On The Virtue Of The Sabbatical


That’s what it cost.

Exactly one year ago yesterday, I quit my job.  I had my reasons.  Like every major life decision, though, the sabbatical was propelled more by what I couldn’t do any longer than what I wanted to do going forward.  It’s a simpler need to satisfy, anyway; picking one path from an endless selection of paths can be overwhelming, but knowing you need to get the hell off the path you’re on is a great deal more intuitive.

I heard the skepticism.  I sensed it, because I’ve done it myself.  You know, that slow nod accompanied by “wow, that’s great”; the only response you can concoct when someone tells you they’re majoring in art history.  Outwardly, you feign support, but inside, you mumble to yourself “what the fuck are they going to do with that?”

So yeah, I know it when I hear it.

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I didn’t blame people for their thinly concealed doubt when they learned of my voluntary career abandonment.  Life had taken me to unique places and unceremoniously dropped me in bizarre situations – I didn’t expect anyone to relate to it, to understand that walking away was the only logical next step for me in that moment.  So, I smiled and moved on.

One year later though, $65,492 lighter in my imaginary wallet (if you don’t own an elderly cat in need of emergency surgery, and you’re not fond of international travel, you can shave a good twenty grand off that figure, easily), I finally have the response for the faces with looks of quizzical concern those fifty-two weeks ago – you should do this.

In exchange for that money, I got to spend a year of my life – while I was still of sound enough mind and body to enjoy it – being where I wanted to be, doing what I wanted to do, with whom I wanted to do it with.  There was no one to answer to, no faceless entity controlling when I would need to wake up and be somewhere.  In that freedom, in that space, I could finally find who I was and what I wanted.

Is that worth forty, fifty, or sixty grand?  Yeah, it is.

Minus the noise and bullshit of serving someone or something else, you can find what you are; once you find it, you’ll never lose it, and possessing that knowledge is exponentially more valuable than anything you could have bought with that money.

Not everyone is in a position to do so, obviously.  Plenty of folks struggle enough paying this month’s bills to worry about such abstract matters.  I dare say, though, that many others are much closer to being able to pull this off than they think they are.  Once basic needs of food and shelter are secured, spending of money is dictated by priority, not necessity.  And you get to choose your priorities.

Locked in the day-to-day grind of deadlines and this month’s bills and those things we must have, it sounds ridiculous.  Take a step back, though.  Zoom out.  Look at your working life as a four-decade marathon instead of the monthly sprint we’re all conditioned to see it as.

If you average $50,000/year of income over your entire forty year career, you will ultimately earn two million dollars of income.  Now, say you take a year off in the middle of that time.  Go visit Paris for a month.  Learn a new skill.  Go live in Rome for a month, or go fishing in Montana.  Find your passion.  Do the things you’ve always wanted to do but never had the time for.  Then go to Paris again.  Go see old friends.  Go to London, or drive across America and back.  Learn about things you want to learn about.  Go to Prague.  Create the legacy you want to leave behind.

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Many years later, in your mid-sixties, as you finally escape the daily burden of work, you’ve earned $1.9M instead of $2.0M.  The effect it had on your financial situation over the span of your working life is negligible.

But you had that year.

You’ll always have that year.

When your time here winds down to an end, and you’re lying in a bed you’ll never get out of, evaluating your life, would you rather have the money?