Almost two years ago, while doing a photo challenge on Instagram, with the theme of the day being #BucketList, I wrote these words:
There are a number of things I could write here, like places I dream of visiting, projects I want to take on or things I’d like to learn, but the ONE thing that is really on my Bucket List is a Gap Year / Sabbatical. One year to do whatever the heck I want, go where I want, sleep however long I want. That would be just perfect.
From the moment I wrote these words, I couldn’t stop thinking about this idea. What would I do with my time if I didn’t have to work?
I didn’t know the answer to that question and it intrigued me immensely.
I didn’t take a full year off, that’s still on the bucket list, but I was fortunate enough to get three months off work – God bless my awesome boss!
These are some of the lessons I learned during that time.
5 Ways to Give Yourself a Break – Lessons from a Mini Sabbatical
1. Control Is An Illusion, Let It Go
I took on WAY too much last year. My ambition far exceeded my energy. I thought that, with discipline (which I have a lot of) and a good plan (which I’m good at), I could make it work.
But when the sabbatical came, I realized how exhausted I was. Turns out, when you’re mentally and emotionally drained, you can’t accomplish miracles or be uber creative (duh!).
This whole blog is about organizing your life to make it more efficient and simple. I live on planning ahead and lists and, sometimes, I think I can control everything. But when plans leave little room for disruptions, distractions, rest and play, it’s easy to get behind.
Plans and lists are great tools to help me stay afloat and get back in the game when things go sideways. But they are not, I realized, a magic pill protecting me from making a mistake, experiencing disappointments or a complete failure.
Realizing and letting go of the idea that I can control outcomes was powerful and liberating. In the end, chances are, most things will get done anyway. So, I continue to plan ahead, but I try to remind myself that the results are not always in my control.
2. Drop It Like It’s Hot
Last year, I started saying NO a lot, in preparation for the last six months before the event I manage (event management job on a three-year cycle). I know that period is filled with longer hours and a quasi-obsession with things needing to get done. I knew I would not have time to take on new things. What I didn’t realize was that I would not have enough time/energy to even keep doing all the things I had already committed to. Something had to give.
The first thing that had to go was this blog. The last time I wrote a blog post was 8 months ago and it didn’t feel like my best work. Worst yet, I was starting to resent working on it. Like it was one more thing to check off my list. As time passed by and I still couldn’t muster the inspiration to get started again, I felt sad and a little ashamed at having abandoned my goals for this platform. I had a self-imposed publishing schedule that I was no longer willing to commit to. The decision would have to be to pull way back or stop blogging altogether. I chose to blog slowly for now.
The second thing that had to go was an online course I bought in 2014 and was determined (read desperate) to finish. My plan was to finally complete the whole thing during my time off. But every single time I sat down to work on it, I felt depressed and annoyed. So, following the words of a wise women, I put it aside, and thoroughly enjoyed my last month of sabbatical instead. Again, so liberating!
If you’re working on something and your heart feels heavy every time you try tackling it, maybe it’s also time for you to reconsider your commitment.
Darling, this is not how doing work you love is supposed to feel!
3. Stuff On A Plate Is A Perfectly Acceptable Meal Any Day of The Week
I knew I was getting better when I felt like cooking again. My first month off, even though I was home a lot, the simple thought of meal planning, cooking and cleaning afterwards felt like a huge chore – it still does at times.
I don’t make complicated meals in general anyway but giving myself a break in the housekeeping department was soothing. It’s really fine if the house is not spotless or we don’t have next week’s dinners planed. We can tidy here and there and get ingredients on the fly and throw a meal together: charcuterie board type meals, without the fanciness and often times without the charcuterie. Hmm, let’s see what’s left in the fridge: veggies, hummus, cheese, crackers and hard-boiled eggs … Et voilà, stuff on a plate!
Our house is no more messy or dirty than it was before and we still meal plan. It’s the expectations and judgment in my own head that were causing the problem and I keep working at letting that go.
4. Take Cues From Your Pet, Your Kids or Nature
It’s super easy for me to forget how to rest and play (my two new favourite words). Slowing down and planning some nothing space in my schedule is somehow hard. Instead, I waste time by getting busy with no intentions, watching too much TV or scrolling endlessly on my phone.
Our dog Penny helps me in that department. When I see her sleeping on the sofa on a Saturday afternoon, it’s a reminder that I could also have a nap without feeling guilty. And let’s be honest, it’s hard to beat a lazy afternoon snuggled up with a puppy!
On the other hand, sometimes she goes bonkers in the house and we have to go for a walk, like right now! Watching her run free on the off-leash trail is pure joy. It makes me smile and gets me in nature where it’s actually easier to think.
Our busy lives don’t always accommodate for relaxing time and meaningful recreation. If your pet is having a nap, have a snooze too. If your kid wants to build a fort, go play along. And if the weather is frightful, cozy up with a good book or go outside anyway and have fun.
5. You Can’t Rush Clarity With Will Power
As much as I wanted my mini sabbatical to enlighten me on what comes next, I still don’t know what I would do if I didn’t have to work. I guess you can’t force Aha! moments.
Clarity often comes from actions, in moments when you’re not even thinking about whatever is troubling you: in the shower, while walking on the trails, as you’re working in a coffee shop or while pursuing a new hobby.
My most recent dance class and recital was a bit like that for me. Our instructor had a way of teaching that I hadn’t experienced before. It challenged me in all kinds of way. I never knew what to expect each week when I went to class, and it made me nervous. I loved it and feared it at the same time. Since the different parts kept changing, I couldn’t figure out exactly what the final piece would look like. It all came together the week before the show and in the end, our routine was absolutely fun to do, and recital day was a blast!
I guess things come along when they need to. It’s an exercise in wishing for something, sending it to the universe and letting go of the outcome. You need to trust the process. Easier said than done, I know!
This break has thought me that …
- You can’t run on empty for very long – taking care of yourself is essential.
- Rest and Play are the cornerstone of everything – they bring colour to life and make the hard bits digestible.
- When you find an idea that excites you, run with it – even if it makes you nervous and you’re not sure where you’re headed.
What’s on Your Break Bucket List?