4 executives on how a sabbatical changed their career

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Every five years, Facebook offers its employees a 30-day — paid! — sabbatical. Dubbed as their ‘recharge’ program, the point is to give loyal, hardworking professionals time to disconnect, relax and perhaps, travel. By removing yourself from the grind and demands of a busy workplace, you are better equipped to return back to your gig, buzzing with new creative energy.

Though Facebook is a pioneer on many fronts, they aren’t the only company to see the value of paid leave. Sabbaticals can be an effective tool for businesses to offer their top executives, especially since it sets the tone for the culture. By not only investing in downtime but illustrating the value of it, employees will feel empowered to speak up with they need a break.

If you are looking for an excuse to institute this policy where you work, or you’re considering asking for a sabbatical,  here’s what these leaders learned by checking out:

“Be brutally honest about who you are — and who you want to be.”

Shortly after he sold his shares in his first startup, John Wagner was on a somewhat forced sabbatical. As you can imagine, it wasn’t easy at first, and he felt antsy going from a 70-hour workweek to nada. He anxiously started to look for full-time job opportunities and began brainstorming new startup ideas when it hit him that he could do anything. And part of that could be exploring who he was and what he truly had to offer. 

Inspired by the freedom, he decided to row a boat from California to Hawaii, spending nearly a year planning and two months at sea. During this time, he faced hypothermia, mega-storms, mental breakdowns, and eventually lost 38 pounds. But the sabbatical was only beginning. “I went on to study classical art for nearly two years under a master, traveled through Europe became a licensed skydiver and studied advanced meditation for two more years,” he continues. “I pushed myself in every possible way I could think of and completely recreated myself.”

When he returned, he founded his company, By John Taylor, and is grateful for the four-year period that shaped his future. Most importantly, he knows himself thoroughly, and unapologetically. “By having those opportunities to explore the world, push myself through discomfort, fearlessly create, and find stillness in my mind — I completely changed what I believed I was capable of and what I wanted to share,” he continued. “Our limits are so much more than what we believe we are capable of and I am still learning. Push yourself out of your comfort zone. Be strategic with your growth and brutally honest with who you are and who you want to be.”

“There’s strength in taking a step back.”

Two years ago, Tracy Call decided to completely disconnect from the company she founded. She needed a break, and she wanted to understand if the business she built could function without her. “That’s the Catch-22 of starting a business. Like a nonprofit whose ultimate goal is to not be needed anymore — think cancer or Alzheimer’s research — the ultimate entrepreneur’s accomplishment is to make yourself expendable—at least for a month,” she explained.

Along with her wife and her son, they crossed the Atlantic and explored Denmark. Then headed to Germany, before catching the end of the Tour de France in Paris. Back home, her company, Media Bridge Advertising, was still flourishing. At times, she says she grabbed her phone out of habit, but not as much as she thought she would. “I had one client call during the entire month. I directed her back to the team, and they took care of it,” she shared. “By empowering them to make big decisions without the security of my approval, they learned how to trust themselves like never before.” 

Once she returned back to work, she’s noticed their confidence levels reach an all-time high, and sleeping leaders emerged. As tricky — and scary — as it is for an entrepreneur to let go of the reigns, Call says everyone can benefit from the distance. “I’m talking about truly disengaging, setting solid boundaries and committing to your own version of going off the grid. If you find yourself feeling curious — or a little jealous — about the experience I’ve just described, do yourself a favor: learn how to stress a little less, trust a little more and rejuvenate your sou,” she continues. “It’s probably the best thing you can do for yourself, the people you work with and the people you love.”

“Set a limit and savor the time.” 

Cristin Smith, the founder, and spiritual director at Saffron & Sage mapped out a six-month sabbatical in Tijuana, Mexico in 2012. It was a lengthy amount of time, much of which was spent in solitude and silence, either at coffee shops, at her temporary home or by the beach. It was intended to be an extended period of rest and renewal, and it ended up being the birthplace of the health crisis that would ultimately alter the trajectory of her personal and professional life.

Though definitely not what she thought the experience would be like, after a friend noticed a lump, she was diagnosed with tumors growing rapidly on her neck and thyroid. A doctor suggested surgeries and medications, but Smith opted for a natural solution. “Over the course of a year, I formed a multi-disciplinary team of practitioners from Los Angeles to Tijuana. I began connecting and referring friends and neighbors to these precious resources that I had researched and curated in my own struggle to heal holistically,” she shared. “These referrals and recommendations eventually took the form of classes, workshops, and retreats, that soon became Saffron & Sage.” 

Now in better health, she recommends a sabbatical to anyone who, like her, was a recovering workaholic. Her best advice is to set a specific amount of time (no less than three months, she adds), and take the solitude as a way to identify your tendencies and explore your passions. “What do you need to learn, explore, or sort through? I needed to experience deep rest and to take a step back from my present circumstances and recalibrate my life,” she shares. “Sabbaticals don’t have to be about deprivation- they’re about transformation.”

“It’s a gift you give yourself.”

Teneshia Jackson Warner has taken not one but two sabbaticals in her 20-year career. The first one was after she left her cush job at IBM Global Service. She didn’t know what she wanted to do, so she took the time to dig deep. Instead of traveling, she volunteered in industries she was interested in, to try to identify her passion. From movie sets to fashion shows, she finally found a sweet spot in media. Inspired to make something in this space, she eventually founded her marketing firm, EGAMI Group. During her second sabbatical, she took time away from the daily grind to write her second book, ironically titled, The Big Stretch. 

Each time, the time spent away furthered her personal development and awakened her creativity. For any leader, it’s a gift you give yourself — and your future business objectives. “Great ideas are within us but oftentimes these ideas need space and solitude to come through to you,” she explains. “I’m in favor of taking moments of solitude they are key to the dreaming and imagination process.”