A sabbatical is a period of time during which someone such as a university teacher can leave their ordinary work and travel or study; any extended period of leave from one’s customary work, especially for rest, to acquire new skills or training, etc.Oxford Languages
Somewhere around December of 2021 I started to feel really restless about my life. I had a lot of uncertainty regarding my future career in medicine. I was running my own practice and working locums part-time. Although I was finding new interests in non-medical arenas, there was little to no free time to explore these interests. When the weekend came, I struggled with the choice to either rest and recover from the busy workweek, or take a class and explore something that piqued my interest. Whichever one I chose would still leave little energy to wash my hair, grocery shop, meal prep, and plan for the week ahead. Oh, let’s not forget spending quality time with my husband. My “choose one or the other” challenge started to make me resent my career because I felt deprived in so many other creative things I desired. I was holding on so tightly to the identity of being a hard working doctor and practice owner that I could not see how to ever incorporate my love for art, herbalism, fashion, spirituality, real estate, and family would ever be something I could ever deep dive into.
That December, my husband was granted a semester off from teaching as a generous reward for serving as his University’s graduate director the previous three years. This was exciting for him because the time off would allow him to focus on writing his book and working on other scholarly projects that are hard to juggle when teaching full time. He could use the time to travel to different archives across the country, attend conferences, be a featured guest on podcasts, start his own podcast, and conduct all kinds of research on his interests to further his projects. He would not have to be back to teach until August of this year. With my husband’s temporary new freedom, I immediately had the instinct for us to run! Run away as fast as we could to somewhere different. Although I was working for myself, I yearned for the same chance to free myself from the daily grind to focus on my own passion projects. But then, what were my passions? Sure I had ideas that piqued my interests, but I never had the time to dip my toes into anything outside of medicine. I knew I like painting and learning about plants and herbs. But whatever I chose to learn, I would have to start from scratch. February to August seemed like a long enough time to get a new hobby going.
Right before this decision to run, I took a life changing trip to Costa Rica (read that blog post here). When I returned home, I seemed to have a greater perspective on life and what it means to truly live. I uncovered hurt pieces of myself and vowed to start the process to heal. After all, life is short. And that is how I got to this crazy decision to stop everything.
I proposed to my husband that we go somewhere that would bring us joy. We chose North Carolina because that is where his father lives and where my sister and the majority of my family lives. He agreed! I sent letters to my private patients telling them they would have to transfer their care to a new practice within the next 30 days. I put all my medical contracts on hold. My landlord graciously let me out of my commercial lease early. I put all of my office furniture and equipment into a nearby storage facility in one afternoon. We drove 18 hours from Texas to North Carolina so that we would have our own transportation. Although we had saved enough money in our sinking fund for emergencies, we did not have quite enough to pay another rent while still paying a mortgage for our home in Houston. So we chose to live in my mom’s home and paid all of her utilities and maintenance expenses while there.
From January to August, I was only partially able to unplug from practicing medicine. This happens to be the year I am due for my medical board recertification. Therefore, I spend several hours a week doing medical practice assessments and modules online. I still have to read medical journals and attend virtual medical conferences to earn CME (continuing medical education) quite regularly. However, I was able to enroll into my first herbalism course, and I am so thrilled to learn all about wellness from a different holistic perspective. I also started learning fabric weaving and pottery. Weaving proved to be quite tedious and time consuming so I quit that after only two classes. Pottery has been challenging for me, but I think I will stick with it so I can finally make something other than a lop-sided ashtray that I intended to be a coffee cup. I took swim lessons again. (Long story, but I’ve taken swim lessons in about 4 different states). I also took tennis lessons weekly. And lastly, I started my own tea company.
I started manifesting all sorts of desires and blessings after my first trip to Costa Rica, so I went back to there to celebrate my 40th birthday with my husband and friends. During my sabbatical, I also went to Martha’s Vineyard for a few days with good friends and then I spent a week in Boston while my husband did archival research for his book. Then I took a long weekend trip to New York City where I got to attended the fabulous Tory Burch Embrace Ambition Summit. Back in North Carolina, I visited the country doctor museum, and attended a groundbreaking event for a well known herbalist in Falk County North Carolina. I picked strawberries, learned to make soap and candles, and I also learned to identify edible plants in my mother’s back yard. I met multiple cousins and family members for the first time that I discovered on 23AndMe. My cup was truly running over in joy and abundance.
Our sabbatical is now over. Hubby is back to work, and I am too. While I was gone, I did miss practicing medicine. But now I know that I don’t have to “doctor” the way everyone expects me to. I have to leave room for a full-bodied expression of myself and not the all work, no play doctor version of me. I have acknowledged that what is important to me is travel, abundance of nature, regular solitude balanced with occasional socializing, frequent hands-on artistic outlets, enough time to cook healthy meals, time to spend with my cousins and good friends, regular body movement through yoga and swimming, and many other things. I discovered so many things about myself that I cannot see how living the old way is possible without killing a large piece of me. I need to create my ideal life in my own unique way. I’m currently figuring that out, and it is a work in progress. But I am grateful that I was able to take the first step.
I understand everyone can’t drop everything and run away for six months. Many people have children, or are caretakers, have inflexible jobs, or don’t have the financial means to leave work like we did. I also don’t think everyone looking for direction in life needs a sabbatical. It so happens that travel is one of the tools I use that really help me tease out mental clutter. And let me tell you, I have a lot. But there are other ways to take a “pseudo-sabbatical” even while working. You can make intentional efforts to release yourself from over-commitment at work which is referred to as “silent quitting”. With that, you should find more mental space to examine your life, determine your wants, needs, and steps to achieve them. Another option is whenever you take a vacation, make it count. Go solo to enjoy intimacy with self. Or request your partner or friends allow you time alone during the trip for self reflection. Journal or meditate when you find alone time. Find ways to pour out the stagnant water and re-fill your cup.
Have you ever considered or taken a sabbatical? I would love to hear your story! Comment below.