This was a post I originally wrote for Escape The City earlier this year. It was one of their most popular and seemed to resonate, so I thought I’d repost it, with some slight revisions. You can find the original post here.
Full Disclosure: I eventually did quit my job shortly after returning from my 7-month sabbatical. However, the sabbatical gave me the time and space to explore personal projects while still keeping the door open with my employer. If you think you want to leave your job, but you’re not sure exactly what you want to do instead, I suggest you negotiate a temporary escape.
How To Negotiate a Temporary Escape
Most of the stories we hear from escapees begin with “So I quit my job and…” We tend to associate an escape with the dramatic quitting of a job.
If you have Office Space-like fantasies about kicking down your cubicle walls, smashing your printer with a baseball bat, and nonchalantly declaring to your manager you’re no longer coming into the office, then you probably should quit. But PLEASE have a coworker film it.
But is this the only way?
I’m proof that there’s an alternative, and it comes in the form of a temporary escape known as a sabbatical or leave of absence.
Like many Escapees, I had dreams of traveling around the world. But as my career as an IBM consultant grew, the timing never seemed perfect. Four years later, I was still working and still dreaming.
On January 17, 2012 everything changed. While sitting in an uninspiring client meeting, I received a call that my friend Shannon died unexpectedly in a car accident while driving home from work the night before.
As I mourned and celebrated her life, I reflected upon my own mortality, my potential regrets, and unrealized dreams. I finally confronted the fact that instead of living deliberately, I had mostly been going through the motions of life — accepting that life was meant to be lived a certain way, without thinking much about the why. In that moment, I resolved not to squander any more of my brief time on earth living a life that didn’t suit me. And suddenly, that dream of world travel seemed a lot more urgent.
The next week, I booked a oneway ticket to Iceland, departing in 6 months.
I had every intention to quit my job. But one day a foreign and less dramatic thought entered my head: What if I just asked for time off?
Less sexy than quitting? Absolutely. A smarter alternative? Perhaps.
If you haven’t explored the idea of a temporary escape, I’d encourage you to consider it. Here’s the framework I used to negotiate my sabbatical:
1. Do great work.
This is a prerequisite before even thinking about asking for a sabbatical. You must be an asset to your employer. If you’re not doing great work, asking for time off may give your employer an excuse to let you go. Document your accomplishments and keep them handy.
2. Commit yourself.
You must mentally commit yourself to realizing your dream, whatever it may be. For my dream of slow-traveling through Europe, I decided to book a plane ticket months before I asked for a sabbatical. This made the trip real and less dream-like. Your risk tolerance may vary, but I highly suggest making your dream escape tangible in some way. It will boost your confidence when you start the conversation.
Part of committing yourself is addressing fears. If you’re already prepared to quit like I was, you’re in a much better mental state — you have nothing to lose! If not, ask yourself the question: what’s the worst that could happen? If you’re an asset to you’re employer, the worst is probably not as bad as you think.
3. Realize it’s not about you.
While your dreams and ambitions are very personal, the secret to negotiating a sabbatical is realizing it’s not about you. It’s about your company, your manager, and your team. Put yourself in the decision-maker’s shoes. Why should they honor your sabbatical request?
I spotted a window of opportunity as my current project was ending and my next project was unknown. In fact, future projects for our entire practice were unknown. The timing was perfect to make a business case for my sabbatical. I volunteered to take an unpaid leave and remove myself from overhead cost, thereby helping my manager, practice, and company maintain profitability.
Although the timing may never be ideal, the key is thinking outside of yourself.
4. Appeal to emotions.
If you’re worried your manager will look at you as if you grew three heads upon hearing your dreams to travel the world, remember one thing: behind every manager is a living, breathing, human being. Maybe even one with dreams and aspirations of their own. After giving the business case of my sabbatical, I concluded: ”This sabbatical will give me an opportunity to do something I’ve always wanted to do — to realize my dream of traveling and living in Europe.”
After my sabbatical was approved, my manager admitted he was inspired, and even jealous. He dreamt of taking a trip like this when he was younger, and he wished me well. It gave him satisfaction to know he was enabling dreams.
Don’t underestimate the power of appealing to people’s emotions. Share your dreams and support may come from the most unlikely place.
You should NEVER feel guilty about wanting to live your life how you see fit. The days of indentured servitude have long passed; smart employers know that happy employees make good employees. If you work for someone who believes otherwise, maybe those cubicle walls would look better on the ground.
Inspiration: The power of time off.
If you’re still on the fence about the benefit of sabbaticals, take 18 minutes and watch this TED talk. Every seven years, designer Stefan Sagmeister closes his New York studio for a yearlong sabbatical to rejuvenate and refresh his outlook on work and life. He explains the often overlooked value of time off and shows the innovative projects inspired during his temporary escapes. Enjoy!
Have you considered asking for a sabbatical from your corporate job? If so, what are your challenges, questions, or roadblocks? Share your thoughts below.
Have you successfully achieved a sabbatical? Do you have any additional advice? Please share that as well.