compare your career experience or sabbatical plans with others. If you find yourself getting swept up in comparing your career or life with others, notice it with kindness and take a step back without judging yourself.
If you find other sabbatical stories inspiring and don’t have a problem comparing yourself to others, The Sabbatical Project has a great index of personal stories on their Stories page, with options to filter stories by different age ranges and life situations. Find someone with a similar career or life challenge and see how they used their sabbatical!