What popular shows like Sex and the City, Friends, Girls, et al fail to show, is that there is a time around 8-9 years into your NYC sojourn when half the people in your circle appear to be leaving. For me, it started in 2017. One friend sublet her apartment and left with her husband on a year-long tour around the world, and another one told me she planned on moving to Budapest within a year. Yet another friend-of-a-friend announced he was going to business school in London.
I don’t think a mass exodus would have affected me if I had been happy in New York. But I’d already been burned out and restless for a while, and it made me frustrated at first that other people could leave while I *had* to stay. I had a well-paying job and a rent-controlled apartment right by my favorite bakery. I had river views. I really liked going to my barre studio after work every day. It didn’t feel safe to give all of that up and move on a whim.
So I decided to move only when I’d saved up the equivalent of my one-year salary. This felt achievable and pragmatic—a very adult thing to do. Meanwhile, I kept working late and becoming more disenchanted by the pollution and the climate change in NYC. I didn’t feel like I could breathe freely anywhere in Manhattan or Brooklyn. I also got sick roughly once every three weeks through 2018.
The final straw came around my trip to South Africa. Right before I left, I caught a cold and was desperately hoping it would heal before the 16-hour flight (altogether, it took more than 30 hours to get to the safari). Fortunately I got well right before leaving—but as soon as I came back to NYC, I caught a cold again.
At that point, I realized that I had to find a place where I could be healthy and feel authentic and free. Once I made my decision, all the barriers and No’s I’d been telling myself had turned into possibilities and Yes’s. I sold my furniture, and sent my cats and other valuables to my parents’ house. Then I embarked on my sabbatical, a 3-month period dedicated to creative work, well-being, and learning French.
Just two weeks in, it’s hard to predict how I’ll feel about the whole experience in April. But I’ve already gained so much from dedicating merely 15 days to the things I’ve always wanted to do. I’ve had a great meeting with an editor in London which never would’ve happened had I not decided to randomly stop by before France; I’ve edited roughly 40% of my manuscript; I’ve been putting sticky notes with French phrases all over the apartment; I’ve gone hiking on my own on Vercors in the Alps. No matter what your interests, a sabbatical is the perfect way to:
- Give you fresh perspective on your career. If you feel like you’re running into blocks or a rut, a sabbatical will orient you toward your destination better than simply looking for the next, slightly better job. Really, you need this time to think.
- Make you see your true worth. Quitting can sometimes help you realize how valued you are as a professional and what your market value truly is. You may even get a better offer as an incentive to stay. Whether you take that or not, you will feel empowered going forward.
- Help you design your financial future. Surprisingly, taking a step back can make you more financially empowered. I’ve even gotten the idea to buy a house in my next city with the savings remaining after my sabbatical—an idea that would never have come into my head in NYC, where I definitely didn’t want to settle down. (Plus real estate there is $$$$).
- Work on your passion or finish a personal project. This could be something that can turn out to be a professional breakthrough or personal fulfillment. Did you want to see all the Seven Wonders of the World? Write a screenplay? Learn how to code?
- Find balance.
Breakfast of bread, fig jam, vegan cheese and tea with the Chartreuse mountain in the background…
How to make your sabbatical a reality
- Research where you want to go. If you plan on being in another city/country, check out AirBnb—you might be surprised at what you can afford. For example, I was extremely surprised to learn that the rent in smaller French cities is so affordable. On the other hand, just 3 nights in a London hotel cost 30% of the monthly rent in Grenoble! Do your research and find a place that meets your budget.
- Calculate your budget. This means food, discretionary expenses, airfare, traveler’s insurance, etc. Plan on saving the cost for your entire sabbatical, plus 3 months as extra padding.
- Find out how to move your belongings. Research pet flight requirements, baggage weight requirements, Fedex Ground prices, whether to sell or give away your items, or to keep them in a storage space.
- Get your maintenance done before you leave. I got a medical check-up, a dental cleaning, highlights, and a facial, plus washed and mended all my clothes… You get the idea.
- Decide what you want to get out of the sabbatical. Prioritize your biggest goals first, probably no more than 3. This is *your* time to do these big-picture things. Don’t be shy.
- Look for sources of side income, if you have any remaining time after big-picture goals. In fact, it’s never been easier to make money pretty much anywhere in the world with just a laptop. But, since this is your sabbatical, work on these at your discretion. Don’t take any job just for the money, or if it gets in the way of your priorities.
Remember, you’re not just making a living, you’re living a life. Making a habit of investing in yourself will pay off in the long run.
Beautiful hiking trail on Vercors
Have you done / thought about taking a sabbatical?
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Photo: Peaceful Dumpling