Taking a sabbatical changed my life
If you have spent a good amount of time (say more than five years) working as a professional, chances are you might be caught in the constant flux of overworking or the cycle of promotions and increments and you may have lost the fire and passion to pursue certain interests which you always wanted to but couldn’t.
So can you do something about it? The answer, fortunately, is a resounding yes! I was working with Procter and Gamble and after 4 years of working, I felt a need to break out of the routine which had set in and explore my passions in life. Mind you, I was enjoying my work with the company and I was constantly challenged every day. Fortunately, the work culture even allowed for a good work life balance. But, something was missing, somewhere deep inside me. After a little digging, I found that P&G allowed for a sabbatical of three months for employees that had worked for 5 years.
I approached my manager and tried to find out more as a way to discuss the prospect with them. Meanwhile, I was getting involved with Global Himalayan Expedition, a social enterprise that was working on bringing energy and education access to the remote Himalayan communities. As I had been part of the first village electrification where we trekked 3 days to a remote village and electrified it in just 2 days,
I got so inspired that I really wanted to explore this field of rural electrification and club my passion for climbing Himalayas. So in 2015, I prepared myself for the sabbatical and all it required for me was to show my interest in taking one. After the initial discussion with my very understanding manager, who then worked out how the work would be handled in my absence, we were good to go!
The problem is that most people don’t realize that taking a break is an option and most people don’t ask for such things since they assume that the company will not support it. Moreover, in our competitive work environment, we fear we would be “left behind” in the invisible race that we’re all running in the name of ambition. One needs to understand that when you are working in any company, you need to think long term.
A timely sabbatical or a break has the potential to rejuvenate your motivations and inspire you, somewhat like a phoenix rising from the ashes.
Once back with a clear mind, you can see the path forward and further engage yourself as a more productive resource for your company. Once that thought process is sorted, all it takes is to have a discussion about it. Asking for something hasn’t harmed anyone till date as far as I can recall. Long story short, my manager approved the sabbatical and I am extremely thankful for his leadership and understanding in providing me that opportunity. Even more, I thank the culture and the principles at P&G that gave me the space to take such a decision for my personal development.
So off I went for my sabbatical from July’15 to Sept’15 to a life-transforming experience. We at GHE electrified 10 villages during that time and I experienced what true happiness means. How a single light bulb can change the lives of people, how switching on a light bulb can make people dance and laugh and cry with joy.
I experienced how communities lived in the harshest conditions but were happy with whatever they had. I saw what living together really means and how everyone in the village was closely knit to each other, something that we have forgotten in the cities. I got to work at the grass root level with communities and understand how to react in different situations and how to be patient. For the mountains teach you leadership like no one else can.
When I joined back P&G, I was energized, equipped with more skills than I had before and could immediately apply them to my work environment. I was able to break the walls of monotony that had surrounded me and was able to get a new sense of purpose. And this was based on the feedback I got from colleagues, my mentors and my friends who noticed a very refreshed and new me. It was like I got an upgrade from being an economy class seat to a business class seat.
There is an upward trend in employers offering their people more long-term vacations and sabbaticals since it is a win-win situation for all the stakeholders involved. 25% of Fortune’s 100 Best Companies to Work For offer sabbaticals. Current trends show that sabbaticals can also be extremely marketable for recruiting purpose since it’s a huge incentive for many potential employees because it’s a sign that the company is invested in the quality of life and emotions of its employees.
Sabbaticals are not just good for the employee, but it also benefits the organizations.
By filling in the interim roles with new leaders, the company allows aspiring young employees to take up the interim roles and showcase their leadership capabilities. This helps in creating a very agile workforce capable of multitasking, which is the need in today’s dynamic world. Employees who take work sabbaticals report that they return to work feeling more inspired and not just refreshed, but renewed – in fact, many report feeling like they’ve come back to a new job.
A study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology found that employees experienced a decline in stress after coming back from a sabbatical.
So if you are still contemplating on whether you should take that step, don’t think twice, DO IT! It will be the best decision you can ever make. But before you jump into it, be very sure of what you plan to do with that time. Identifying your passion or aim will really make the sabbatical very productive and truly an experience of a lifetime. Whether its spending time in wildlife safaris, or travelling to Antarctica, or doing a cycling trip across the country or volunteering with an organization to do humanitarian work or taking up cooking classes, whatever makes you happy. A sabbatical acts like a compass and gives you a direction and helps identify your purpose in life. You are able to connect with your heart and listen to it for once.
Remember, life is not a race track with many racers on it, it is a lush green cycling track which only belongs to you. You are the sole rider on that beautiful path, there is no one to overtake and there is no one who will overtake you. Enjoy the ride and do what makes you happy.