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How Long Should Your Sabbatical Be?

Dan Clements September 30, 2012

Going Long

Once you’re past the hard part of actually committing to your family sabbatical, all the rest of your decisions will be…well, they’ll still be tough. How long to go is one of the first of those and will feel pretty tough. This week’s guest columnist, Author and sabbaticalist Dan Clements, puts the kid gloves on to ease you into the idea of what seems like a long time away. Our thought? Say two years; you can easily shorten a sabbatical, but stretching it out is usually a tougher proposition. Go long!

Matt Scherr

I don’t want to hurry it. That itself is a poisonous twentieth-century attitude. When you want to hurry something, that means you no longer care about it and want to get on to other things.
- Robert M. Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

How Long Should Your Sabbatical Be?

by Dan Clements

We’ve been asked this question more than once, and it surprised me a bit the first time. The truth is, though, it does matter. Whether you’re considering a permanent escape, a full-on sabbatical, or a mini-retirement, here’s why duration is important, and how you might decide how long your escape should last.

Up To one Month

At the risk of getting into semantics, breaks of just a few weeks are really just long vacations. But given that many people have never taken more than a single week off in their entire working lives, these short breaks can be an important starting point.

For business owners, it’s a great way to test-drive being away from things. For workaholics and the chronically under-vacationed, it’s a taste of what life might look like when it’s not fueled by adrenalin 24-7. For many, a month off is the perfect catalyst to start thinking about a longer escape.

These short breaks are a great introductory step. Your cat can probably survive a few weeks with a huge bowl of food, a cat door, and an open toilet bowl. Train him well and he might even water the plants. Your boss will forgive you, and you won’t need to auction off the contents of your home.

The bottom line: A month is a stepping stone to something larger. If six months feels too overwhelming for you, and stops you from taking action, then start small and commit to using your short escape as a springboard to something longer.

1-3 Months

For most people, this is getting outside the range of standard vacation, and so for the first time you’ll have to make more serious workplace and business plans. It also requires a little more financial planning.

The cat and the plants are going to need more permanent arrangements, but you don’t need to sell your car, rent your home or quit your job in order to wrangle a couple of months off. For the first time, though, you’re going to get a real taste of what it’s like to shed some of the mental life load you’ve been carrying.

Be prepared for: some eye-opening insights into your life, and the appearance of a strange voice inside your head that asks a lot of tough questions about what you’re returning to at the end of this short sabbatical. And be forewarned – that little voice doesn’t like evasive answers.

3-6 Months

For me, this has always marked the entry into “true” sabbatical territory, although everyone has their own definition.

When traveling, I’ve always found that by the three month mark a place begins to feel more like home. You’ve had an opportunity to make relationships and become involved in a community. If you’re planning to do volunteer work, three to six months is also an opportunity to make a more significant difference. Also, most short term volunteer programs require you to pay to jump on board, but when you get into longer time periods, a lot of new doors can open up.

If you’re relocating to another country, you’ll also discover that your language skills are really going to kick into gear after 3 months. You’ll find your ear warming up to foreign sounds, and you’ll develop solid confidence in your ability to speak.

Watch out: Once you crack the three month mark, that little voice inside your head is going to start making sense. You might never look at home the same way again.

6 Months and Beyond

Once you begin to crest the six month mark, some important changes start to happen. For lengthy escapes like this, you’re dealing with a whole different kind of preparation. Most people can’t just cobble together a year’s worth of time using a few sick days, unused vacation and some good grace from their employer – this is serious time off.

In Escape 101 we used the idea of “big rocks” as symbol of the difficult to shift, inertia-heavy things in your life that might hold up a sabbatical – things like your house, cars and job. The first thing you’ll notice when you plan a longer sabbatical is that you start to look at some of those big rocks differently.

People planning long absences are more likely to sell their cars, rent or sell their homes, and go on indefinite leave or quit their jobs altogether. Business owners make sustainable changes in the people and processes of their companies, as opposed to patching together more temporary solutions.

The result of course, is that the different type of preparation that goes into a long career break tends to create a different type of experience while you’re away. You’ll have fewer ties to your “normal” life, and less mental baggage as a result. The cat, the car, the boss, the house, the banking – in order to escape for up to a year or more, you’ve had to move beyond band-aid solutions for those things.

When you leave briefly, all those things still exist. When you take six months or more off, you need to solve those things,and the result is an extraordinary peace of mind that’s difficult to find any other way.

In the End, A Regular Vacation Won’t Cut It

Sabbaticals are about time. Doing something “crazier than usual” with your standard two-week vacation isn’t the same. It’s great, don’t get me wrong, but you’re not going to get into the good stuff until you’ve really escaped for longer.

The message here is this:

The longer your sabbatical, the greater and more enduring the benefits.

If you’ve never taken a decent vacation, then do it. Book the time now. You need it, or you wouldn’t be reading this. A short sabbatical beats no sabbatical at all. But don’t fool yourself into thinking that a good vacation and six months off are the same thing.

The great thing is that you can start small. Try to double the longest vacation you’ve ever had, and you’ll notice some significant benefits. Double that a couple of more times, and you’re into sabbatical territory and a whole new way of looking at your life.

 

[Ed. Note. Dan Clements writes and speaks on health, business, and lifestyle design and is co-author, along with Tara Cignac, of Escape 101: Sabbaticals Made Simple. They’ve taken numerous sabbaticals around the world, including Mexico, Central America, South America, South East Asia, Australia, New Zealand, and more. And they’ve done it all while juggling mortgages, kids, jobs and businesses. Their next escape will be to Africa. See more of Dan & Tara at Escape-101.com.

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About Author

Dan Clements

D Clements writes and speaks on health, business, and lifestyle design. Along with Tara Cignac, he is the author of the sabbatical book Escape 101, which has appeared such places as The Wall Street Journal, Success Magazine, and The Miami Herald.Together they’ve taken numerous sabbaticals around the world, including Mexico, Central America, South America, South East Asia, Australia, New Zealand and more. And they’ve done it all while juggling mortgages, kids, jobs and businesses. View all posts by Dan Clements →

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