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Getting Back to Work After a Sabbatical

Posted by on September 10, 2012

After spending six weeks on the road this summer while taking a sabbatical from my job, I was curious what it was going to feel like to go back to work.

I’ll admit it, after about five weeks, I was starting to get anxious to be back in the office.  I felt guilty about it.  There’s something comforting in the routine of work, and I knew full well that, while the trip was a long one, it was just a vacation.  ”Real life” awaited at the end, and that meant going back to work.  I worried that I’d be disappointed when I had to go back to that old routine every day.

The first week back was a blur – there was a lot of catching up, remembering where projects were at, catching up on some emails from the previous few weeks.

The second week reality set in.  I was back at work, and it was time to buckle back down and start being productive again.  I knew what I had to do, and I’d be lying if I told you it was easy to stay focused.  I’m happy to say that week two and into week three was one of the more productive, happy times I’ve had in the office in years.

Part of this was due to some change in perspective.  Looking back at the past few weeks, and thinking about my work style before the summer, I have a short list of major revelations that have changed the way I work:

  • There are very few real emergencies.  There are a lot of pseudo-emergencies and fire drills.  There are a lot of last-minute requests of earth-shattering importance that, in retrospect (like after six weeks out of the office) still haven’t been completed, and we hadn’t lost any clients.
  • I safely delegate a lot more stuff.  Before the time away, I was afraid that delegating projects out to other members of the team would result in… I don’t know what.  I was just afraid to.  Leaving for the summer forced me to delegate out a lot of work, and a lot of responsibility, and it all worked.  I got back with a lot of respect and confidence in my team, and have continued to delegate more to them now that I’m back.
  • Work-life balance is important.  It’s good to be excellent at your job.  But it’s more important to be excellent at your life.  Your family comes first.  When I feel like I have to work late, or on the weekend, I think about the first two points above, and usually find a way to get back to a more sane schedule.

I wouldn’t trade that time off for anything – it was an amazing, centering experience, and a period of incredible growth for our family.  I’m planning on taking some time off next summer, three or four weeks – but going nowhere this time.  We don’t have the energy (or the funds) to take a trip like this again so soon, but we will have the time.  I wonder what we’ll learn next summer…

Have you taken a sabbatical?  How was life different upon your return?  What major life or work lessons did you learn?


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