Throw Off the Bowlines
Welcome, trendsetter, to the inaugural issue of Radical Family Sabbatical.
We are just pleased as punch to bring you the first of our weekly articles meant to inspire you to take a family sabbatical, give you resources to plan your sabbatical, help you make the most of your time away, and even help you with the sometimes tricky business of coming home again.
Matt Scherr, our founder, starts the whole thing rolling by pushing you out of an airplane. Hey, sometimes you just need a little shove…
by Matt Scherr
As with many great plots, this one was hatched over a glass of wine, or…maybe four.My wife, Diana, and I were having a much-needed date night after a particularly harrowing day in a particularly harrowing week of our normally harrowing North American lives and were commiserating over those glasses of Parents’ Little Helper.But let’s get a little back story first.
We both traveled internationally, backpacker-style, in our younger years, and before even having kids we had already talked about taking our kids “away” for a while on a family sabbatical of sorts. We’d even fantasized particulars, like what an ideal age for the kids might be, what we’d do, and where we’d like to go. We hadn’t planned anything, or even researched locations or schooling, or thought about our jobs, or even how we’d pay for extended time away in another country. It was a dream we just pretended could come true.
But on that date night after recounting life’s frustration du jour, Di took a drink of wine, shook her head and said, “Man, I wish we were taking that sabbatical now.”
“Yeah,” I said, “Yeah, that would be great.” And then I stared off into space and that comment echoed in my head, and everything went all wavy like some cheesy afternoon soap opera. Yeah. Yeah, that really would be great. I looked at Di. “Tell me again what we decided we were waiting for.”
Had you been there, the look on her face would have quickly belied the fact that we hadn’t ever seriously considered it. But the answers, at that moment, to what we were waiting for were: the right age for the kids, enough money, finishing particular projects at work.
So with the help of our wine we did seriously consider those reasons. We had decided the right ages for the kids were six and eight. How did we decide that? How do we know what the right age is? Maybe it’s four and six (their ages at the time). And how much money is enough? You sorta need to know where you’re going and the cost of living there to know how much money you’ll need, but we hadn’t even considered where we’d go. And just how great and special did we think we were that someone else couldn’t do the things at work we wanted to get done? Maybe new blood would be good for those projects. Maybe we ourselves were the constipation that slowed the movement of those projects (as it were).
Once we started to question our initial assumptions we realized they were all obstacles we could overcome (some easily, some not), and in fact the only thing standing between us and our dream sabbatical was…us. We just had to decide to do this. Well, get the hell out of the way selves, you’re blocking the view!
And with that realization we then quickly saw the view, which looked like this: quitting our jobs, taking the kids out of school, leaving friends and family behind, figuring out how to manage our affairs back home, navigating visa and travel bureaucracies, getting a much better handle on our finances and budget, packing up the entire freaking house…Holy shnikes! That view suddenly looked like standing at the open door of an airplane about to take our first skydive. The heavy breathing started.
Wait! Hold on, Selves. We were rude and abrupt with you. We’re sorry. Move back where you were. We need to think about this a minute.
This did feel very much like jumping out of an airplane with a parachute on our backs. Rationally we knew that success was virtually guaranteed. Emotionally…screw you, Mr. Rationality; this is freaking scary, OK? All right? Can we just acknowledge a little bit of fear here and just hold the logical assessments for sec?
So we did that for a bit. The freaking out part. But then the emotions calmed and Mr. Rationality gently reminded us that there are only two options here. First, the Chicken-Out. But I am a man, and men don’t chicken out in front of their wives. Second option is the try but fail (failure to even begin the sabbatical, that is)…which is where the skydiving analogy falls apart.
In skydiving there is only the Chicken Out. There’s no turning back on that Go decision. But once you’ve “jumped” and decided to take a family sabbatical you can always float back up and hop right back in that airplane and just claim the conditions weren’t favorable. Crazy, no? In skydiving you can die…die!…yet thousands of people make the decision to jump. With a sabbatical you risk having the experience of a lifetime, creating enlightened and responsible young global citizens, bonding with your family, experiencing dramatic personal growth, and making fascinating new friends, yet few people make that decision and stick to it.
Also, with skydiving the outcome is pretty certain. You are very likely to succeed, once you’ve jumped, and you pretty much know what’s going to happen between stepping out of the plane and landing on the ground. Sabbaticals (good ones) are more purposeful than just hanging on, and the experience and outcomes are uncertain. But you would be hard pressed to find someone who would tell you they regret doing it, even if they suffered the Titanic of sabbaticals. So even a bad sabbatical experience is likely preferable to never having had the experience at all. So why do so many more people jump from perfectly good airplanes than from their lives their often unsatisfied with?
Here’s why: Standing at the open door of an airplane, people are watching you, and you either decide to jump or fail to jump. That moment is crystallized in time. You will remember that moment no matter which decision you make. Regret or ecstasy starts there. But the decision to sabbatical is much softer and can be discussed over a period of time, and you can change your mind, and “reasons” can pop up that “change things.”
When people learn that we took our family on a non-working sabbatical to Ecuador, they seem suddenly to reassess us, as if that achievement made us either super-human, more wealthy, or in some other way more privileged. But with almost no exceptions, we know that those other people could do the exact same thing. If you have dreamed of taking extended time and travel with your family, I’m going to tell you right now the difference between you and us–the difference between a family that has taken a sabbatical and one that has only dreamed of it is…
It is not easy to jump out of an airplane, but it is easier than preparing for and planning a sabbatical. I won’t tell you that once you decide to take a sabbatical it’s just like pulling a rip cord. It is difficult to research, plan, and prepare everything; difficult to explain it to friends and family; and difficult to get your nerves to stop humming like high-voltage power lines. But preparing for a sabbatical is no more difficult than your life already is. And preparing for a sabbatical gives your soul purpose and a reason to wake up every day. When you have that, you will find the work of it to be exhilarating, not exhausting.Our family has been changed by our time “away.” And we believe that if more families took this time for themselves, both they and the world would be better places for it. That’s why we created Radical Family Sabbatical.
Now, seriously ask yourself, “Do I want to take a sabbatical with my family?” If you’re not sure, keep reading Radical Family Sabbatical, and we’ll keep telling you about real and inspiring sabbatical families, and how to clear the hurdles you see (or imagine) in your way, and even how to just get your courage up.
If you already know you want this, then…jump! We’ll be right there with you.
[Ed. Note. Matt Scherr is the editor and founder of RadicalFamilySabbatical.com]