I am on day 1 of my Sabbatical leave.

What is a Sabbatical leave? Why would you take one? How do you spell the word – it seems so long?

Great questions. I’ll try to answer the first two questions; as for the third, I haven’t quite figured how to spell it myself.

What is a sabbatical leave?

Merriam Webster explains:

The Old Testament refers to God’s “day of rest” most famously in Genesis, but Sabbath referring to an entire year of rest is mentioned in Leviticus (25:3-5):

Six years thou shalt sow thy field, and six years thou shalt prune thy vineyard, and gather in the fruit thereof;

But in the seventh year shall be a sabbath of rest unto the land, a sabbath for the LORD: thou shalt neither sow thy field nor prune thy vineyard.

That which groweth of its own accord of thy harvest thou shalt not reap, neither gather the grapes of thy vine undressed: for it is a year of rest unto the land.

In other words, it’s a time of rest to focus on things that are precious to you. Precious can mean a lot of things. For me, it’s about learning, self-discovery, and writing. You may love traveling or playing chess. That’s the beauty of the word “precious.” It can mean different things to different people, and yet it always represents what they most desire.

Why do people take Sabattical leave, and for how long? Can’t you do those “Precious” things on the side?

You ask difficult questions, my friend. Let me summon two geniuses; perhaps they will convince you.

Here’s Nassim Taleb on his Sabattical strategy.

“(I) Take a sabbatical year for every three on average to fill up gaps in my scientific and philosophical culture.”
-Black swan

I realize I have taken seven times as long as Taleb’s recommendation. But then “better late than never,” right?

Terry Pratchett expounds on how a Sabbatical transforms you:

“Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colors. And the people there see you differently, too. Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving.”
― [Terry Pratchett]

Let’s forget for a moment that Terry has a nine-year-old-witch speaking these lines. What does that have to do with anything anyway?

I trust you are convinced. And if you can do all of this while working full time, hey, that’s what you should do.

Ok, I get that, but why now?

I have three reasons. There may be more lurking in the subconscious!

Sabbatical Leave Reason 1: Write better

I want to sharpen my writing – it’s something I have been postponing for years now. Writing, like almost everything today, has many facets. You have to connect with your audience. We have to persuade Mr.Google to send more people our way. We’ve got to leave bullets and PowerPoint behind and learn to write conversationally. And finally – and most importantly – you need to give your readers something useful. Your audience could use a few laughs too.

Achieving all of this is a life-long endeavor. I hope the Sabbatical will get me started on the journey. It promises to be long but satisfying, and I have already found some fantastic tools to help me on my way.

There’s a second reason too. And this one’s a biggie.

Sabbatical Leave Reason 2: Decode our relationship with time in a professional environment

I have played leader for a long time now – and I sense that our scarcest resource, time, is becoming even-more so. I wish to spend time (yeah!) understanding our relationship with time in a working environment – specifically in the WFH scenario,

WFH has made time even more of a scarce commodity. As leaders, we try alleviating the situation by reducing meetings and paperwork (collaboration software!). These, however, are not lasting solutions. We are addressing symptoms rather than causes. Our lack of time seems to spring from something more significant than a localized impact of the pandemic – it’s just more visible now.

Skewed work-life balance has taken the blame for a long time. But is this also a symptom?

I suspect so.

Is our time our’s to spend? Today, we intuit that we have handed over the reins of our time to a new master. We want it back, and our frustration is indeed a cry for reclaiming control of our own time.

Hmm – but who’s this master?

Well, the master is not new. It’s a much known, loved thing – something that has given us untold riches and comforts. It’s called technology, and it has a million faces; three of those are the ones that deserve our attention today.

1. Email

When things succeed beyond their promise, they can become a curse! You can send as many Emails to as many people as you want and whenever you want to—all at zero cost. That’s a massive success for technology, but for you, it’s a hundred new ToDos every day. And you never know what news an email brings until you open it – it could be something that requires you to sacrifice the weekend or could be a promotion! Opening something a hundred times with trepidation can leave you breathless with anxiety!

2. Calender

For the longest time, our ancestors based their life on nature. When day broke, it was time to work. At dusk, you laid down your tools and retired for the evening. With the industrial revolution emerged the age of Personal Assistants. These PAs organized their Manager’s day. It wasn’t efficient, but the PAs made the system work.

A third revolution took place over the last couple of decades, empowering us to block others’ calendars without their consent. You didn’t need permission, and it cost nothing. Like emails (often these ere integrated), you can schedule as many invites and as often as you want. It is for the receiver to decline – their problem, not yours! Automated Calendar scheduling also coincided with globalization, causing an explosion in “meetings.” No matter what you wanted – an input, information sharing, reviews, a spot of brainstorming, plan for your next meeting – a meeting was the answer. Today, it’s hard to figure when your day will end – there may be an invite for a crucial meeting on it’s way to you!

3. Rabbit Holes

Social media and Netflix-led binges claim your time too. These algorithms can keep you going all day long as you jump from video to like to a series binge.

How much time do we lose every day to compulsive behavior?

How much of our time do meets, emails, and other algorithm-led entertainment sources drain? I did a back of the envelope calculation and validated it with a few colleagues – here’s the math:

Emails ——> ~ 100 emails/ day @ 2 minutes/ mail -> 3 hrs/day
Meetings —> ~5 meetings/day @ 30 mts/meet -> 2.5 hrs/ day
Social media and binge-watching – 2- hours/day

Wow – we have handed over half our waking lives to these new masters that drive compulsive behavior. We still have our daily work to do – and that eats into the rest of our time. We end up sleep-compromised, over-worked, and grumpy. And yes, work-life balance goes out of whack!

I find these statistics fascinating and plan to explore our relationship with time further, hence the Sabbatical. You never know, I may fire out how to cut our compulsive behavior by half!

My third and favorite reason – Why not?

Regrets are sad things. I don’t want to grapple with these thoughts a decade from now: “I could have been an ace writer/ entrepreneur/ sportsman but for but for X (no time, constrained circumstances, etc.).” Sabbatical leave is the easiest way to remove excuses.

Now that we have the reasons out of the way – here’s the exciting thing. There is the unspoken worry, “what would people say?”

Well, it doesn’t hurt to ask. I was pleasantly surprised by all the generous support I received from everyone – leaders, coworkers, family, and friends. Most of our constraints seem to be only in our minds!

If you are still on the wall and are looking for a final push, here’s Jeff Bezos talking about his regret minimization framework:

There you have it – the story of how my Sabattical leave came to be. A passion, a purpose to aim for, and a regret we don’t need – these are reasons enough to try. Yes, you can wish me luck! And don’t forget to come back and check out my other posts. I will have more updates for you and would love to hear your experiences and thoughts too. Conversations will make the journey that much brighter.

Essay

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