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Is It Worthwhile To Take a Sabbatical?

Updated: Jul 13, 2023



"Value is more expensive than price."

How do you put a value to a sabbatical?


There is loss of earning. Your career is set back by a few months or years. Your peers have raced past you. You might struggle to come back to where you were when you took a break - forget about joining the race a little ahead.


Can any amount of learnings from a sabbatical overcome the above notional 'loss'?


Working on your mental or physical health or taking care of a loved one are intangibles to which a value cannot be ascribed. But what if your reason to go on a break was to reset or to learn something "deeper" about yourself or to pick up a new skill or to support your spouse's career? These are reasons for which there is an opportunity cost.


Often I have wondered how my sabbatical helped me be 'better'. And more importantly, was it worth it at all?


This is how I feel 3 years after my sabbatical and how some things that I learnt that have stayed with me 3 years hence.


Ambiguity

As much as we would like to believe that our jobs give us freedom to operate, our days are greatly controlled by someone's KPIs in the hierarchy above us.


Our jobs offer us what I call as "controlled ambiguity" at best. My sabbatical on the other hand, was a new day everyday.


From planning my day with enough to have a feeling of fulfillment, to picking up skills which I think I will need a few months hence or to identifying the point at which to end the sabbatical were all my decisions and with no precedence for me.


Today I don't get overwhelmed with uncertainty. And that's the biggest outcome for me from my sabbatical.


Courage

I have a controversial take on careers - its the fear of change rather than the love of a job that makes people spend inordinate time with a company.


I should have left Unilever 4 years sooner than I did. I left Udaan within 8 months of joining. My sabbatical happened in between.


The courage to see what's not right for me and acting on that instinct is another outcome that I thank my sabbatical for.


Focus

I had wanted to work for an NGO. I thought I could spend another decade making ads. I used to think I am flexible enough to work in any kind of an organization. Going back to a company like Unilever wouldn't be a challenge for me.


These were some of my strongly held beliefs that were proven wrong.


I picked up different projects during my sabbaticals - from internships to consulting assignments to setting up an e-com site.


I got to see a wider world and as a result I have a lot more clarity in life on what are the kind of people and companies I want to work for. And that for me is a big win.


So should you or should you not?

The decision to go on a sabbatical is hard. Possibly one of the the hardest decisions you will take in your career.


I am happy that I took that decision.


I believe I'm a better person for that - I am more effective at work. I have more energy than ever. I have bigger ambitions than I did before.


But you know that your decision and your journey are going to be very different from everyone else's and in that, I hope, I have been able to stimulate your thinking.


PS 1: These lines, written for a different context, fit well here...


Another turning point, a fork stuck in the road

Time grabs you by the wrist, directs you where to go

So make the best of this test, and don't ask why

It's not a question, but a lesson learned in time.


PS 2: I do not take advice from fortune cookies.

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