It is astounding how many people I met never genuinely reflected on the option of going on a sabbatical. Discussing the pros and cons of this “project”? – Naaa… the world wide web provides enough articles and videos about this topic.
I thought that sharing MY OWN reasons behind the decision of taking nine months off, a glance at my main activities during my sabbatical and my conclusions could trigger some interesting thoughts (and subsequent actions) in you. Hmmm…. We will see.
Why I went on a sabbatical
I finished my Master’s degree one semester earlier than I “should”, as I got an offer to work abroad, in the UAE, and leave Germany. Yay! What an opportunity! Of course I said yes. Within seven years, I did not only set up a library from scratch for local students. In Dubai, I also helped a company to land cover stories in the three leading industry magazines and we won excellence awards across the region (Are you still reading? Because my former behavior as a people pleaser was SO cliché-ridden!). I was the proud owner of an amazing sports car, lived in a superb flat, had nice friends, could regularly travel and go shopping – as everybody does in “Do-buy”. In short: I was bored to death. Yes, you heard correctly.
I looked into the mirror one day and realized that I was disgusted by what I saw. A consumption-driven creature who was too “busy” and too gutless to sit down and do her homework. With homework I mean confronting myself with essential questions in regards to my life. I lived everybody’ s dream. I supported someone’s dream. Which is totally stupid because I am not everybody. And I am not someone. I am Natalia Wiechowski. So yes, as the pain of staying who I was got bigger than the fear of opening Pandora’s box (What if I do not like the answers I will find?) and making essential changes to my life, I quit my job and started my journey of growth.
T&Cs for everyone who just thought “Yes! I am going to quit my job tomorrow, too!”: I was in a privileged position. No debts, no loans, no credit cards that I needed to pay off, no family that was dependent on my income and I had saved enough money to finance a year without the need to accept any job.
What I did during my sabbatical
Besides working on the second version of my PhD thesis in Philosophy, getting myself on a new level of fitness and reading up to five different books per week, I confronted myself with heaps of inconvenient questions I accumulated over the last years. Here are some examples:
- How do I get out of this hamster wheel?
- Why do we accept standing in traffic for hours every day, having boring jobs, living average lives? That does not make sense to me!
- Who said that everybody out there needs to work 8 hours per day to achieve their tasks? What is the higher purpose of this collective agreement? What if some people are more productive than others?
- And what do I have to do to become the queen of my time? To be independent?
- What if happiness and success are very individual concepts and cannot be generalized? What is my personal answer?
- Oh, and: What do successful people do differently than “normal” people do?
- Also important: What does education mean? What is “talent”?
- Does society promote collectivism and “punish” individualism?
- Am I “abnormal”? What does that mean anyway?
- What if self-growth and development are more important to me than social and financial stability? And what are the consequences?
- What is this “inner peace” everybody talks about and how do I get there?
- Am I “wrong” or naive when aiming for a drama-free, positive, fulfilled life? Where does all the negativity come from? How does this add value to our lives? What is the higher purpose of this idiocy?
- What if everything that I’ve learned so far was a lie or an illusion?
The end result
I think I kind of life coached and did therapy with myself. And no, I would NOT recommend this approach. I have the tendency to be stubborn, studied human behavior for more than 10 years and come from an athlete background. If these criteria do not apply to you, you might be better off with getting some professional help on your journey. This could cost a bit more from an economic point of view but you will get faster results.
MY concrete end results? I could write a book about this (actually, I am doing that now). Here are some:
- I found my own answers to the above-mentioned questions and feel as alive and energetic as I never felt before.
- I look approx. five years younger than I am and I love it!
- Furthermore, I got rid of bad habits (worrying, nagging, blaming others for my situation, “comfort consumption”, comfort eating, going to bed too late).
- I changed my daily routines (e.g. started to meditate in the mornings) and start my days earlier.
- I changed my eating habits (low till no carbs, avoiding brunches and buffets, drinking loads of water during the day).
- In addition to that, I choose my words and thoughts very precisely and started to listen to my intuition (or gut feeling).
- I disinvited a lot of negative people out my life, forgave people (for the sake of my own inner peace) and am now VERY cautious in regards to the question with whom I spend my time.
- AND: I decided to found Think Natalia!
Don’t get me wrong. I still regularly fall back to some of these old habits. Because this is how we humans were conditioned over the years. We seem to be creatures of habits. Often bad habits. Loving our comfort zones. CHOOSING UNHAPPINESS OVER UNCERTAINTY. Being scared of change, which keeps us away from growth, self-development and becoming the best versions of us we could be.
Whenever I realize that and turn into the “old Natalia”, I make a conscious decision against acting, feeling or thinking like I used to do. Reminding myself of the hamster wheel. That moment I stood in front of the mirror. And the state of mind I never ever want and never ever will go back to.
And when will you go on a sabbatical…?