We humans are so funny. We accomplish so much, and yet we beat ourselves up for what we perceive that we failed to accomplish. I wonder what it is in our DNA that drives us so? Whatever it is, it is clearly the reason our species continues to accomplish great things, despite many millennia filled with overwhelming obstacles.
As I’ve been thinking about this year’s Summer / Fall Sabbatical, the “I didn’t accomplish anything” drum has been beating loudly. It’s why I have put off writing this post, for all of you who journeyed along with me and wondered what transpired. Who wants to hear, “I didn’t create anything – barely wrote, didn’t paint, didn’t sew, didn’t garden…”? More to the point, who would want to write that?
And so today I am doing what I advise others to do. I am celebrating with gratitude a sabbatical that had wonderful results, visible only upon removing the goggles of “attachment to a particular goal” and replacing them with the Question Goggles: What was different at the end of the sabbatical than when I began?
(Oh my, when we change the questions, it really does change the whole world, doesn’t it?)
What I Did
On June 1, I hung a do-not-disturb sign on my email. With that one act, I gave myself permission to not respond to the outside world for over 3 months.
Not to mention the needs of an organization that is in growth-mode. New staff need guidance. And how can one complain about a board that is exhibiting such leadership that it is hard to keep up? None of that stops just because I’ve told the world, “I need time to think.”
So that was the back-drop for this year’s sabbatical. Had I been more realistic about that, I would have planned for it rather than reacting to it and wishing it would go away. Like any other human, I fell victim to my own attachment to what I wanted life to be (vs. what it really was).
In hindsight now, I’m grateful for that, as it makes me more understanding of others when they do the same thing.
What that meant is that a lot of what I did during my “sabbatical” was to be there for others. I continued projects I had begun – from sparking the evaluation of the PANO conference we co-orchestrated, to training and planning with a new employee in a brand new position. I worked with our board chair, the deeply soulful Gayle Valeriote, to help position our board for greatness. I helped several friends and family members through the most difficult things they have ever faced in their lives.
That do-not-disturb sign on my email made that possible. I could focus on the people who needed me. I could learn through those encounters, taking time to reflect, to be present both with them and with me.
And I’m grateful for that.
I traveled a lot in that few months. I spent time in Santa Barbara (and wrote about that here and then here and here, too). I spent time in LA with my daughter and her talented and darling friends – including an evening of musical comedy in the very house where Joni Mitchell wrote Ladies of the Canyon. I spent time hiking in Flagstaff during peak wildflower season. And I hiked a scarily straight uphill climb in Sedona that led to a magnificent arch, watching storm clouds gather and lightning strike behind the next mountain over.
I kept my promise to see movies. Tons of movies. Too many movies to remember. Some weeks I saw a movie a day.
The do-not-disturb on my email made all that exploration possible.
Mostly, though, what that simple act made possible was this:
I got back into the habit of starting every morning in the booth in the corner of my favorite café. I devoured fat books and skinny books, re-reading one in particular 3 times. I scribbled in the margins, moving mountains in my mind.
And from all that exploration – from travel to different locales to travels in books and on the big screen – all sorts of constructs arose. You can see them in some of the pieces I did actually write, which are now being turned into policy and frameworks at Creating the Future. Kindness as the foundation for workplace policy. Organizational planning as a barrier to change (that one’s coming, but wow is it ever a doozy!)
Ultimately, that is what I am grateful for – time. Time to let all the various influences of life sink in, to process, to make connections.
I am grateful for the time to link being-with-people-I-love with being-in-new-places with reading-new-things. Time to let all of that marinate, to produce new ideas and frameworks and ways of being.
I am grateful for the results – which will unfold over the year ahead.
And I am especially grateful for what felt like nothing special at all – the day-to-day of life that was made possible by one simultaneously tiny and tremendous change: Being present.
All because I hung a sign on my email that told the world, “I’ll be back in a few months. If you need something urgently, please send a note to Dimitri…”
Photo of Joni Mitchell and Judy Collins by Rowland Scherman, for a Life Magazine feature.