When I turn 50 I’d like to take a major life sabbatical.
A lot of people in my age group, and some even younger, have actually done this—take major time off from life and work to stop and assess the next steps that one needs to take. Often this takes place after a major life transition, such as in the case of Elizabeth Gilbert who wrote “Eat, Pray Love” after a yearlong sabbatical.
Another term for life sabbatical is the “gap year.”
Author and entrepreneur Marc Freedman in his book, “The Big Shift: Navigating the New Stage Beyond Midlife,” writes, “A gap year for grownups would offer the chance for reflection, renewal and redirection. It would provide an opportunity to disrupt familiar patterns (and inertia), to grow personally, to be exposed to new experiences, and to try on potential future roles. The gap year could provide the kind of pause, or foundation, people need to start a new stage of life.”
Tara Russell, a life sabbatical and travel coach (yes, apparently there is such a job) who writes the insightful and informative blog www.threemonthvisa.com, says a life sabbatical is simply a break from whatever you need it to be. “The most important question to ask yourself is why you want to go. Some just want to sit in a hammock and read. Others are just burned out and want to reconnect with a love of life—to go river-rafting or bungee-jumping.”
Others still want to take it a step further and learn new skills. Some take cooking classes in Italy or do a three-month stint on the Mercy hospital ship. “These are things that don’t hurt a person’s resumé; they help it,” says Russell.
I wondered if this was just me or if there were others like me who yearned to do sabbaticals. So I posted a question on Facebook and asked my friends what they would do if they had six months to do whatever it was they wanted. The answers were as varied as the persons who responded. But everyone spoke of exploring sides to oneself that perhaps had been set aside or forgotten in the hustle and bustle of daily living.
My friend Mary Rose Ramoso Pena, who was our batch’s official photographer in grade school and high school, set aside her first love to raise a family. She wrote: “I’d like to go to Italy and Spain and learn traditional cooking from the signoras. It will also be nice to do a photo food and travel journal at the same time.”
Another friend, Marie Villanueva-Pascual, said she wanted more than six months to plan, build, decorate my bed and breakfast, which includes the garden, the green house. Not to forget the menu! Film and television director Joey Reyes wrote, “Definitely study a short-term course I have always wanted to pursue but did not have the time to do so: culinary arts and jewelry-making. In between, write a book.”
The Company’s Moy Ortiz said he would spend the time by living three months in Tuscany and three months in Paris. Appetite magazine’s editor in chief Nina Daza Puyat dreamed of going back to Lourdes to do volunteer work assisting the sick and the elderly—“that’s my retirement goal and mission. But if I could do it now, I would grab the chance. What a nice thought!”
Some of my other friends wanted to do a safari, spend time with a much-loved niece, travel the world with family, take jewelry class with an ancient tribe, take leadership or apologetics course, go back to places they had not seen in decades because they had moved away from home.
Almost all the answers involved learning a new skill and/or some form of travel away from home and all that was familiar.
Outliving my father
Me? I would live by the sea and eat, pray, love, write, swim, run and write. In the year I turn golden I want to do the “Bay to Breakers” run in San Francisco to celebrate and give thanks for the fact that at 50, I would have outlived my father who left this world at 49, and then I would take a trip through New England in the fall to marvel at autumn’s burst of color.
While doing research for this piece I came across this blog entry—“You will be glad you took the plunge and did something so many people put off or never do. Even if you never travel again you will know what is out there, what the opportunities are and the scope of the possibilities for the rest of your life. You’ll have done something everyone should do at least once in their life, as sort of ‘rite of passage.’ You won’t regret travel, there is too much you can learn about yourself and the world from your experience. Save yourself from wishing you had done it later in life.”
Many of my friends and I are now at the midpoint of our lives and we’ve probably got a good 20-25 or so years before the major aches and pains begin to creep in and we won’t be as strong to travel and pursue these midlife dreams. I love what Mark Twain said: “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”
A sabbatical, whether a month, three or six months is a good thing to do when you find yourself in a major transition. The time away allows your “brain to breathe.” Set off every now and then to sort it out, then soar into the second half of your life.