From time to time psychologists advise on taking sabbatical to cope with a professional burnout. The idea always seemed quite logical to me (provided that one has the financial resources to take a real downtime). Today, I cannot say about myself that I am burned out. But I was, six or seven years ago. That time I did not even think of taking downtime. I moved however to another country for some time, a step which for an academic was not that difficult to arrange. You could call it sabbatical, as I changed fully the surroundings and people around me. My lecturing work was limited. I focused more on research. The altogether year and a half change made my thoughts more clear. Ultimately it did not however work as a cure for the burning out syndrome. I needed a true change.
As I realised the academic life was no longer appealing to me, I changed job. I managed the change within a time span of one year altogether. It was not easy. Although I did not change my profession, my new job was of totally different nature. From an academic, who felt too alone sitting in the study reading and writing, and only twice a week meeting students while lecturing I turned into a leader of an expert team, with only few time left for research. But we still did the research. We even published. With some ups and downs, mainly connected to managing a bunch of expert brains with strong personalities, it did work out. I regained my life balance. Today, I realise it was not the job, it was the balance. I needed to truly work in a community of people with daily personal contact.
Three months ago however, willingly or not I sent myself on a true sabbatical. I decided to end things at work no longer eager to cope with a glass ceiling. The company, to which I was to switch, went however through some turmoil the same week as I made my mind. As I still want to join the team, I decided to wait. It was not that difficult, provided that now for almost a year I am studying coaching and mentoring. And each two weeks I spent a weekend learning from professional coaches, psychologists and psychotherapists. As we do many practical exercises, I simply coached myself into a downtime.
The funny thing is that after two months of me having disappeared people, with whom I used to work with started to quietly ask me, or those close to me, whether everything was all right with me. Not working professionally for a person with strong professional background seems to be odd, or something similar? Even a good friend of mine, a board member of several companies asked me: ‘just so?’ Only my family (they see what I do with my downtime) and my fellow psychology students (naturally we talk about our experiences) seem not to be worried. But I am OK. Yes I am. And finally, I am starting to understand the sabbatical theory.
During our psychology courses we often work with metaphors. Something like, how do you feel right now, do not intellectualize, just tell me in pictures. This time I have chosen a photo out of my quite big collection. In fact this is offices of a very serious international financial institution. I took this picture lying on a bench close to entrance, made it upside down, and put a filter on it. Reflection of my sabbatical. Sort of.
As professionally I have from time to time to deal with theoretical economics, first I focused, naturally (for me), on time as a resource. Time I can spent as I want vs. time I have to devote to earning money. My personal indifference curve. Of course I did not draw the curve, but quite quickly I realised that there were many things around me that I neglected just being short of time working and commuting for ten to eleven hours a day. (To clarify, my indifference curve may differ from that of many others as I do not have a mortgage to repay and all my fixed costs are covered by a rent).
Today it is almost one hundred days since I physically left the office. I am lying on a bench on my balcony. The weather is great. I just have had a chocolate ice cream.
My small garden below me does not require more work than only grass cutting. My apartment does not require much work either. Filling in the dishwasher, maybe. Just a daily routine. Only to arrange my garden as I wanted to I needed more than fifty hours of pure physical work. I did it myself. In my apartment, all my personal documents are sorted out. All those that did not require being stored went through a shredder machine. I pushed the matter away through years, but with much free time it somehow worked, step by step. I also managed to arrange for the vast majority of official matters I had to attend to, but earlier they were not on a priority list due to time constraints. To achieve that I planned one day per week to arrange for at least one official matter or if possible two or three. Step by step, week by week. At first, and it lasted for at least two months I worked on photos from my previous journeys, took a short trip to Madrid, and posted like crazy on this blog and social media. But a month ago I stopped. I think, it was too intensive. I even stopped looking through ideas for new destinations. All of it will come (back) in due time.
Almost everyday I meet or I am on the phone with people important to me. I attended a couple of parties, too. To be frank, there was even one, with my fellow psychology students, that was just it, nothing other mattered that evening. (Beside writing a short comment on practical use of psychoanalytical theory in daily life, for which the deadline was the midnight. I finished and dispatched it before taking the first drink. Like in old student times, just before the deadline. Ups!). After long years of decision making I bought me a car, and improved my driving skills, driving both on my own and with a professional trainer. All of that without a time constraint. And finally, I started to work out again. I looked around in a big sports shop for a training bike that would suit me, and arranged for its delivery. My workout is still at home, but I am able to make around fifty km on my training bike a day and add around one hour of light exercises on top of it (with a day or two of necessary rest time if needed). If my sabbatical lasts longer, I will add something else. The closest swimming pool is reachable by bike within fifteen minutes or so. With all of it I lost some pounds and I cannot recall even when was the last time I needed a pain killer for a headache. I would not call it necessary the new me. It is certainly not. But things changed.
A couple of weeks ago one of the psychologists, with whom we had a training told us that most people accustom to new routines after from nineteen to sixty three days, but some require more time. When I think of the past one hundred days and try to recollect the moment as it really changed, as I regained the quiet, I would say it was last week. Ninety days after I left my office. I caught myself waking up, enjoying the morning sun (it was 7 am, quite early for a person who does not have to leave for work), quietly took my morning coffee and watered my garden, selected a Harry Potter DVD to watch and before noon I had already thirty km on my home bike meter. All without planning, but with inner will. A kind of a new me.
Out of curiosity (still an academic in me) I am only thinking to myself ‘how will this end?’ Right now the answer is, we shall see.