I am one month into a four-month sabbatical, my first measurable time off from work in thirty years. I never even took maternity leaves, as my first two came a month early (and a month before MBA graduation) and #3 arrived while I was getting a new company off the ground. I mean, I love to work. It drives me. It’s my identity. But for all the right reasons I put in for an approved sabbatical from my firm and I’m already learning so much about myself.
Like, for instance, baking. One of the gifts of time is the ability to produce really good meals. Three times a day, I am making meals from scratch, even just for me. I love the creative outlet, my boys are happy, and I feel great. But I cannot bake. At all. As in, I somehow made hockey puck chocolate chip cookies from a just-add-eggs-and-water mix from Aldi. Why can’t I follow simple instructions? I had visions of fresh banana bread every morning and warm cookies out of the oven when the boys rolled in after school but no. The closest I can get to baking is a foolproof granola recipe. I need to accept that this is not my gift and move on.
As my teenagers predicted, I didn’t do well without structure. I traveled the first two weeks but on week three I was staring at my trusty Google Calendar and wondering what to do next. I printed (on actual paper) the next three months and mapped out trips, goals and objectives. All of those items on my Sabbatical To Do list? They’re on there. And it’s beautiful. I’m still getting up early and working out with my girlfriends, firing up the creative juices to write. I then do one big thing- a grocery run or a local field trip- but leave plenty of time to read, garden and generally laze around. These items are also on the list! Two days a week I am out and about, doing book interviews or just reconnecting with people in real life that have only been on LinkedIn comments and group texts over the last few years.
Where does the day go? I am so busy. I am going to make the best retiree. A structured day helps, as there are many distractions in my house. There are always baskets of laundry to fold and clutter to clear, but yesterday’s writing break included cleaning out the gutters because I couldn’t stand the little oak tree farm blooming.
Work from Home
I had forgotten the pure joy of working from home. Over the last seven months, I’ve been on an all-hands-on-deck project at a client site and lost this benefit. Oh, how I have missed solitude, musical freedom and the ability to hit Target at 10 AM. Mostly I have enjoyed the simple pleasure of walking my youngest son to school every day, unhurried, just chatting about what’s on his mind and stopping to slurp honeysuckle or hunt for four leaf clovers. He’s my youngest and is off to middle school next fall, a time when all parents become the most embarrassing creatures ever. I know this ritual is coming to an end and I’m enjoying every minute of it.
This is kind of a one-off but while I’m sitting here in self-reflection, I don’t need to go to another one of these things ever. Getting buzzed on cheap wine and bidding on things I don’t need, even for a good cause? No, thanks. I’ll write a check, stay home and drink my own good wine.
My iPhone is the Devil
Even though I’m no longer tethered to an Outlook inbox with expectations of immediate replies to clients, colleagues and bosses, I can’t put the damned thing down. Sure I’m looking up recipes and snapping pictures of my sabbatical adventures and listening to great music, but this device is going down as my biggest productivity killer. Airplane mode is a must while I’m writing. And as with a toddler, am working through separation anxiety with consecutively longer times apart.
My Presence Doesn’t Fix my Teenagers Forgetfulness
One of the big objectives for this time at home was to give my older boys some much-needed attention, as junior year is kicking their butts. ADHD means they are both disorganized and struggle with executive functioning. But just because I am here doesn’t mean that magically goes away. Yesterday I handed one of the boys an assignment left on the printer as he walked out the door. He somehow managed to leave it at home. (Seriously, it was in his giant palm as he exited the front door, how does this happen?) When I return to regular work I can’t feel guilty about not being there. My presence doesn’t mean their assignments magically get out of their backpacks and turned in on time. This is their problem to solve, not mine.
It’s a virtuous cycle: less stress, more sleep, more energy, happier, repeat. Almost immediately I am back to good (not great, it’s not like I have zero stress in the Folsom Frat House) sleep and have relaxed, consistent energy all day. But I’ve also noticed I’m just, well, happier. I caught myself skipping yesterday inside my house. Who skips inside? What adults actually skip? It was a weird physical response that caught me entirely off guard.
The big win will happen when I take these lessons learned and head back to the office at the end of the summer. Can I keep up the virtuous cycle? That remains to be seen. But you bet your bottom dollar that I’ll be hitting the bakery on the way in.