Why I’m Taking a Sabbatical

I had a niggling feeling it was on the horizon, but it wasn’t until the last day of Literary London last year that I knew: I needed a break.

For the decade prior, I’d take what I ultimately started calling a “fake break” from the internet every summer. I wouldn’t publish as many blog posts (and later, podcasts), and maybe not interact on social media quite as much, but otherwise, I was working just as much.

I’d work on writing a book, or brainstorm bigger projects, or at minimum, still check in via email or Voxer. Heck, I’d even clean and organize the files on my computer. All work — just not public work. Somehow, I’d still call this a break from work.

But last summer, I truly did sense from something bigger than myself that I needed a legitimate pause. I’ve been doing some form of public, internet-based work for almost 12 years now, and I’ve never once taken a full-on, walk-away break. (The closest was a maternity leave I gave myself when my youngest was born — nine years ago.)

The final sign from God that solidified this nudging was listening to this and this podcast. I knew it: it was time for me to take a sabbatical. It was necessary.

Not just working less. Not simply not checking in. A compete disconnect so that I can unplug, rest, refresh, and renew. Not because I no longer liked my work — but because I love it, and want to make sure it stays healthy, life-giving, and appropriately balanced in the rest of my life.

On the last day in London, I declared to the group that I was going to take a sabbatical, which made it feel official. Saying it out loud meant I needed to follow through (otherwise it’d remain a good idea and merely that).

Taking a sabbatical is fairly counter-cultural. Sure, many of us pause on the weekends, but by and large, our culture doesn’t look well to longer breaks. We call them superfluous or only for the wealthy, firmly in the categories of Well, That Must Be Nice, or I Could Never Do That. I had — still have, sometimes — those same limiting beliefs.

A sabbatical reminds me of my need for rest, and that I’m not hardwired to work around the clock. As my family’s primary breadwinner, and as someone who works from home for herself, it’s way too easy for me to work longer than I intend — or, at least be thinking about my work as I also clean the kitchen and talk to my kids about their days.

A break will give me other things to notice; it’ll wake up a different part of my brain. Instead of channeling energy on podcast sponsorships or daily word counts in my writing, I’ll have more freedom to notice different types of trees and flowers, or try a new hobby I’d otherwise not have time for. 

Taking an extended break also reminds me that the world will be just fine without my work. I don’t say this as a martyr, I say this with total freedom, because it’s true for most of us: yes, what we do matters. But also, the work most of us does can do without us for a short time. If I think I can’t pause and walk away because “people need me” or “what will people do without my work?” or “what will people think?,” it’s time for me to reevaluate why I do what I do in the first place.

It’s good and healthy to remember — especially for those of us who do public work — that everyone will get on perfectly fine without our work for a short while. It’ll make our contributions better when we return, yes, but I say this is a good practice primarily for our own inner work. I need the tangible reminder that I’m not that important — in all the life-giving, freedom-bestowing healthy ways I mean this. I believe more people would do well with this reminder, too. 

And finally, taking a sabbatical will help me remember that I’m not what I do, that my value to the world is not on what I produce or what I create for others to consume. The best versions of those things pour out of me out of a place of gratitude for being alive and for the privilege of taking up the space that I do. A pause in work will help me remember and reignite my gratitude. I can just be a person, and still be infinitely worthwhile.

All these words and paragraphs are really my way of saying this: I’m taking the month of July completely off, for the first time as a writer. And it’s well past a decade coming. 

I’ve been quietly planning it for a year, bringing in the right people to do the things that’ll need doing (because, as my family’s breadwinner and solopreneur, I can’t just turn off the lights completely). Podcasts and blog posts will still go out, because they’re my livelihood, and those things never happen by myself.

Honestly, to the average internet passer-by, it won’t look like much will change in July — most of the change will be behind the scenes. I’ll be deleting email and Slack apps from my phone, making it impossible for me to check in as I’m out and about. I’ll do the same with most social media accounts (I may post on my personal Instagram from time to time, but only for fun — I don’t strategize there anyway). Even my cohost and managing editor, Andrea, will be writing my weekly emails for the month. I may go days without opening my laptop. What’s that like? I have no idea.

I’m genuinely so thrilled, honored, and ready for this. I’m also nervous — not at what anyone might think, but at my letting go. That’s not easy for me. I love what I do. But I love my life more, and I want to be fully here for it.

We’ll spend July in my beloved Pacific Northwest, where the air is cooler, drier, and less fraught with insects, and where my family and I can unplug among the trees, mountains, lake, and ocean. My soul is longing for this, and I can’t wait.

This Friday on the podcast, I’m sharing more of the practicals of how I prepared for this — financially, productively in my work space, and most importantly, mentally. Because most of my prep work, surprisingly, has involved my mindset shift.

Have you ever taken an intentional sabbatical? What was it like?

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26 Comments

  1. Lindsay

    Enjoy Tsh!

    • Tsh Oxenreider

      Thanks!

      • Rachel Zimmerman

        I took an 8 month – ish sabbatical after returning from living in Haiti for several years. God had been whispering this idea in my heart for the last 6 months of Haiti. I moved to a m basement in a retreat center in Indiana and grieved and learned and healed. And it absolutely changed my life.

  2. Lisa

    Soak up that time away! You have given yourself so well to us who have learned from you over the years. Enjoy the rest.

  3. Dee

    I haven’t taken a real break since January.. I’ve got some contacts who get upset if I see a WhatsApp message and don’t respond right away, so going offline would be quite a challenge. And for that reason I feel it’s a must-do real soon as well.

    Enjoy your sabbatical, and I’m looking forward to hearing how it went when you’re back online 🙂 I lived for awhile in Spokane and really love that part of the world.

  4. Kathryn

    Love this! I’ve been a freelance graphic/web designer since I graduated college in 2013, and haven’t had a true unplugged vacation since. I have such a hard time saying no to work, taking a sabbath, and turning my brain off from my task list. You’re stirring some ideas in me for a future sabbatical… And I know it’s 100% possible with some planning and savings. I hope you have an incredible July! And I’m glad we still will receive your content because that have been sad, but yes we would survive! 🙂

    • Tsh Oxenreider

      I so hope you’re able to sometime, Kathryn! I so get that feeling of always having to be on…

  5. Melissa Horan

    As I read this, my dog curled up on my feet and started snoring. Watching (and listening) to him rest is one of my favorite things. I can only imagine how much joy it will give the Lord to see you rest and play with your family this July.

    • Tsh Oxenreider

      Curling up + snoring like a cute doggo sounds just delightful right now, Melissa — my kind of sabbatical. 😉

  6. Sarah

    I’d love to take a sabbatical, but it’s not an option for me in my job. Very few workplaces offer this as an option. My best course of action is to take all the comp time I’m owed and all the vacation days I’ve earned.

    • Tsh Oxenreider

      Yes! There are definitely ways to make something like this work, even in a partial solution-type way, so way to think outside the box, Sarah.

  7. Marie P.

    Hello there and CONGRATULATIONS on making such a big decision. I admire you so much and in so many ways and at my age (88) you have given me a reason to get up in the morning which sounds a bit blah but it’s true.
    My big decision was to retire at 55 which I did and have now been retired over 30 years.
    The first 22 years I spent in Canada/Florida as a snowbird with my Canadian Husband and I think those years were the best ones in my life. I reluctantly returned to England when my DH died in 2008 and you Sue have been and still are,a great part of my life. in my declining years.
    Gosh!! I feel like I’m writing an autobiography which was not my intention.
    I wish you all that you wish for yourself and look forward to eventually finding out how you spent your special sabbatical.
    Love

    • Tsh Oxenreider

      Well now, isn’t this the kindest comment, Marie! Thanks so much for your words of encouragement to me here… What a blessing they were to read them this morning. 💛

  8. Sara

    Maybe that’s what I should call it? I quit my job recently because our family and home life was falling apart. I am privileged to be financially able to do that. (My spouse is the breadwinner.) I loved my work, but something had to give, and I knew I wasn’t going to quit my family. Reactions from people around me have been … fraught. I must be either crazy or lazy, right? Must be nice! But I made the best choice for my family at this time, and am trying to play it by ear for now. It is harder than I imagined to live in the moment.

    • Tsh Oxenreider

      Sounds like you made a hard decision you needed to make for your family, Sara! I call that wise.

  9. Jaclyn

    This is one of the things I love about teaching. Although I do have some work to do each summer—professional development, reflecting on the year and planning for the next, classroom cleanup and organization, etc—I am so grateful for the chance to just BE for a while. To be with my kids, to go to the park every day, catch up with friends, weed my garden, grill often, sit and soak up the sunshine…and I find that when I ignore school for a while, I’m so much more excited about it when I come back. I feel refreshed and ready to tackle new challenges. I think everyone needs that kind of a break once in a while!

    • Tsh Oxenreider

      “I find that when I ignore school for a while, I’m so much more excited about it when I come back.” Yes, this is it exactly, Jaclyn! We definitely all need that sort of break.

  10. tanner olson

    this is so wonderful! needed to hear this! thanks for sharing!

  11. Regina

    So glad you are doing this. Perhaps make this an annual tradition! We’ll still be here when you get back.

  12. Kay Lynn

    Hi! Before you go on sabbatical, I’ve been trying to contact your team about the Essentials course from April. My links (to access the course) aren’t working and the email contact doesn’t seem to work either. Would you mind shooting me an email for a refund? Thanks so much!

  13. hd

    Love this! as a faculty member, i have sabbaticals, but they are usually spent, ironically enough, doing *more* work! Summer breaks and sabbaticals are when the bulk of my research and writing happens. So the feeling of always working resonates a lot with me (as a very different kind of researcher and writer). A whole month off sounds tremendous! Enjoy! And maybe I’ll give it a whirl on my actual sabbatical (not this year but next!)

    • hd

      Ack! i can’t figure out how to edit my comment and “actual” sabbatical sound so pretentious and kind of jerky. Many apologies! please substitute “next,” thanks!

  14. Whitney Bak

    I LOVE this idea of an intentional sabbatical. I feel like all of my “sabbaticals” happen in weekend-long or, occasionally, week-long unplugs resulting from extreme burnout. My husband and I have been talking a LOT about ways to be more “strategic” with our time; now having read this, I think that being strategic with our rests should be factored into those conversations moving forward!

  15. Irene

    Hi Tsh,
    Good for you. I love the reminder that ‘we’re not that important and the world can go on without you.’ It’s something I have been learning so I can get off mail during the weekend or the phone during meetings or meeting up people or when I’m taking a nap. I tell myself, ‘I’m not God, He will help whoever needs me when I’m unavailable.’
    So, thanks for the reminder and I’ll def be thinking and planning in that line too.

    blessings,
    Irene

  16. Kathleen

    I love this so much. In recent years I have intentionally completely unplugged on vacations even if internet is available. While I haven’t been able to take a whole month off, I have taken full weeks off with no computers and only using my phone as a camera. It’s so wonderful and really frees me up to be in the moment and fulling experiencing wherever I am. My husband and I spent last week in Belize to celebrate our 15th wedding anniversary and while he still wanted to check the news and his personal email, I told him with a smile to please keep it all to himself unless something world-shattering happened. I often just sat and people-watched, observed the birds flying around in the jungle, and was so content. It is so good for my soul to truly unplug regularly. And, yes, I completely agree that there is so much freedom in accepting that none of us are all that important. I hope you have a fantastic time on your sabbatical in July!

  17. Michelle Waters

    It seems like everyone I follow on the online world is doing this right about now. Probably a sign that this type of non-stop, 24/7 work isn’t sustainable nor desirable. Hope you can find a break and maybe a different new normal. God’s peace!

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