Earn Work-Life Balance

Yes, You Can Afford a Sabbatical. Here’s How 

Lindsay Tigar  |  January 16, 2020

If you need some time to reset and recharge, we’ll walk you through the steps to get there. 

From time to time, we’re all a little guilty of some good old-fashioned social media jealousy. You know you’ve scoped out that former co-worker who seems to have unlimited amounts of free time in her schedule for travel and fun, and still maintains a successful career. Perhaps from the looks of her Instagram, she figured out how to take a lengthy sabbatical somewhere tropical and warm, in an effort to recharge and refocus on her goals. At first glance, the concept of stepping away from our full-time gig for a mental break might seem impossible. But … is it?

Many professionals worry about the expense associated with a sabbatical, and rightfully so. Not all of us can afford to go income-free for a month (or two or three…) but with careful preparation, experts agree it is an accessible goal. And depending on how we decide to spend the unpaid-time-off — on a beach in Bali or in the comfort or our living room — it can actually be affordable. 

Here’s what to do if you want to negotiate a sabbatical this year or next. 

First, truly manifest what you want. 

Do the “Sunday Scaries” come for you at the start of every new week? Too many of us are simply focused on “working for the weekend” and dreading the start of every new Monday morning, explains business mentor Merel Kriegsman. The longer we work within our respective industries and the higher we rise, the more intense these feelings of Monday dread can become. These feelings are often what inspire leaders to become burned out, and possibly why companies like Facebook require their employees to take a sabbatical (and yes, it’s paid) every five years. 

To begin the sabbatical planning process,  Kriegsman suggests manifesting what this period will look like for you. It’s the first step that can’t be discounted, even if it feels more right-brain than left. “Create a vision of your sabbatical that checks all the boxes you want to check, and gives you peace of mind that you will find the rest, adventure or stillness that you are seeking during this time away from your work,” she says. “Dream about what your days will be filled with, or free from, how will you spend your time, and what, if anything, you hope to accomplish.” 

We may decide to put pen to paper with our imagination, or even cut out pictures or words from magazines to create a vision board. However we approach it, Kriegsman advises resisting the temptation to compare our plans with what someone else may have done. Instead, listen to your own needs.

Work on padding your savings. 

It’s almost impossible to put an exact figure on how much you might need for your sabbatical. It all depends on your monthly expenses, debt, dependents, your employment status and more. Only one thing is consistent across the board: You must spend time outlining every single expense and need you might have for the duration of your sabbatical. A basic rule of thumb is to start the financial planning process at least six months to a year ahead of when you’d like to step away, according to business coach Natasha Gross. This allows plenty of time to take on additional work to beef up your bottom line, prepare all documents and so on. Kriegsman recommends determining the all-in amount we will need, and then saving a percentage from every subsequent that comes in toward your sabbatical goal. 

Unless you’re self-employed, you’ll need to bargain with your boss and possibly your HR department for your time away. During this process, you’ll be able to uncover how much (if any) salary or stipend they might be willing to offer, and how much vacation time you’ll be able to cash in. As an entrepreneur or freelancer, you’ll need to put pen to paper to figure out how best you can step away from client demands and deliverables. One good place to start is to put “blackout” dates on your calendar during which time you won’t have any projects come due or any calls or meetings.

Look into additional support. 

Depending on your industry and the purpose of your sabbatical, there may be funds, grants, or scholarships available. Janice Holly Booth, a full-time traveler and founder and CEO at the Teambuilding Kit, says that there are plenty of options within creative sectors, especially for artists or writers-in-training. Depending on your company, you might also be able to make a case for your sabbatical being a pathway to professional development, which might inspire company leaders to “invest” in your time away, in some capacity. 

Though not a traditional sabbatical, some people utilize work-remote programs like Remote Year to take four-month or year-long trips throughout six of the seven continents. Many professionals work during this period but some do not, and use the time as a much-needed break. 

Making your time-off count.

To make a meaningful case for why we should take a sabbatical, it’s essential to not only plan it, but also to set goals for it. Will you use your time off to really hit the ‘reset’ button on your life and career? Will you use the time to explore a new region of the world, in search of creative fodder? Or do you simply want to explore other career opportunities?  No matter what your goal, Booth recommends outlining your purpose before you do anything else. “When I was running companies, I needed a complete break from the board meetings, the balance sheets and the human resources headaches,” she says. “So I always chose a retreat that would stimulate the long-dormant parts of my brain, that had to take a back seat to my daily work expectations. For me, that was the creative arts — writing, painting, photography — as well as some pretty hairy outdoor adventures that made me forget all about work.”  

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