What would you do with a break from work?

Not just a long weekend or two weeks of paid vacation, (which is usually spent on a trip that’s anything but restful.)

Instead, we’re talking about an extended period of time away from your day job: a month, six months, maybe even a year. We’re talking about a sabbatical.

When we think of sabbaticals, we often think of academics taking a year off from teaching for research or writing. But what if the concept of sabbatical is more universal than we think?

The word “sabbatical” actually comes from a Biblical concept called “the Sabbath,” which means “to rest” or “to cease.” Wikipedia gives us a more modern definition: “In recent times, "sabbatical" has come to mean any extended absence in the career of an individual in order to achieve something.” Sabbaticals can be about more than rest: it’s about giving yourself space to get those creative juices flowing and inspire fresh ideas for your job. What we’re often craving is creativity.

Now, you’re probably thinking something along the lines of “that sounds great, and I could totally benefit from an extended break from work, but I have to pay the bills, I don’t have anyone to take over, I don’t want to risk being replaced at work…” and the list of reasons to keep slogging away goes on.

Yes, taking more than a few weeks away from work is unrealistic for some people. But that doesn’t mean it’s not an idea with merit, and more possible for you than you might think.

Here are a few ways to work the concept of a sabbatical into your life, whether you can afford a months-long break from work or not:

  1. Understand why you want to take a break. Yes, there’s likely an element of burnout. And so you may just need some genuine rest. What else would you like to do? Travel? Learn a new skill? Help out a family member in a transition? Make a list of all those things you want to achieve in your life: which of them will require some dedicated focus?

  2. Have a conversation. If your workplace is like most in America, the idea of a sabbatical is - at best - never discussed at best and - at worst - taboo. Try opening up a conversation about it. Your employer might be more open to some bounded time away than you think. (Additional tip: when you have this conversation, don’t just say you need a break. Highlight the benefits to the company like a renewed sense of focus or improved skills (for example: if you’ll be using the time to travel, you’ll get a better pulse on the international market)). You may not walk away with 6 months off paid, but you may have planted a seed that over time will grow.  

  3. Actually make use of regular “sabbatical” opportunities. You may not be able to take months off from work, but that doesn’t mean you can’t stop, rest, and refresh your mind each workday. Fewer than 20 percent of American workers regularly step away from their desk at lunch, and over half never use their paid vacation, often because they feel it isn’t allowed in their workplace culture. You may think never taking a break makes you look more productive, but in reality regular breaks make you more productive at work. Whether it’s a quick lunch away from your cubicle or a brisk 15-minute walk around the block, making sure you take at least one break each day can build a sabbatical mentality into your workday and get your creative juices flowing. Then build up to taking a full day off from email and social media.

Ultimately, whether hard working individuals start taking advantage of sabbaticals or not, it’s time to change our culture of relentless overwork.  If we want to spark the creativity required to solve the real problems facing our world today, we need to recognize that our bodies and our minds were not made for endless, grueling workdays.

We need more examples of successful professionals taking sabbaticals to inspire others to slow down, rest, and remind our workplaces that allowing workers to take a break can benefit their bottom line, too.

Is it time for you to take a sabbatical? What can you do to build some rest into your workday? Leave a comment and let us know!