When the opportunity came, I was well and truly in need of a break. After ten years of moving country and moving home, of changing and building careers and juggling the demands of my personal life with those of my professional one, the rigours of a busy lifestyle were taking their toll. My wife knew it – I knew it – but it wasn’t until the stars aligned in that tenth year that I could finally take an extended period away from work to rest, recharge, and relax. 
That short time away from work was a welcome one, but to take full advantage of it, I knew that it had to be more than just an extended holiday. Instead, some parts of it had to stick. But which ones would they be? Would the space and awareness that I found survive the rigours of a return to a full-time job, and would I find, as one colleague suggested, that I had changed for good?
With these questions in mind, I vowed to return in one year’s time to reflect on how it all went. In doing so, I hoped to find some insight not only into the long-term benefits of taking time away, but also how to incorporate some of those benefits into an otherwise busy lifestyle.
That time is now.
One of the reasons it can be so hard to take time away is finding the time to set aside for it. We’re all busy, perhaps more so now than ever before. Competing priorities and the sheer volume of current world events can all conspire to make it tricky to find time for ourselves, let alone the multitude of tasks that demand our attention each day.
I was keenly aware of this when I started my time away, so I set out to take as much advantage of this newfound freedom as I could. I ran every morning at dawn, I went to martial arts classes twice a week, I created a proper sleeping schedule, and I spent time cleaning and organising my surroundings every day.
Unfortunately, some of these habits didn’t survive the transition to work. My wife and I still go for a walk every day, but I no longer find the energy to wake up early enough in the morning to go running. Likewise, I only get to martial arts once a week, and I certainly don’t sleep as well as I used to.
What I did realise, however, was that I didn’t have to do all these things. It was good to explore some options and to understand my preferences, but most of the things I wanted to focus on and improve in the long term, I was already working on every day. As such, it was less about finding the time to do more things, and more about finding the time to do the right things. And whether we have three months, three days, three hours, or even just three minutes to ourselves, the things of the most importance to us are those we can work on while we do them.
One of my core goals during my time away was to take better care of myself. I sorted through old belongings and made some hard decisions about what still felt like me and what needed to move on. I made an effort to get out and about and see more of the state where I was born. And, most importantly, I went to the doctor’s to get checked.
Many of these were one-off activities that I still benefit from today, but much like the item above, it is the process rather than the activities themselves that has lingered with me the most.
When we’re caught up in the whirlwind of our daily lives, it can be easy to shut out the messages our bodies send us. Are you a poor sleeper, someone who suffers from patchy skin, or who feels tired or unwell after certain types of activity or food? All of these can be related to stress, of course, but there might be another cause, one that has been with you for so long it no longer registers as out of the ordinary. Pay attention to the patterns and rhythms of your body, and you might find it comes down to getting pillows or mattresses more suited to you, finding a better skin routine, warming up properly before working out, or that certain types of foods just disagree with you. (And yep, all of these apply to me.)
Challenge what feels normal.
Reflection was always going to be a big part of my time away, and I’m glad I set aside some time for it. Meditating, keeping a diary, and searching through my feelings all helped me sort out a number of professional goals and perspectives. It helped me identify the things that mattered to me, and helped me prepare for my return to work.
The most inspiring revelation, however, came from one of the most unexpected sources: re-reading The Lord of the Rings.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve always been a fan of science fiction and fantasy. Whether it was because I had to focus on my career or some abstract idea of ‘growing up’, however, somewhere along the way, I forgot all about that. Instead, I got to thinking that everything I did had to somehow ‘mean’ something or contribute to getting ahead, and in doing so, I missed one of the most important messages of all.
Not everything we do needs to ‘mean’ something. Some things are meant to be enjoyed for the sake of enjoyment itself, and that’s enough. They almost always connect back to some core part of our being, hold some special, untouchable meaning of their own, and the more we refuse to accept them, the more we drift astray.
Since re-reading that childhood favourite, I’ve been re-exploring some of the titles from my childhood and getting in touch with a part of myself that I had long thought cast aside. I wrote about some of that in my previous post, Nordock. And as I have, it’s been encouraging to see that rather than the rejection of these parts of my life I had always feared, I’ve found more supporters than ever, including my wife (who, much to my surprise, happens to be a hill dwarf barbarian).
Looking back on my time away, I am eternally grateful for this period and the reprieve it gave me. Likewise, for the encouragement and support of my wife to build up the courage to take this opportunity. In hindsight, there were some experiences I could only have gotten in doing so. However, it’s also encouraging to see that the most important benefits are those we can all tap into by taking a few simple steps in our daily lives.
10 Things to Do on Sabbatical – One Year OnTweet