I just completed four months of voluntary unemployment/sabbatical/temporary retirement. As someone who had done something similar a couple times in his past predicted, I did about 60% of the things I wanted to do and then decided I wanted to go back to being a contributing member of society again. But even though 40% of my list didn’t get done, I feel my time off served its purpose, and I’m really glad I took it. Now that it’s over, I’m reflecting back on some of my lessons learned, some of which could probably be considered universal truths and some that are more specific to me. I’m sharing them here for those who don’t want to take such a drastic step to learn a few things or be reminded of what you already knew.
Even doing nothing requires structure. When I was working I made to-do lists – weekly work task lists, longer-term work project lists, weekend home task lists, longer-term home and personal project lists, shopping lists….really, if something could be put on a list, I probably had one for it. Once I stopped working, I still had almost all these same lists. Early on someone told me I shouldn’t be sticking to lists during this time, but I needed them to help create some structure for an otherwise very unstructured time. Sometimes the list for a day was “hike, get gas, go through photos” (which is sooo much better than “talk to employee X about performance issue, try to figure out the thing no one else has been able to figure out after working on it for two weeks, review accounting memo”) – but it was structure. I also found that I felt just as busy, if not more busy, when I was unemployed, so I needed to stay on top of everything somehow.
Go down a rabbit hole every now and then. I don’t like to waste time, but since I had more of it on my hands during my sabbatical, I let myself go down a few rabbit holes. For me, a rabbit hole usually involves the internet. When I look up something online, often many of the hyperlinked words/phrases are tempting; when I watch a You Tube video, the other recommended videos on the right taunt me. I can’t say I’m a better or more informed person because I allowed myself to click through, but I did enjoy wasting a little bit of time.
Once an accountant, always an accountant. This is also probably one of the reasons I wanted to keep making lists. During my time off I enjoyed the ritual of entering my expenses into Quicken (though it probably would have been more enjoyable if I had also been able to enter some income), and I REALLY enjoyed doing my monthly budget-to-actual analysis, which was something I didn’t do for my personal finances until my sabbatical. I took great pleasure in the fact that my year-to-date budget-to-actual variance through the end of September was $229. Like I said, once an accountant, always an accountant!
When things get old, they start to break down, and Murphy’s Law dictates many things will break at the same time when you don’t have an income stream. I put a lot of hard miles on my car. About a month before my last day of work, I took my car to the dealer for maintenance, and they gave me a list of costly recommended repairs. I took it to a local mechanic who did what was needed for much less, but I had to repeat this same exercise later in the summer after being presented with another list of dealer recommended repairs that totaled nearly $7,000 at dealer pricing. At some point in between these two major car repairs, some of my kitchen lighting stopped working. After I figured out that my condo is zoned commercial (and therefore only certain electricians are licensed to work on it) and then waited the three weeks until the one I found was able to come out, my lighting was partially fixed with the caveat that it was only a temporary fix, and I would eventually need to get new fixtures and switch to LED. Fortunately the temporary fix lasted closer to the top end of the “2 weeks to 2 months” range I was given. I had some other things break during my time off, but I think you get the general idea. I guess the silver lining is I actually had time to deal with it.
There’s no place like home. I know a lot of people travel for most if not all of their sabbatical time. As much as I love to travel, I knew this would never be in the cards for me. I took some fun trips, but by the end of each one, I was ready to get home. Sometimes it was because I missed my bed, sometimes it was wanting to hike in the mountains, sometimes it was the weather (believe it or not, some places have more miserable weather than Seattle, or at least it was more miserable when I was visiting), sometimes it was a strong desire to have people speak to me in English and sometimes it was a craving for a good cheeseburger.
Washington is the smallest state west of the Mississippi, but it’s impossible to see it all. I had a very long list of hikes I wanted to do and places I wanted to visit around the state this summer. And while I got a lot of great hikes and exploring in, there were entire areas of the state that were high on my list to spend quality time in that I didn’t even get close to. There are definitely worse problems to have than to live in a place that has so much to see it will keep me busy for many, many years. Here are a few of the new places I was able to visit during my time off.
Always be on your best behavior because it’s a very small world. I already knew this, but it was definitely driven home during my job search. Everyone seems to know everyone, and while it’s somewhat comforting to be able to have a lot of common ties with someone you might want to work for some day, it’s also somewhat terrifying as you wonder what those common ties would say about you if asked.
People are kind and generous. I always suspected this, but watching the current election cycle and the news in general, I sometimes doubted it. During my time off, friends treated me to meals, gave me really detailed vacation advice, offered me a room during my travels (some of which I never got a chance to visit) and checked in with me periodically to make sure I wasn’t losing my mind. They were also very helpful in my job search, pinging me with opportunities that prompted me to really start thinking about going back to work, acting as a sounding board when I was thinking through my career direction, agreeing to be a reference, making introductions and, in one notable case, stalking me and tempting me by saying things like “come work with me, we have food trucks!”
Old people need less sleep. I proved this during my time off with my inability to sleep in. As my time off came to an end, I forced myself to sleep until 7 a couple mornings just because I could.
Time to sign off because I have to get up early tomorrow…