I’m officially on sabbatical now.
The last loop has been closed. My final invoice has been sent, and paid, and the payment is logged. My trusty blue box— the one that carries my facilitation supplies— is folded flat and gathering dust in the basement. I’m done with so many things! No more standing behind a podium, no more rehearsals to get the tone of a training session just right, and no more afternoons at the printer, picking up colorful charts and boxes full of binders.
I’ll miss those red metal buckets of Sharpies, fresh Play-Doh, and the soft zip sound that a flip-chart makes when you pull off a sheet.
And I’ll miss standing back and asking, “What do you think of this thing you’ve made?” Because most of the time, my clients created wonderful things! Plans and decisions and goals, of course. But also themselves. They remade themselves, year after year, and it was beautiful to watch. Like a field of flowers unfurling. Like a dozen jangly instruments coming together to sing a joyous song.
I’m thinking of those moments, after class, when a manager would shyly approach and tell me about their successes. Whenever this happened they’d look sheepish, almost embarrassed, as if they weren’t allowed to be proud of themselves. And I’d tell them that I was proud of them, and that they should be happy, because they were doing what was right, even when it was hard.
Now that I’m done, I wish I’d fully appreciated those moments. I wasted a lot of time worrying that I’d mess it up or let someone down. But that’s life, isn’t it? We struggle through our lives in the moment, and we feel our fullest appreciation only in retrospect.
Eyes forward now, I’m telling myself. You’ve worked hard for this time, now live in it.
I rolled into sabbatical-land gradually, first by cutting my hours, then by working remotely while we traveled, and then by cutting my remaining cords. Already, I can tell you the most wonderful parts of not-working.
- Spending lots of time with P.
- Being free to travel.
- Getting enough sleep.
- Having the time to write and play.
- Slow mornings.
Slow mornings are my idea of heaven! After waking up well-rested around eight-thirty, I stay in bed for about forty minutes, drinking coffee and journaling. It’s such a lovely way to start the day. Incredibly, my lifelong insomnia is mostly gone. I often fall asleep within 20 minutes of closing my eyes, and it feels like a superpower.
The ‘good parts’ of being on sabbatical are huge! Life-changing, even. But I feel so disoriented, in a who-am-I-now kind of way. When your career was a big deal to you, and you leave that identity behind, even small talk feels super invasive.
What do you do, Cheri?
STOP ASKING ME SUCH PERSONAL QUESTIONS!!!
I’m mostly joking. But the “What do you do” question peers right into the heart of my uncertainties, and I get all huffy about it. Every response that I’ve tried feels like a lie.
“I’m on sabbatical” – Okay, but that’s mostly a statement of what I’m not doing.
“I’m a writer.” – Accurate, but does it make sense to define yourself by your hobbies? Do people introduce themselves to strangers as “woodworkers” or “knitters”?
“I’m not working right now.” – Defensive, right? It sounds like I got shit-canned for stuffing staplers into my bra.
“Hey look, it’s Vin Diesel!” (ducks behind a nearby shrub) – Amusing, but you can’t always count on having greenery nearby.
I realize that when someone asks, “what do you do” they don’t want your life story; it’s merely polite conversation. So why does it make me squirm?
No More Excuses
Here’s the truth: I don’t know what to do with myself, now that I’m home and without a job.
Showering, food prep, and taking care of yourself can’t take more than a couple hours per day. Television and books are wonderful, but you don’t want to spend your life on the couch. Most days are a game of “what shall we do today?” Go for a hike? Sure! But how many days per week do you want to do that? I love my writing time, but I don’t want to ruin it by treating it like a J-O-B.
Until quite recently, I had things I needed to do and places I had promised to be. And with those responsibilities came a hidden perk: a ready supply of excuses.
If I was tired, it was because I was working too much! If I was stressed, it was because work was stressful! And if I wanted to do something but I wasn’t doing it, it’s because work needed to come first. Not my fault, at least not entirely. I had work to do!
Here in sabbatical-land, however, I’m fresh out of excuses. If I didn’t exercise today it’s because I decided not to. If my energy is low or I’m feeling kinda bitchy, that’s no one’s fault but my own. Am I failing to follow through on my dreams? Well, I’ve got nothing but time so it’s all on me!
I’d always wanted the freedom of not working, but I’d never considered the responsibilities that came with that freedom. I can no longer use the excuse of work to wriggle out of my most personal responsibilities. To put it another way, my satisfaction with life is 100% my problem now.
My career used to scratch all these itches I didn’t even realize I had! I had purpose, and I belonged, and I had important things to do with my time. And now, with my supply cut off, I’m starting to feel… itchy.
I told P how I was feeling the other day. Actually, I might have said something along the lines of “I’m losing my mind, and if we sit around “drinking tea pleasantly and relaxing” for one more freakin’ day I’m going to throw myself into a live volcano just for kicks.” P, unfazed by my antics, calmly asked if I wanted to return to work.
Did I want to return to work? I thought about it, for half a minute. “No,” I said, feeling stubborn. “I’m gonna figure this sabbatical thing out.”
He responded with a look I couldn’t interpret. Perhaps he didn’t believe me? If so, that’s okay.
Because I don’t know if I believe me either.