At one point, taking a career sabbatical was exceedingly rare — an experience reserved only for tenured professors after years at a university. Today, however, sabbaticals are becoming more and more common. According to the Society for Human Resource Management, 17 percent of employers offer a sabbatical program. But even outside of formal sabbaticals, many employees take extended time off in between jobs to travel, spend time with family or simply relax.
If you’re thinking about taking a sabbatical, we’re here to help. Read on to find out what you need to know before committing.
Common Reasons for Taking a Sabbatical
There isn’t one correct reason to take a sabbatical — people from all walks of life, in all stages of their careers and from all different circumstances take sabbaticals. Some of the more common reasons include:
- Wanting to travel
- Wanting to take a break or recharge
- Wanting to spend time with family
- Wanting to give back or volunteer
- Wanting to train for a new career
- Wanting to pursue a journey of self-discovery
The extended time off that sabbaticals provide is a great way to explore the options above. Alternatively, you could also consider taking an extended vacation, requesting a more flexible schedule or going on medical or FMLA leave — it’s all up to you, and what you think is best for your life and your career.
Think About Timing
Before you take a sabbatical, it’s important to decide whether or not it’s the right time to do so. In general, it helps to be established enough in your career that you can pick right back up from where you left off, but not so senior that you would be missing out on game-changing opportunities. It can also be easier to take a sabbatical before you have certain responsibilities, like dependents or a home.
Lia Saunders, owner of the travel blog Practical Wanderlust, shared how she knew the timing was right to take a sabbatical: “I don’t have dependents and I’m able to save money and take a year off — the time is perfect. I didn’t want to be on my deathbed wishing I’d traveled more and worked less. And I knew if I let myself wait until later, later might never come,” she said. “So I set myself a deadline when I started my career right out of college. I gave myself five years to get my career to a place I could leave and come back to without having to start over. Then, I committed to taking the leap, and did it!”
If you’re not sure whether or not the timing is right, ask yourself these questions:
- Do I feel secure in my desired career path?
- Would taking an extended amount of time off set me back? If so, could I recover from it?
- Do I have any dependents? If so, will I be able to care for them when I’m not working?
- Are there any other obligations tying me to my current work and life situations?
Evaluate Your Finances
Of course, you can’t take a sabbatical without thinking about how it will affect your finances. If you work for a company that offers a paid sabbatical — lucky you! — you’ll be able to continue earning a steady stream of income for however long your company policy dictates. If not, though, you’ll have to carefully reflect on your current financial state.
Ideally, you should have a comfortable amount of savings already built up that won’t be completely depleted by a lack of income and expenses incurred during your sabbatical. To make sure you’re on solid financial footing, ask yourself these questions:
- Do I have enough money saved up to go without a steady income for a certain period of time?
- What will my daily/weekly/monthly budget look like while I’m on my sabbatical?
- Is there a way I can make money during my sabbatical? If so, how much can I reasonably expect to make?
- How much money do I want to have left over by the end of my sabbatical?
Benefits of Taking a Sabbatical
While there are many considerations worth taking into account before deciding to go on a sabbatical, there are undoubtedly benefits to it as well. Many of those who have taken sabbaticals come to treasure the memories they’ve made traveling, volunteering or pursuing their personal passion projects. Some simply take the time off to relax or take care of personal matters, which leaves them feeling refreshed and ready to take on new challenges at work upon their return. Others use the time to prepare for an entirely new line of work, honing the skills they need to secure their dream jobs. And still others emerge from a sabbatical with a more profound understanding of who they are and what they want out of life.
“If your spirit is crying for change, and you just don’t know what that next step looks like, taking time off to simply ‘be’… to meander a while and follow your curiosities… can be incredibly renewing and insightful,” said Kim McCabe, U.S. Public Relations Lead + Brand Champion at G Adventures. “It’s only when we step off the treadmill that we can sometimes notice the subtleties on the side of the road.”