Preparing for Sabbatical

Lamppost - Santa Barbara 2014 (cropped) LOW RESSabbatical. Time away from life, to write and produce the things that move my work – and Creating the Future’s work – forward.

Several years ago, I realized the value of such time. I announced in June that I would take the month of July to hole up and write. Oh silly girl! What I learned during that first sabbatical is that it takes far longer than a few weeks to prepare to take a few weeks of focus-time.

This year I am taking 3 months – from June 1 till September 1. And as I’m realizing that my previous years’ sabbaticals (a month at a time) have been practice for this longer one, I thought I’d share what I did to prepare to be productive this summer, in case you, too, are considering taking time to just “be.”  

(And if you have any suggestions of what has worked for you, please let me know. I am still learning how this can work better!)

Planning to Take Time
After not having time off at all last year, this year’s sabbatical has been a high priority. If the only thing that moves us forward is my taking the time to move us forward, that time has to be held sacred!

Lily LOW RESI began in January by listing everything that had to be finished by June, if I was to have three full months to explore and create. I made my plans clear to everyone around me, and I cleared the decks for the month of May, to dedicate that whole month to getting all the final things off my plate.

On May 1, Dimitri and I made four lists of projects: projects that both of us would get done while I was gone (my sabbatical list, Dimitri’s catching-up-while-Hildy’s-away list); projects that were ongoing, that would continue despite my being gone (my podcast, our newsletters, etc.); projects we would start after September 1; and projects that absolutely had to be done before I left.

That last group of projects was the killer – the procrastination pile of every single thing I had not wanted to do in April or February, that could no longer be put off. The image of a clean slate on June 1 became my Everest as I slogged through projects like finishing taxes and scheduling classes.  And it all got done.

Wed - Kids in waves LOW RESTime to Transition & Decompress
One thing I’ve learned from past sabbaticals is that one cannot just spring forth from the world of do-do-do-do-do, ready to create and be. For several years I would leave work on Friday, believing I should be able to begin writing on Saturday. I would then spend a week chastising myself, my brain incapable of doing what I dreamed it would do if only given focused time.

The solution for me has been a rule: During the first week of sabbatical, I am not permitted to write. NO WRITING during the first week. It is not allowed.

The no-writing rule has made it all ok. I’m not writing because I’m not allowed to write! I can garden and paint, cook and shop, lay about watching movies all day. There are no shoulds – no office work to tend to, and no writing.

This is actually a lot harder than one might think! The nagging voice, “I should be writing!” is strong and dripping with guilt. I spend days not being able to find a place for myself, puttering, unable to focus. Those few days of transition are as difficult as any other transition.

Still Life LOW RESAnd then, the switch flips. It happens each time, despite my lack of faith each year that “It isn’t happening. What if my brain never switches into gear? What then?” And it does. Every year. Oh ye of little faith…

With 3 months this year, I chose to do something bold – to go away during that transition week. So I packed the car with my paints and my sewing machine and way more books than I might ever read, and headed to the coast.

Here I have spent hours walking along the shore. I have cut an entire box of corduroy into pieces for a quilt (doesn’t a corduroy quilt sound cuddly and warm?). I’ve gone to movies. I’ve cooked and I’ve napped. I’ve spent 10 minutes standing still, photographing a heron on a pipe. Thanks to AirBnB, I’m staying at the home of an artist, whose gardens and artwork have inspired me to make my own art.

Heron3 - Cropped LOW RESAnd then yesterday, I woke up, and the switch had flipped. I prioritized the projects I want to complete this sabbatical, deciding which to tackle first, and I created a work plan for the first few.

To celebrate, I went to a local independent bookstore and spent too much money on even more books. I then walked across the street to the library to read them.

And I breathed.

Let the writing begin.

Please invite others along on this journey of discovery and exploration of the creative process. Just click on the “share” links below. Thanks!

3 Responses to Preparing for Sabbatical

  1. Hildy, I onced as my teacher if he was going to take a vacation. He said: “From what?”. Woah. Did that get me thinking. I appreciate you shareing your process of how to avoid writing and ending it with “Let the writing begin”. We have all got to come to the place where we can really know that where we are at any given moment is “enough” and that what we should have done or what we should do are not the point at all. My reading of this is that the process of preparing helped you realize that. Keep being you. It’s a lot of enough.

  2. That sense of enoughness, Meryl – that is the quest, isn’t it? Thanks for that reminder. It resonated with YES the moment I read your note.

  3. Hildy…

    Here’s to the next incarnation… Here’s to all the rest, nurturing and inspiration that is ready and waiting for you to receive it! I look forward yet again, to what is coming to, and through you, for all of us.

    In Spirit, and with Gratitude,