Time Well Spent?
Yep, it’s that time of year again. But this year why not let the 20-somethings blow their paychecks to get into a bar to watch a recording of a ball drop in New York? You’ve got some planning to do!
Get busy living or get busy dying.
– Stephen King, Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption
by Matt Scherr
If you are reading this, we have just narrowly escaped Armageddon, narrowly missed a transformative cultural enlightenment, or got another day closer to another year much like the past year, whatever your pleasure. According to some mythologies based on the Mayan long-count calendar, on December 21, 2012 the world was as we know it was to have expired in either a horrific and messy apocalypse or bright and shiny “awakening”.
I have to admit to a little secret anticipation that day, waiting to see what might actually happen. Though I didn’t “believe” anything actually would happen, my particular brand of belief is really more hypothesis than theory. That is, I try not to have certainty about my beliefs until they are tested. So many beliefs are not testable, but December 21 was one of those rare occasions that could actually be tested, so it was rather an exciting lab day. Alas, there was little pleasure that day, as my beliefs were certainly the more mundane of the alternatives. But it does provide some interesting perspective on our human fascination with beginnings and ends, perspective that may have influence on your decision to take a family sabbatical.
My brother made us all aware of the spectre of 12/21/12. It was about five years ago when he announced his intention to commit to no great effort in life, as it was all going to pot on that inauspicious date anyway (when given the choice between two probabilities, my brother typically chooses, not necessarily the most grim, but the most dramatic). It seemed to me, since any of us is lucky to get 80 years anyway, that he had already decided on a work-avoidance strategy before finding the Mayan scapegoat.
But my brother’s pretzel logic isn’t that unusual, just a bit exaggerated. We are at that time of year when we have kicked our opportunity down the road to be finally tackled by our future selves, beginning January 1st. What is so magical about this day that we had to wait for it in order to improve ourselves or our world? Sure, there is the out with the old, in with the new symbolism of a new year, but symbolism is a lazy worker. And, I don’t know, maybe it’s the champagne, but there also tends to be lots of idealism and sense of new possibility that inspires us to change.
I know that now me is perfectly happy committing future me to figuring out exactly how to get it done and to doing all the hard work. And January 1 is a perfectly reasonable time for me start letting future me figure that out. Well, maybe January 2 me can start that, because January 1 me is still paying for December 31 me. Well, that’s actually probably going to have to be first weekend of January, since work is just a bear right now, and, oh that’s right, I’ve got that ski weekend with my friends then, so second weekend it is. Go get ’em Second Weekend of January Me; we’re counting on you.
If we are truly masters of resolution planning, we don’t write anything down at all so that December 31st Us can’t remember what Second Weekend of January Us never got around to tackling and so gets to feel like a hero for formulating the next (which is the same) New Year’s resolution. And we all get to congratulate ourselves on the achievement of not dying another year. I’ll drink to that.
Recognizing a beginning and an end is perfectly fine, in fact is essential to planning. What matters, though, is the middle. It isn’t the goal, the end, we must commit to, it is what we must do now, in this moment, to approach that goal.
My wife and I had expressed early in our marriage that we wanted to take a family sabbatical. And we envisioned a start time when we could start doing something about it, start planning it, actually do something that would get us on a family sabbatical. It was when we had enough money, when we had peaked or were “coasting” at work, when the kids were the “right” age, when we had our house just the way we wanted it. We didn’t actually have a date, but we sensed some “right” time to do it.
Luckily we managed to both have bad days before a rare date night when we lamented that it would be nice to be taking the sabbatical soon. It wasn’t until that moment that we realized we didn’t actually know how much money was enough, how we would know when we were “coasting” at work, what the right age for the kids was, or what we even planned to do to our house. So we made those things explicit and (yikes!) realized that we already were in a place to take a sabbatical, we just had to plan it.
So we reached our beginning just by deciding that we had reached it. It was arbitrary, just as it almost always is. And we decided on a date for our sabbatical by guessing how long it would take us to prepare and what time of year we wanted to go, which was, again, somewhat arbitrary.
These calendar years that look so appealing with days marked off — as if we’d actually accomplished something that day just be getting to the end of it — can give us the illusion that we are advancing toward something by the mere fact of having left something else behind. And we are, but whether it’s 80 years or December 21, 2012, the real end is always the same.
So since this is the New Year, feel free to make a resolution to take a family sabbatical, because you sure as hell shouldn’t wait for January 2 (or whatever day tomorrow is when you read this).
[Ed. Note: Matt Scherr is the founder and editor of Radical Family Sabbatical.]