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Sabbaticals as CPD: What I Learned from Six Weeks of Switching Off



INFLUENCER: A sabbatical is a valuable gift - don't be afraid to give it a go, advises FinchFactor's Kerrie Finch

Sabbaticals as CPD: What I Learned from Six Weeks of Switching Off

What did you do last month? Annual reports, new business pitches, client reviews, campaign pitches? Same sh*t, different day?

I explored lush Asian jungles and befriended a 4-ton elephant. I learned to rise with sunsets, not my iPhone. I ditched the morning coffee in favour of fresh lime juice with a wheatgrass shot chaser. I traded pacing the stage for ambling down untouched Mexican coastlines. I swapped Gorkana for Ayurveda.

Since leaving university I've worked consistently, one way or another – freelance, self-employed, company owner or employee. I took a month off once, but that was over the Christmas vacation period when two weeks is practically on lock down for frenetic festive celebrations so really it didn't count. This year? I took a sabbatical.

Sabbaticals are often touted as the secret to employee retention. Reward long-standing staffers with some time off to go on adventures and explore the world. For me though, a sabbatical is much more than that. It’s giving someone the opportunity to hit reset, explore bits of themselves that often lie dormant during the normal routine and come back enriched by new experiences. A sabbatical can be the best professional development tool we have in our arsenal. As we PR pros are increasingly developing our remits and having to operate more like creatives across the marcomms spectrum, it’s time we expand our horizons too.

The perceived indulgence of taking time off didn’t come naturally to me. When the idea of a sabbatical was floated, I panicked – I couldn’t possibly take a month off! To which Mark Eckhardt, COMMON CEO and part of FinchFactor’s advisory board, laughed and said: "Well a sabbatical is generally speaking six months and up, but sure, let’s start with a long holiday”. I managed to stretch it to a full six weeks. 

It took a lot of convincing. I'm not used to handing the baby over. I kept having to remind myself that I was not leaving the business with drunken meth addicts I met randomly in a park, but in the capable hands of a trusted and talented team. Good planning, a great management team, and the support of a kickass advisory board comprising of folks from LA to Berlin to Amsterdam helped alleviate my apprehension. If I was going to do this, then it was all or nothing.

For me, the sabbatical was as much about stepping back as discovering new cultures, mindsets and experiences. The latter was easy – what’s not to love about exploring the world – but the former was more challenging. Being strict and preventing myself from checking in with the team or browsing emails came first, but then there was the need to actually switch off and give myself permission to enjoy the experience, instead of feeling guilty. Don’t get me wrong, this wasn’t a forced journey of self-discovery; in fact much of the benefit came from not putting pressure on myself to HAVE THE BEST TIME EVER, EVER, EVER 24 hours a day. To stop expecting to come back a changed human having had an epiphany. To simply take each day as it comes and enjoy the simple things in life – which in itself can be tricky for me and probably any hard-wired comms pro. 

Creatively, I found inspiration at every turn. Professionally, this time helped me step back and gain perspective. To assess where I was now, where I’d come from, and where I wanted to go. Both personally and as a business. I learned to let go. To allow the team to step up and lead. To truly appreciate what people do for me and the company. And - I was missed! I didn't realise this would be the case. It was humbling. None of this would have been realised if those six weeks had been spent in the usual routine.

If there was one mistake I made, it was to only take six weeks. By the end of that you are just getting into it and truly starting to do some extraordinary work on yourself - or relax, or whatever - and then it's time to come back. Anyone considering a sabbatical should really invest in the experience. Plan ahead and discuss how this is going to work leading up to your exit. And have a re-entry plan. It can be overwhelming stepping back into the office after six weeks to find changes, good and bad, have occurred without you. Brief the clients in, help them understand that things aren't going to grind to a halt when you're away. Plus, be prepared for the mountain of emails to wade through on your return!

If you're a business owner or a workaholic, the real test of trust in self, team and the world of work is to just do it. It’s an eye opener and I learned an incredible amount from simply spending six weeks in Thailand and Mexico on retreats, working on myself, my creativity and my vision. A sabbatical is a valuable gift. Do a month if that's as long as you can - but take the time to disconnect. Next time I'm going for three months minimum. 

I did this because I needed to take time off. To separate professional me from private me. To teach myself that I can leave the company and it'll still be there when I get back. And to show the team that they can do this without me. If that’s not an exceptional learning and training tool, then I don’t know what is.

Kerrie Finch is founder & CEO of FinchFactor 

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futurefactor, Thu, 26 Apr 2018 12:42:49 GMT