Making Work Work for You
We’ve talked before about the most common fears that sabotage most sabbaticals, often before a family even seriously considers the possibility. You may have noticed that, as with many things in life, half were at least indirectly related to work and money. But for more reasons than just a sabbatical, it’s worth figuring out how to make work work for you, rather then the other way ’round. This week’s issue is for worker bees (employees) and helping them find their way out of the hive.
– Matt Scherr
A vacation, after all, merely rewards work. Vagabonding justifies it.
– Rolf Potts, Vagabonding
A Drone’s Life
I used to work in the corporate world, in telecommunications—the very world you see in Dilbert comic strips. It was a world written in stereotype with thousands of people playing approximately five different roles. We spoke almost entirely in lingo (“We work hard and we play hard”—translation: We spend lots of time producing nothing, then drink to embarrassment).
I had a tendency to question practices that appeared marginally ethical (but were incentivized by internal promotions), processes that were comically inefficient (but were the brainchild of a senior manager), and people who were clearly incompetent (but were friends of management). During one of my annual reviews, my manager at the time suggested I demonstrate more “team spirit” and get noticed for doing my job, instead of for pointing out the squeaky wheels. “Don’t you want to have Robbie’s job?” (Robbie was our director.)
It was at that moment when I realized something that would change my life. Robbie, and all senior managers like her, did one of two things, from what I could see. Either they worked incessantly (because they certainly spent a lot of time traveling, staying late at the office, sending e-mails late at night and on weekends), or they faked it (I strongly suspected the latter in most cases). In either case, I realized that, no, I absolutely did not want to have Robbie’s job. It was the first time I had bothered to look up the corporate ladder, and I didn’t like where it led.
The next round of layoffs had people shaking in their boots, fearing that they’d lose the jobs they complained about every moment of the day. I, being the chivalrous knight I am, volunteered to fall on my sword to save those with families, sick mothers, and all that posh (oh, and there was that hefty severance package they forced upon you). I was told it just doesn’t work that way, and sure enough, the ax man swung…and missed. So I quit.
Life was easier back then. The decision impacted no one but me. I had not even a girlfriend, and certainly no kids. So I traveled Australia and New Zealand for a short while, on a walkabout, you might say. (If walkabouts are supposed to be voyages of self-discovery, I wouldn’t have called it that back then. Later I would discover that purposeless meandering still serves a valuable purpose, if you’re paying attention.)
That would be the first time I quit a job to travel. It would not be the last, including the most recent (executive director of a local environmental sustainability organization), which I quit to take our whole family to Ecuador for a sabbatical. I am not trying to get you to quit your job…necessarily. I may be trying to make you lose your fear of quitting your job, but it is not the first course of action I suggest you take in order to have a sabbatical. I have learned a great deal in the years since my first quit, and the Internet has come a long way to cutting the fetters that once bound your typical entrepreneur. Much more possibility lies before us today.
The mutual benefit society
To start with, get over you fear of leaving a good, steady job in a down economy. As a matter of fact, because of the down economy, many companies (particularly larger corporations) are offering sabbaticals or leaves of absence to employees. Here’s the deal: Business is down. The company doesn’t need so many employees, but it figures business will pick up, and it doesn’t want to spend the time and money getting new employees up to speed. It can pay a fraction of a salary (essentially as a retainer) or merely guarantee re-employment to employees in exchange for extended time off in order to maintain a reserve staff that will be ready to step up when the business is chugging again.
Even if the company has no leave program per se, many are willing to negotiate with you for mutual benefit.
Skype and bunny slippers
When I worked at MCI in the 90s, the company came out with a video phone. Huge flop. There just is not enough bandwidth on the phone network to make good video. But back then when you said “bandwidth” people just thought you had a lisp. But in this age of Internet communication, Children, all things are possible, hallelujah! Many of us still stubbornly hang onto our physical space that, next to humans, is probably the greatest expense most businesses incur. But, listen to me now, Children, I am here to tell you there is a better way. We can have high-quality video meetings. Yes we can. We can talk reliably and for free all over this planet, yes we can. We can transmit documents from anywhere to anywhere without bulky machines and annoying, floppy, roley-uppey paper yes we can. We can be in constant communication with staff, management, family, friends, banks, and credit card companies (if we really need to be).
Yes, children. Yes we can.
Of course…you probably can’t right now. Most people, once deciding to take a family sabbatical, will begin planning the trip one to three years out. You’ve got time to get this and other professional affairs in order. Ease your employer into this if you must. Use a “sick kid at home” day to really produce for the boss, and be sure she knows your were at home when you got all that done (and did I mention I had a sick kid, too?). When you do pitch remote working, do a cost/benefit for her, including cost savings, greater productivity and availability, and less managerial oversight (and maybe be really annoying the week before that pitch, so she can really appreciate the idea of an office without you).
Investing not to lose
But all those keep-your-job options presume you have a job worth keeping. One of the mistakes some investors (and gamblers) make is sticking with an investment choice (or game) too long in order to make back losses on a particular investment. They get hung up on the bet, rather than the goal (make more money). If your work is not a passion, then it is merely an investment of your time, energy, and intellect. Consider cutting your losses and finding another place to invest yourself where you can have passion, productivity, and money.
We’ll look at some ways to pursue that passion through work in an upcoming issue. In the meantime, here are some resources to help you out of the office:
YourSabbatical.com – These guys (gals, actually) promote employer-sponsored sabbaticals, provide resources to businesses, and so can help you make the case to your employer.
LocationIndependent.com – The how-to for anyone looking to untether themselves from the typical constraints of geography on our lives (particularly on the professional/career front). Sign up from their front page to get their location independent checklist via e-mail.
And yes, he’s a mutant, but Tim Ferriss’s Four Hour Work Week draws dots and connects them to show you just how to create your own remote office scenario. If you still need it, it’s also got the added bonus of motivating you to strike out from the hive and work for your own honey [bad pun/metaphor mine, not his].
[Ed. note: Matt Scherr is the founder and editor of Radical Family Sabbatical. He is done quitting and has started his own location independent business (but it’s super secret, and we can’t tell you what it is.)