I had a niggling feeling it was on the horizon, but it wasn’t until the last day of Literary London last year that I knew: I needed a break.
For the decade prior, I’d take what I ultimately started calling a “fake break” from the internet every summer. I wouldn’t publish as many blog posts (and later, podcasts), and maybe not interact on social media quite as much, but otherwise, I was working just as much.
I’d work on writing a book, or brainstorm bigger projects, or at minimum, still check in via email or Voxer. Heck, I’d even clean and organize the files on my computer. All work — just not public work. Somehow, I’d still call this a break from work.
But last summer, I truly did sense from something bigger than myself that I needed a legitimate pause. I’ve been doing some form of public, internet-based work for almost 12 years now, and I’ve never once taken a full-on, walk-away break. (The closest was a maternity leave I gave myself when my youngest was born — nine years ago.)
Not just working less. Not simply not checking in. A compete disconnect so that I can unplug, rest, refresh, and renew. Not because I no longer liked my work — but because I love it, and want to make sure it stays healthy, life-giving, and appropriately balanced in the rest of my life.
On the last day in London, I declared to the group that I was going to take a sabbatical, which made it feel official. Saying it out loud meant I needed to follow through (otherwise it’d remain a good idea and merely that).
Taking a sabbatical is fairly counter-cultural. Sure, many of us pause on the weekends, but by and large, our culture doesn’t look well to longer breaks. We call them superfluous or only for the wealthy, firmly in the categories of Well, That Must Be Nice, or I Could Never Do That. I had — still have, sometimes — those same limiting beliefs.
A sabbatical reminds me of my need for rest, and that I’m not hardwired to work around the clock. As my family’s primary breadwinner, and as someone who works from home for herself, it’s way too easy for me to work longer than I intend — or, at least be thinking about my work as I also clean the kitchen and talk to my kids about their days.
A break will give me other things to notice; it’ll wake up a different part of my brain. Instead of channeling energy on podcast sponsorships or daily word counts in my writing, I’ll have more freedom to notice different types of trees and flowers, or try a new hobby I’d otherwise not have time for.
Taking an extended break also reminds me that the world will be just fine without my work. I don’t say this as a martyr, I say this with total freedom, because it’s true for most of us: yes, what we do matters. But also, the work most of us does can do without us for a short time. If I think I can’t pause and walk away because “people need me” or “what will people do without my work?” or “what will people think?,” it’s time for me to reevaluate why I do what I do in the first place.
It’s good and healthy to remember — especially for those of us who do public work — that everyone will get on perfectly fine without our work for a short while. It’ll make our contributions better when we return, yes, but I say this is a good practice primarily for our own inner work. I need the tangible reminder that I’m not that important — in all the life-giving, freedom-bestowing healthy ways I mean this. I believe more people would do well with this reminder, too.
And finally, taking a sabbatical will help me remember that I’m not what I do, that my value to the world is not on what I produce or what I create for others to consume. The best versions of those things pour out of me out of a place of gratitude for being alive and for the privilege of taking up the space that I do. A pause in work will help me remember and reignite my gratitude. I can just be a person, and still be infinitely worthwhile.
All these words and paragraphs are really my way of saying this: I’m taking the month of July completely off, for the first time as a writer. And it’s well past a decade coming.
I’ve been quietly planning it for a year, bringing in the right people to do the things that’ll need doing (because, as my family’s breadwinner and solopreneur, I can’t just turn off the lights completely). Podcasts and blog posts will still go out, because they’re my livelihood, and those things never happen by myself.
Honestly, to the average internet passer-by, it won’t look like much will change in July — most of the change will be behind the scenes. I’ll be deleting email and Slack apps from my phone, making it impossible for me to check in as I’m out and about. I’ll do the same with most social media accounts (I may post on my personal Instagram from time to time, but only for fun — I don’t strategize there anyway). Even my cohost and managing editor, Andrea, will be writing my weekly emails for the month. I may go days without opening my laptop. What’s that like? I have no idea.
I’m genuinely so thrilled, honored, and ready for this. I’m also nervous — not at what anyone might think, but at my letting go. That’s not easy for me. I love what I do. But I love my life more, and I want to be fully here for it.
We’ll spend July in my beloved Pacific Northwest, where the air is cooler, drier, and less fraught with insects, and where my family and I can unplug among the trees, mountains, lake, and ocean. My soul is longing for this, and I can’t wait.
This Friday on the podcast, I’m sharing more of the practicals of how I prepared for this — financially, productively in my work space, and most importantly, mentally. Because most of my prep work, surprisingly, has involved my mindset shift.
Have you ever taken an intentional sabbatical? What was it like?
• Listen to the podcast episode about this post.