This time 7 years ago I joined Bluefin and I vividly remember the final interview where my now friend (then interviewer) Tristan Colgate described to me the benefits of working for the company. “You’ll get a 4 week sabbatical after 5 years” he said. Being fresh out of college at the time I thought – awesome! A month extra vacation! But since then my perspective on that benefit and general vacation time has changed in a way I couldn’t have understood at the time.
The IT industry always has a reason to not go on leave and those of you in this space should know what I mean (and I’m sure other industries are the same). Project deadlines, sales cycles and conferences like SAPPHIRE and TechEd mean there is always a good reason to not take a lot of leave and to spread out that leave into short manageable chunks and by manageable I mean, chunks that will make the least impact on my work life.
Over the years I’ve taken my leave as per HR policies (try to only carry over X days at the end of each year) where I would schedule a week here or a few days there and at Christmas, try to take a couple of weeks back in Ireland with family. But did I ever really switch off? Then I would have said yes but now I recognize that the answer was firmly, no!
Firstly, it takes me a week to wind down, another few days to switch off and then (and only then) can I start to really enjoy myself and live life outside of work. A week here and there just doesn’t allow for the real (and I use that term specifically) recharging of batteries. I should have taken my leave in no less than 2 week blocks, a few days just doesn’t do it.
Secondly, as an expatriate from Ireland for the majority of the last 7 years, I have spent Christmas and other holidays going back home to see family and friends. I love my family time and seeing friends but what I’ve come to realize is that a trip back home is anything but a vacation. Instead I find myself running around trying to see as many people as possible and fitting in everything over a week or two. This means I would return (in some cases) more tired than when I left.
Thinking back over the last seven years I would probably be a bit more selfish as to how I use my vacation time and making sure that I get the personal time and headspace needed to really recharge my batteries. This means booking multiple week vacations in advance and really planning to recharge during that time (no checking email).
In the run up to this month I told everybody that I was heading out on sabbatical and the reactions were very interesting. From those who had been there and taken one, the advice was “switch off, take time for you and just enjoy yourself” and from those who have not taken one it was more along the lines of “You’re so lucky, where are going, what are you doing?”.
I now fully understand the importance of the sabbatical. It’s not a month of paid leave to simply do something cool. It’s more of a forced recharging of the batteries. Forcing those of us who love our jobs and have a dedication to get things done to take some actual time off. Put down the laptop and go better yourself outside of your work life.
Right now I’m sitting on a plane with my (very patient) wife on our way to Hawaii and I am contemplating this topic and that is what has driven me to write this note. Am I doing all that I could to detach myself from my work life and spend some time with my wife that is uninterrupted by work? This time yes is the answer. I don’t have any email access, slack (chat app) is deleted and my phone calls are being screened.
What vacations should mean
I’m only in week 1 of my sabbatical so I’m sure I’ll learn more as I go but with 4 weeks ahead of no required-work I can honestly say that I now understand the importance of stopping, switching off and allowing myself the time to just be. I already feel like I’m starting to relax in a way I have never done on any vacation over the last 7 years (starting being the operative word!).
I know I’ll return to work in a month with a renewed understanding of what I want, rejuvenated focus, enjoy work more, be more effective and be overall healthier in both body and mind.
I’d love to hear from others who have a similar experience or disagree – what has been your experience and did you find the same?