Six months of studying sabbaticals down, six more to go.
Eight months ago, I quit my job to recover from burnout and build a life that I wouldn't burn out on again. I didn't find many good resources for guiding this process (and I had recently read Austin Kleon's Show Your Work) so I started talking and writing about my sabbatical experience.
Talking and writing about my work break has been a great way to get more out of it—writing for the self-reflection and crystallization of experience, and talking with other people to compare notes and get inspired.
However, I’ve struggled to turn these parts into something larger. A sabbatical guide for mid-career professionals presented as a proper book could help more people and have a bigger impact than a scattering of blog posts. The slow progress hasn't been terrible since a large part of my sabbatical exploration has been finding a sustainable work pace—and doing things that aren't work.
However, my current pace feels a bit slower than I'd like and loses some of the upsides of showing my work more frequently—momentum, motivation, feedback, and learning. Also, keeping people excited about what I'm working on without boring them by only ever talking about sabbaticals. In order to get back on track, I recently sat down and sketched out what’s working, what’s not working, and a plan for the next six months. I’m hoping this will help keep me accountable and point me in the right direction when I feel adrift :)
- There's been a good bit of interest from my friends and colleagues (mostly disaffected tech workers) in solving the emotional challenges of sabbaticals in order to get the most benefit from the time off.
- I've talked to about a dozen people about their sabbatical experiences. A surprising commonality has been facing the emotional challenges you encounter over the course of taking a sabbatical—building confidence to leave the security of your job, truly stepping away from judging your productivity, and designing a new schedule for yourself that allows you to explore, create, and connect.
- I've written a few thousand words across ten posts about what it’s like planning and taking a sabbatical, and re-organized my website to make it easier for people to find content that is relevant to them.
- I have a table of contents that outlines my process of taking a sabbatical and feels like a good starting point for more detailed writing and critique.
What's not working?
- I've been learning more slowly than I expected. This looks like less reading and less coaching than planned. A few factors have contributed to this, including spending lots of time enjoying Boulder when I can get outside and idly scrolling Reddit when I’m inside. It’s also been more challenging than I expected to find people to coach; many of my friends have already taken some sort of break or navigated a career transition so while they are supportive, I haven’t been able to work through the whole process with anyone.
- I've been writing more slowly than I expected. This isn't super surprising because I haven't maintained a consistent writing schedule and have been experimenting with social media marketing and promotion over heads-down writing.
- In part because of the slow writing pace, organic traffic has been slow to pick up. I expected that it would be easy to rank for a lot of the themes that I'm writing about, but traffic is limited and takes a while to build up. Here's a screenshot of my acquisition performance over the last couple of months:
What's the plan?
- Learn faster without going so far that I get tired of it. I spend a large chunk of my day idly browsing Reddit and I think I can put that time to better use reading, writing, and thinking without risking burnout.
- Continue reading books about sabbaticals, particularly Escape Everything, Work Optional, and The Pathless Path.
- Read more books about writing, including Write Useful Books and anything I can get my hands on from this list.
- Watch and do the exercises in Sasha Chapin’s video course Hate Writing Less.
- Write more by blocking dedicated writing time during the work week and approaching it like a part-time job.
- Get more feedback on my writing; I enrolled in Foster this week and will be using it for my posts going forward.
- Find more people to coach (see below).
- Reach people outside of my network.
- Post a variety of content more regularly on Linkedin, Twitter, and Reddit.
- Spend 30 minutes a day being social on social media - not just posting, but also:
- Commenting on other people’s posts with resources and support.
- Finding and answering questions posted by others.
- Find and reach out to early retirement bloggers and career coaches with similar audiences who may be able to refer people to me.
- Find communities (in addition to the collection of FIRE subreddits) that may have folks interested in my writing or coaching.
- Keep people engaged beyond social media.
- Add an email signup form to my site and send out a monthly update with my progress. Started!
- Share more about my own sabbatical experience as it happens. This post is a start but I’d also like to write more about what I’m learning about writing and how I’m applying that to writing the guide.
- Set a deadline. My goal is to publish my sabbatical book by March 31st—about 6 months from now.
Finally, I expect that it'll be a while before I start making money, if any from the book, so I've been looking at ways to cover my expenses so that I don’t need to dig deeply into my savings. Those include:
- Interviewing for a Customer Experience Guide position at the Boulder Patagonia store.
- Ramping up marketing consulting for select clients (landing page coming soon!)
- Offering sabbatical coaching as a paid service.
If you’d like to stay up to date with my writing progress, I just started an email list here - I’ll be sending out a monthly update with my writing progress, process, and inspiration.
If you’re thinking about taking an extended break from work for any reason but have doubts or questions, get in touch and I’d be happy to chat about my experience with you!