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I'm terrible at taking time off
How's that for self-discovery?
My plan this year was to take a sabbatical.
I quit my full-time job in December, hired a financial planner, and worked out a budget that would allow me to take several months off of work. I spoke publicly about my plans and talked them through with my therapist. I formed grand visions of traveling and finding stillness and discovering new things about myself.
The main thing I’ve discovered so far is that I’m terrible at taking time off.
I’ve worked more than not during this “sabbatical” year. I signed five different contracts for various months-long projects. The women’s leadership program that I run expanded from one week-long academy to three. I learned how to be a Facebook Live host. I developed a project management workflow that keeps me on task. I built a website, launched a scholarship program, and started this newsletter. I mastered time-blocking and am honing the art of single-tasking.
On one hand, staying this busy is awesome. I’ve learned how much I enjoy the freelance life, and that it’s something I’d like to pursue in earnest next year. Freelancing isn’t easy, especially as you’re starting out, and I’m fortunate to have landed so many opportunities.
On the other hand, staying this busy is not so awesome. Of the 22 trips I’ll take this year, half of them are work-related. And while I hoped to travel more in 2018, I wasn’t anticipating traveling for both pleasure and business, with an increasing amount of work piling up between trips.
This all doesn’t fit into my idea of what 2018 would look like. I’ve practically eliminated the possibility of stillness and self-discovery. The days I’ve felt the most growth this year are the ones spent unplugged and in nature, but my jam-packed schedule hasn’t given me room to embrace many of those.
I realize there’s an immense amount of privilege in even having this problem. For many people, the option to take time off from work doesn’t even exist. And that makes me feel even guiltier. Why am I squandering a precious opportunity that so many other people would love to have?
When Jamie died, I lost more than my spouse. I could list all the comforts, benefits and dreams that also disappeared, but it all boils down to one hard truth: I completely lost my sense of self.
And that’s why, despite my well-intentioned sabbatical plans, I retreated back to work. Staying busy and being productive offers me a safe place to hide. It’s firmly within my comfort zone. Working constantly means that I have skills to offer, money to spend, and a resume without gaps.
Staying busy also means that I don’t have to face who I am, or what I might feel, outside of work. And that’s maybe my biggest loss this year. Being reminded that life can end at any time, without any warning, should have been the ultimate wake-up call. If there’s any silver lining in experiencing an overwhelming loss, it’s that it gives you a rare opportunity to hit the reset button on life.
I had (and, arguably, still have) the ability to stop and question most everything without judgment. Am I happy in what I’m doing? Do I feel fulfilled? Am I making a real contribution to society? Is this how I want to spend my precious days on Earth?
In order to answer these questions, I need to sit with them. I need to spend time outside my comfort zone, and be brave and patient enough to face the unknown. I need to find out who I am — without a marriage or fancy job title or busy schedule to hide behind. I need to trust my instincts.
I’m proud of past Katie for being smart and bold enough to decide to go on sabbatical. And while my dreams didn’t quite line up with reality, that doesn’t mean I can’t try again. I’m going to be patient with present Katie, and have faith that future Katie might do some version of a true break from work. After all, I have to believe that there are some bigger and better things to discover about myself besides the fact that I’m terrible at taking time off.
Good job, brain
I'm currently (re) reading: The Hours
I’m currently inspired by: Long walks. Fall doesn’t really exist in Florida, but the promise of slightly cooler weather is in the air, and I am celebrating by enjoying as much time I can outside.
I'm currently aiming to: Spend more time with the people I love, and less time on social media.
If you’re thinking about taking some time off (congrats!), here are some helpful reads:
Rules for resters
How to take a sabbatical (and not go insane)
And remember in the first issue of My Sweet Dumb Brain how I talked about needing to listen to my own advice? Last year I wrote about the need to take a sabbatical, and the benefits afterwards. (One more time: Katie! Listen to yourself!)