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Listen to the Mustn’ts: The Biggest Fears in the Way of Your Sabbatical

Matt Scherr October 21, 2012

Take that, Fear.

Fear & Fiery Arrows of Pure Reason

There were a number of times when either my wife, Diana, or I would have private little freakouts as we were planning our family sabbatical. We tended to keep these moments from each other, never wanting to be seen as “the one that folded.” When we do this again, though, we’ll be more open and supportive of each other. We know now that fear is totally normal, part of the process, and easier to deal with when you can confess it. You are not the first to face these fears. This week we’re painting bulls eyes on the big, standard issue fears, then shooting fiery arrows of pure reason right through ‘em.

Matt Scherr

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Listen to Mustn’ts, child, listen to the Don’ts.
Listen to the Shouldn’ts, the Impossibles, the Won’ts.
Listen to the Never Haves, then listen close to me.
Anything can happen, child, Anything can be.
- Shel Silverstein

Listen to the Mustn’ts

by Matt Scherr

If you’re reading this, we’ll presume you are already motivated to take a family sabbatical. Whether from the call to a great adventure or from the stress and difficulty of a modern life, you already imagine yourself exploring foreign lands and customs together with your family, or even just spending time helping your kids with their studies or playing games.

And you’d do it, too. You would. If it weren’t for…what, exactly? Our fears are legion and can be powerful mental forces that shape our everyday decisions and, therefore, our entire life story. Let me awaken the psych major in me and recall that mores and morals are very effective social forces that can be critical to the survival and success of…cavemen.

Really, our psychology is very much attuned to our benefit in the environment our species has spent 99% of its existence in. This new world of technology, information, and a vast sea of humans is not what we were built for.

But, to be fair to mores and morals, they still serve critical functions in our very-much-different-from-bone-spoons-and-loincloth culture of today. Lady Gagas and Osama bin Ladens aside, most of us toe the line when it comes to conventional expectations, and that is generally a good thing. But like staying in a lousy relationship way too long, our psyches often just don’t know where to draw the line and finally break up with conventionality.

We create excuses to stay in that sour relationship with conventionality in hopes that the promise of the relationship (2.4 kids, a white picket fence, and a gold watch at retirement?) will not only bear fruit but that we’ll actually like the fruit when we bite into it.

Though the specific fears that we can summon up to keep us from leaving a conventional life behind are many, there are a few biggies that plague pretty much all of us. Here are our top eight fears (I will not conform and make up two just to get to 10) that keep your family from the greatest adventure of their lives and why you can and should overcome them:

1. Who are we, the Rockefellers? (Not enough money/too much debt).
Luckily, these are both problems you need to solve whether taking a sabbatical or not. Debt is one of the greatest (and typically unnecessary) limitations you can place on your life. Check out Adam Baker’s Man Vs. Debt for some inspiration and tools to tackle that problem right now. As far as money goes, a sabbatical can often cost less than life at home (especially if you don’t move around). Our family’s monthly expenses in Ecuador averaged 1/3 our home expenses. That includes private school for the kids, language lessons, frequent travel, nicer accommodation than our own home, and a maid who cooked and cleaned. Pow!

2. We’d be crazy to leave in a bad economy.
Yeah, crazy like a fox. Really what better time to leave than in a bad economy? Are you gonna miss out on a raise or something? Then when the economy’s good, won’t it be a bad time to leave while you’re earning good money? Economies come and economies go, but for most of us the bleeding edge is not much closer then a headline. At 8% unemployment, 8 people out of every 100 have a random chance of not having work. That’s pretty slim odds, and are you really so average that your odds of finding employment are random? You are enough of an adventurous soul to be thinking about a sabbatical; I doubt your odds are even as low as 92% favorable to employment. (Besides, after your sabbatical, you’re not likely to want conventional employment anyway.)

3. We have a business to run/jobs to do. (We’re indispensable.)
People take vacations, fall out of windows, get amnesia, and otherwise fail to show up at work all the time. Even then business life typically goes on. But that’s sudden. And you’re not leaving tomorrow, are you? You’re going to spend a year or two planning your family sabbatical, right? Unless you’re a doctor or lawyer — a business in which you are the product — many jobs and most companies can be run remotely or by someone else for a time. Check out Dan Clements’ and Tara Gignac’s longer (and probably more persuasive) argument in Escape 101.

4. We’ll have gaps in our resumes. (We’ll look like slackers.)
Au contraire mon freres. you will not have a gap at all. Show your sabbatical on your resume as the unique, formative experience it was. Treat it like a job and list the skills and experience either required or learned. Try this: imagine a family you respect returning from a sabbatical with their resumes explaining specifically what they learned, how they personally grew, things they studied there. They apply for a job opening you have. Sure, you might ask if they’re planning on pulling up stakes again in the next five years, but would you hire them? Rolf Potts tackles this issue with aplomb in Vagabonding.

5. The kids will freak out if we take them away from friends/family/soccer/etc.
Maybe. Kids freak out about all sorts of things. They call these things torture. Parents call it learning. Your family’s sabbatical is ideally a vision for the whole family. We recommend including the entire family in the planning process to create ownership and excitement. Everything should be up for discussion except the fact that you are taking a sabbatical somewhere, sometime. Every family is unique, so approaches and results will vary; some kids will freak. This could really test your parental mettle to do something remarkable for your kids, even if they can’t see that right now. You up for that?

6. The kids will get behind in school.
As our readership is largely North American, I can comfortably say…too late. American children are already behind in school. We do an awful lot of naming countries outperforming our kids in virtually every discipline and skill, save for texting and video gaming. Now’s your chance to visit and find out exactly why they’re so much better and maybe pocket some of that educational juju and bring it home with you. The greater issue may be keep your kids challenged once they return. Maya Frost backs me up in The New Global Student.

7. Our friends/family/employers will think we’re nuts.
Welcome to unconventional. The tough thing about the exercise I’m about to propose to you is that it requires you to actually commit to your sabbatical and announce it to the important people in your world. So I’m afraid it’s only a retroactive, “told you so” argument. But here it is: Once you’ve announced it, note to yourselves exactly who it is that either explicitly says you’re nuts, or gives you that look like they’re watching Dr. Jekyll transform before their very eyes. The first thing you will note is that most people will actually be absolutely impressed and excited for you. But look at those who do think you’re nuts. Dollars to donuts that nearly all of them are what you might consider timid, or unadventurous, or close-minded. They may be wonderful people, but they may never understand what it is you are doing, what you are seeking (or why you should even seek anything at all). And you will (hopefully) find, that their opinions on the matter don’t matter. After reading Chris Guillebeau’s Art of Non-Conformity you’ll start to envy the crazy people, then want to be one.

8. It’s freaking scary!
All right, now we’re getting somewhere. We can testify, brothers and sisters, that it is not scary to quit your jobs (that’s what we did), take your kids out of school, rent or sell your home, store/sell/give away your stuff, pack a small piece of your life in seven suitcases, leave everything and everyone you know, and travel to a foreign land where you don’t speak the language. It is, in fact, terrifying! But we do well to remember that fear is not a voice telling us what to do or not do (your decisions are always entirely yours, I’m afraid). All fear ever says is, “Pay attention!” Do that, and you’ll be fine. And anyway, if it isn’t scary, it’s called a vacation.

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About Author

Matt Scherr

The founder and editor at Radical Family Sabbatical, Matt came to this high place via a tortuous route. With a psychology degree from the University of Colorado, Matt was clearly destined for…telecommunications. In this frenetic corporate world he learned the value of work over productivity, the value of appearance over performance, and the value of security over happiness.When that bubble burst, Matt was flung by the impact into the arms of a girl in the mountains of Colorado. Happiness ensued, magic happened, and two more little people appeared. In the meantime, Matt discovered a passion for community working at the Vail Leadership Institute. He later bridled that passion as the director of the Eagle Valley Alliance for Sustainability, growing that organization five-fold in as many years.Matt and Diana (the girl) then decided, inexplicably, to leave their professional lives for the time being and take their kids to Ecuador for a spell. They hoped this "family sabbatical" would help their children to become better global citizens (time will tell).At home again (for a while), Matt is avoiding a job by freelance writing and offering business & travel consulting. He runs Radical Family Sabbatical to encourage families to live adventurous, unconventional, and fulfilling lives (yes, please do). View all posts by Matt Scherr →

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