The Sabbatical

I’m now about four weeks into an eight week sabbatical.  I’ve been pretty quiet about the time outside a few close friends because it seems self-serving to blurt out, “Hey look at me and how cool I get to go on Summer vacation”.  But a friend noted I was over thinking and should share what I’m up to with friends and family here.

The Decision
Nearly three years ago, my boss and VP shared a reward that is highly unusual beyond academia – the Microsoft Sabbatical. Officially known as the “Microsoft Service Achievement Award”, the goal is to give senior staff some time off to decompress, reflect, or pursue interests and bring insights beyond work.  I’ve held onto the award waiting for the right time to use it, postponing a decision.  Truth is, I’ve lost vacation time at the end of every year for the past five as I find it difficult to take the time off.

Sometimes work and personal life collide in a way you can’t imagine.  During AdWeek NY last Fall, I was speaking on a NextGen TV panel when my phone was going off like a hornet vibrating in my pocket.  I stepped off the stage, and into a nightmare.  Over the next two months my mother (at a young age) would suffer two strokes, a medically induced coma, intubation, and extended stay in ICU with multiple system failure and a jaunt through our medical system across three hospitals, and three rehabilitation centers, a loss of her motor skills and independence requiring relocation closer to family.  Thankfully through the combined help of family, friends, and amazing medical professionals she’s doing much better.

So in January my wife and I decided it was time to stop planning and “Just Do It”. My first challenge in planning is I don’t do well with, “Downtime”.  I need projects and goals I can set out that are largely measurable.  This is what I came up with:

  1. Reconnect with Family near and Far – Whether it’s building Star Wars Lego kits with my 8yo, celebrating my boys’ birthdays or teaching my sons the right way to do a cannonball off the diving board.
  2. Road Trip the Midwest to visit Family and old Friends – Go back to my University, tell my sons silly stories, catch up with old Professors/friends.  Visit my in-laws, nephew, and do a BBQ tour of Kansas City.
  3. Learn to Cook (Better) – I love BBQing, the laid back nature and the intensity of competition cooks that can earn six-figures touring the nation.  I’m hosting a class with friends organized with Konrad Haskins, KCBS Grand Champion, KING5 and HGTV featured chef, and owner of BBQ Institute.  People fly from Europe just to take his class, and I’m lucky have him in my back yard before he moves permanently to Texas.
  4. Host my Mom and Make Memories – After years of scheduling and medical challenges, she’s finally going to see where we’ve lived for nearly three years.
  5. Read more – I have a stack of Cormac McCarthy and some classic SciFi waiting for me,  too often back-burnered for the latest business books.
  6. Learn to Paraglide – A likely one-time activity negotiated with my wife in exchange for not becoming a single engine pilot.
  7. Get into my best shape yet – After picking up running a few years ago, I dropped 20lbs and have maintained but want to improve muscle tone a bit.
  8. Do an extended trip to Hawaii – The first week is family reunion, the second week with great friends right on the beach.
  9. Get PADI Certified for Scuba Diving – Finish my online courses and do my dives in Hawaii.

Observations so Far: My Top 5 Tips for a Good Sabbatical
 I found very little advice outside of Jeff Sandquist’s reflections when doing my research so here are my Top 5 observations for having a good sabbatical from the midpoint:

#1: Don’t Deny, rather Explore and Expand your Passions
Most friends I’ve spoken with equate a sabbatical with disconnecting  from tech.  In response I’ve joked that I bought this book, for my Kindle ;).  But for me digital media is a passion point, one I’m enjoying trying new and old things I haven’t found time to play with otherwise, even competing products such as OSX Lion and games on platforms other than Xbox.   You’ll also find me on Twitter a bit more, and more accessible for coffee with old friends and co-workers but this is a small fraction as I’m planning, organizing and prepping many activities that have nothing to do with tech.

#2: Budget Time and Money Ahead
Work with your family to schedule time – family time, downtime, and be supportive of your spouse.  This is as much a reward for my wife who can go do Tae Kwon Do or get a mani/pedi without stressing over who will watch the kids.  For the big ticket items – airfare, hotels, course costs you have to be realistic and budget.  I have a spreadsheet I use for this purpose.

#3: Be Realistic
You’re not going into a chrysalis and going to come out a changed person.  But you should allow time to explore new ideas, perspectives and actively engage in introspection.  A sabbatical should not be a midlife crisis – rather a personal checkin and opportunity for a personal and professional tune up.

#4: Spend some time Giving Back
It’s been important to me that I look back on this as a productive time for others as well. I’m involved with some non-profits including the Capt. Jason Dahl Fund volunteering with fundraising activities to benefit deserving students pursuing a career in aviation.  I’m also finding time to give blood – as a universal donor I try to do this as often as I can.

#5: Get out of town for some, but not all of the time.
The feeling of walking through your front door and being home brings a level of appreciation for everything you have.  We’re doing it twice – the first time was with our trip to the midwest and again with Hawaii.  Even the kids have been more appreciative (and polite!) since returning home to their friends and their own beds.  Conversely you have to get out and explore a bit outside your home zone for an extended period to really start exploring new perspectives.

I’ve been good and only checking in once with my assistant at work against my boss’ orders to stay disconnected.  I’m deeply appreciative of this time off and what it’s already meant for my family and for the amazing team I have that enables peace of mind during the time off.  I can’t wait for the next chapter!

(Ed. Note: Fixed some dates and typos from a previous draft)

One response to “The Sabbatical”

  1. Lucky me living in Sweden where we have 5-6 weeks paid holiday every year… of course now runing my own business that may not happen…