Reflections from a Sabbatical

We have been back for nearly two months now from our family Sabbatical.  We travelled around the world for four months, with our kids (9 and 7) missing a term of school.  The trip was amazing, what is more interesting though for this blog are some of the reflections from the trip and the difficulty in retaining the clarity and insight as everyday life reasserts its grip.

Reflections first:

1.  Pace –  We run our lives at too fast a pace.  It took me 6 weeks to fully unwind, stop napping in the afternoons and feel fully connected and alive.  Keeping our foot on the pedal not only has a disastrous long term impact on our health, it also prevents us from enjoying the journey.  Taking the metaphorical back roads on some tasks rather than always hammering along the motorway is crucial.  Fine to say but hard in practice.  My conclusion is twofold; say no at least twice as much as you currently do, and develop a clear filter as to what you do and don’t agree to do.  The filter needs to reflect that you are a scarce and limited resource.  Think; is this activity the best use of my time, will it be high impact towards my purpose, does it give me energy or sap me?

2. Space – and how to fill it (or not!)  When we manage to say no a bit more and create some space, what do we do with this time?  I work a lot with my clients and myself on unpicking the Anglo-Saxon view of work.  Broadly seen as sweat and perspiration, with time behind the desk being the key measure.   We work on broadening this to include exercise, meditation, R&D time, walking, talking and reflecting with others, empty spaces to think and practicing gratitude.  Balancing doing with thinking, swapping work “in the business” for work “on the business”, being maniacally focused on work that only you can do.  Paradoxically we all find that broadening work in this way means that the traditional day job is dispatched much more quickly and enjoyably with far superior results.

3.  Fulfilment –  We slept in around 40 different beds, ate in at least 150 different places and met scores of people from very different backgrounds and cultures.  It was not clear to me that the farmers in Myanmar, living with no possessions, in one simple room with four generations, were any less happy or fulfilled than the 38 million people living in the most advanced city in the world- Tokyo.  The farmers laughed no more or less than we did, and appeared to live with less obvious stress than those braving the Shibuya crossing inTokyo.  I have written before about the danger of pursuing materialism, however this trip has underlined that in a way I could not comprehend before.

4. Family– The magic of the trip was not the biggest geyser in the Southern Hemisphere, Disneyland on Christmas day, The Franz Josef glacier, Surfing Bondai, Sleeping rough in Myanmar, eating in Tokyo, 5 Harry Potter books read by Stephen Fry or even 4 weeks in a campervan.  No the magic was much more simple.  Being together.  The four of us, without the pull and strain of every day life.  School, work, homework, shopping, tidying, socialising, striving, worrying.  Ask a child what they really really want and they will say to be with both their parents (preferably without their siblings!). Think how you can create more proper time together with no screens and just your family unit.

The hardest part of the whole trip was not the planning, budgeting, travelling or avoiding falling out with each other, it has been the weeks since we returned.  It has been unexpectedly difficult to hold onto the magic and the resolutions which set me thinking about keeping resolutions in general.  I have tried and tested a few pointers;

  1. Write them down- what seems so clear and present on return quickly enters the fog of life.  You need to have a touchstone to come back to.
  2. Make immediate changes- gather some momentum.  If you revert back to exactly the same life as before your window for change evaporates.
  3. Talk about them- a lot.  With others, with yourself, with your children and most importantly with your partner.  Hold each other to account (with empathy and compassion!).  Set proper check in dates every month or quarter.
  4. Be kind to yourself.  Of course we expect too much on return, to change our lives completely.  Celebrate changes, and maybe drop some of the more peripheral ambitions.  Review and adapt, remember the pace point- this may all take 6-12 months to bed in.  That is ok.

So how will you have your sabbatical?  Whether it is a day, week, month or year, clearing time to step away from every day life with your family is the most important act as an adult.

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