Photo credit: Hanny Naibaho
I am so grateful to Automattic for giving me a three-month sabbatical after working for the company for five years.
When I joined Automattic, my longest tenure with a company was three years – after that, it was time to move on to new opportunities. The a8c sabbatical sounded like something that was so far away and so far out that it couldn’t really happen. And yet, in October 2021, I closed my laptop and stepped away for three months of leave.
Living in Sweden, new parents get a total of 480 days of paid leave. I’ve watched so many colleagues head out on parental leave of varying lengths – as I don’t know if kids are in the cards, I don’t know that I’ll ever get the chance to take parental leave. Yes, I know, parental leave is meant to help recover from birth, buffer the difficulties of caring for a newborn, adjust to a new member of the family, etc. – it’s not just sunshine and roses while enjoying the time off. But the idea of getting to actually take time off, to not work, to see what life is like without a 9-5 job – I didn’t think I’d get the opportunity. Thanks to Automattic, I have now been able to spend three months of my life however I saw fit.
When I was getting ready for the sabbatical, I was trying to figure out what I’d need to do to feel like I used the time well. Imagine if I came back and felt like I had wasted the time because I spent it all on the couch, watching Netflix? To that end, I took my long wishlist for the sabbatical and put it into a sort of kanban board:
- Planned / want to
- In progress
- Can’t / won’t do
It was satisfying to see those task cards move from one column to the next. I did so many cool things, too!
- Got married (just realized I forgot to put this on the list… but it did have its own kanban board)
- Played tourist in Stockholm and got to see lots of things that had been on my wishlist – highlights were the Nordiska Museum, Middle Ages Museum, and the Historiska Museum (specifically the Viking exhibit).
- Watched the live broadcast from Riksdagen where Magdelena Andersson was voted in as the first female prime minister of Sweden – definitely had more bandwidth and interest in following politics.
- Took the night train to visit Kiruna in northern Sweden and got to see the northern lights. What an adventure – nothing went as expected!
- Successfully made it to Norway and back again at Christmas to visit family for the first time in two years.
And yet, there are so many things that are hard to sum up in a bullet point. The focus of the sabbatical shifted from “what can I achieve with this time?” to “how can I take care of myself?” I experimented with the amount of caffeine per day. I did spend some days on the couch, watching Netflix, and knitting – and plenty were spent gaming, too. I had planned to practice guitar, but I couldn’t find the interest – fine, I’ll have another go later. There was a death in the family and I had the space to work through it. I started this post by thinking about 2021 achievements and … wow, it’s been a weird year – or my perspective is changing?
Instead of looking at what I did during this time, I’d rather take a look at what I learned:
- I need some kind of structure in my day – if not from holding down a job, then from volunteering or something.
- It’s amazing how much or how little you can fit in a day. Without any time pressure or requirement to be productive, suddenly small tasks took up a large portion of the day and then suddenly it was bedtime. I think this ties into keeping productive momentum.
- I need to feel like I’m making an impact or helping others in some way – that can be from helping to run a division or a company to supporting others, but I need some element to feel satisfied.
- I had so many things on my wishlist that turned out to only require a few hours of time, like visiting a museum in Stockholm. I didn’t need a sabbatical to go do those things, though apparently I did neeed a sabbatical to learn that I just need to go do stuff rather than putting it on a list.
- I still need to make time to think – it’s easy to get wrapped up in work, and it’s easy to get wrapped up in things like video games. Spending time outside or with a journal goes a long way for me. Also, I find the most interesting rabbit holes to explore when I give myself some space.
I feel a little guilty that I did not learn more Python skills nor did I complete the beginner guitar lessons that I had in mind. I didn’t learn how to solve a Rubik’s Cube nor did I finish writing the blog posts I had in mind. I feel a lot less guilty than I thought I would, though. I not only slowed down – I learned that it’s okay to slow down. I’m still not sure what to think of that and maybe (maybe?) that’s fine, too.
I’m looking forward to going back to work – but I’m glad to have had this opportunity to experience life differently.