What to do on a really long sabbatical
May 16, 2016 1:31 PM   Subscribe

For the next several years, I’ll be financially supported. This is a great opportunity to develop something … a business, a creative venture, a new career, whatever. What is your advice on how to productively use my time so that, at the end, I’ve really accomplished something, and particularly have a replacement stream of income?

Due to a major life change, the path I’d planned for the rest of my life is now largely irrelevant to me. I’ll be financially supported for several years to come, and I see this as an amazing opportunity to develop a passion — and an income — while not needing to work a full-time job. It’s like a really long sabbatical.

I’ve come up with all the obvious ideas, based on my education and interests, but feel that there’s got to be more. So what I’m really looking for here is what other people would do with this opportunity, or what others have done when re-inventing their lives, or what passions others have, to stimulate my thinking. I’ve been pushing ideas around in my head for a while, and they’re not getting any more exciting. I need an infusion of completely new ideas. References to websites, books, movies, etc. are all welcome, as well as personal stories.

My only significant constraints are that I’m raising a daughter and I’m going to need to develop a decent income during this time. I do have considerable freedom, including the ability to move.
posted by Capri to Work & Money (19 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
You might want to anonymise this.

What I would suggest is to go see a financial planner and a bankruptcy lawyer. The planner to prepare a funding/living plan, the lawyer to learn from an expert why certain ventures fail and to learn to protect yourself as you enter new waters.
posted by parmanparman at 1:34 PM on May 16, 2016 [2 favorites]

Hmm, you could just try to get really, really good at something and then turn that into an income (rather than find a passion first, which is really tough.) This book might help.
posted by EtTuHealy at 2:07 PM on May 16, 2016 [2 favorites]

If you know you'll be working, at something if not what you're already doing, why not keep working and bank the extra money?

Exiting out of the workforce makes it super-hard to go back when you need to. Especially if you're a woman. (Mommy track.)

If you don't like your work, what work would you prefer to do? Is there formal training that would facilitate that? If you like the idea of helping people, how about Nursing? School would take about 2 years and it's super flexible schedule-wise, you could work a few schedules in a month, and increase your shifts as you need more money. Not everyone's meant to be a nurse, but it's an idea. My aunt does this in northern Arkansas.

I think starting a business with no drive, experience or passion would be a recipe for disaster. If you think though, that it's something you'd enjoy, take a job in that business and work at it from the ground up. You think you'd like to own a salon? Become a cosmetologist and do it. Own a dry cleaner? Work in a dry cleaner. Open a restaurant (for all that is holy, don' t open a restaurant!) Go to culinary school and get a job cooking.

Another thought would be to move to an area that is SUPER-CHEAP to live. Buy a piece of property with cash and live there frugally for the rest of your life. Instead of spending all of whatever this money is until it's gone, spend as little of it as possible. Get a small job in the community that allows you to contribute to your coffers, using the windfall as an emergency fund. Your Money or Your Life, is a fun book that shows how to accomplish this. The Tightwad Gazette is another resource for frugal living.

I mean, if I didn't have to worry about money, I'd get a cheap assed apartment in Vegas, and learn to deal blackjack. I'd wear a bee-hive hairdo, get really long nails and work at a locals place. Husbunny would follow women's basketball at UNLV and go to Minor League baseball.

Challenge your ideas of what the rest of your life looks like. You might not ever have to go back to work if you do this right.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 2:11 PM on May 16, 2016 [5 favorites]

[Just to reiterate, I'm really looking for what you would do with this opportunity. Honestly, that's what would help me the most.]
posted by Capri at 2:23 PM on May 16, 2016

Imagine hard times in your future, and then imagine what projects you can do during this time to best position you for it.

For example, what skills can you learn during this time that will most be in demand? Can you learn a second language that would make you more marketable (Chinese, Spanish)?

Are you in shape … in peak shape? If not, you now have the time to eat right and exercise hours per day.

What is your current career? Are you in a career that might be phased out during your lifespan? Research that. Look into what careers are likely to be in demand for the rest of your lifespan and that will pay well.

Imagine right this second that the doctor has just called and has told you you have a few weeks to live. What flashes through your mind as things you truly regret never having done? What can you do with the support and time you mentioned to accomplish those? In other words, what’s left on your bucket list?
posted by WCityMike at 2:53 PM on May 16, 2016 [2 favorites]

This happened to both my wife and I in the last 5 years. I went back to school for my masters in counseling with one year left. It was something I always wanted to do.
My wife had a noncompete and had to take a year off. She loves wine and the wine industry. She worked as a wine buyer for 6 months and became a sommelier.

We also moved to wine country last year rather than waiting until retiring. Why wait? We now have our own house and a rental house that will become a short-term vacation rental when we have more time.

Make this time worthy. Best wishes!
posted by Kitty Cornered at 3:06 PM on May 16, 2016 [6 favorites]

I would use this as an experiment to deepen (or develop) my skills in a variety of domains. I don't thinks I'd go all in on one thing until I've experienced it enough to know whether I'd like to do that. But I would put some discipline into my learning - so instead of setting achievement goals, I'd commit to : doing x hours of piano per week, exercising every other day, sewing one pattern based dress per month, playing a particular game, writing every day, contribute socially every week - and first observe what I keep and what I drop. And then pursuing what I keep to see where it leads me - either to work, or to a change of vision about my priorities and the things I want to do. I'd make sure to document it .

Not sure if this is very clear - I guess my main point is i would think too hard about the outcome - I'd commit to do stuff I'm interested in, and is within my means, and see where that would lead me.
posted by motdiem2 at 3:14 PM on May 16, 2016 [1 favorite]

I have kind of a long standing crush on the idea of making money in real estate with a modified form of house flipping: Buy a cheap house, live there for a year or so while making home improvement on the cheap my hobby, then sell it for a profit. Rinse and repeat.

Panning for gold. This is a thing I am genuinely looking into currently.

Art or writing and figure out how to make money at it. (<-- another thing I am actually working on and seeing some success)
posted by Michele in California at 3:18 PM on May 16, 2016 [1 favorite]

I'd do the same as Michele in California. Renovate places, rent them out, enjoy relatively passive income in exchange for occasional property management hassles. Outsource day to day to a property management company of the hassles became too much.
posted by slateyness at 3:55 PM on May 16, 2016

Well, if I were you, I would start by separating the two projects in my head: first, figuring out a way to develop a new income, and, second, the chance to develop a passion.

In terms of income, I'd start by brainstorming a list in my head of all the long-shot careers I'd ever been interested in. Therapist! Homicide detective! Private investor! High school guidance counselor! CIA agent! FBI agent! Speech pathologist! Criminal profiler! Ghost writer! Local politician! I'd spend a few months reading up on them and posting questions to AskMe, ruling out the ones that were basically uninteresting or impossible (it's too late for me to become a CIA agent. Who knew?!) Then, once I'd narrowed the list down to a manageable size, I'd track down people with those jobs and I'd meet them for coffee and ask if I could shadow them and try to get a sense of what their day-to-day lives were like and what exactly it took to get there. I'd probably give myself a year to do this, with the goal of Year Two being the first day of school, or my internship, or whatever it was going to take to start on my new career.

Then, because my passion is writing, I would probably start taking notes from the very beginning, documenting this whole transition, maybe putting stuff up on a blog, with the ultimate ultimate goal of writing books that in some way took advantage of this new knowledge - true crime writing, or mysteries set in a specialized sphere, or... who knows. Your passion is probably different than mine, but maybe you could find a job that would jibe well with, say, taking photos, or interviewing people, or something like that.

Overall, though, I would probably think of this less as a 'sabbatical' (which to me implies a temporary break from a job you'll resume afterwards, and suggests lots of daydreaming and meandering around and journaling) than as a scary, challenging, and exciting chance for a dramatically fresh start.
posted by pretentious illiterate at 4:27 PM on May 16, 2016 [2 favorites]

This happened to me. I took the first year and a half to travel (partly with a friend and partly solo) to areas of the world I had never been. I spent a lot of time working on myself, understanding who I was and could be in view of my recent life upheaval. This may not be practical with your daughter depending on her age, etc. But it was a great experience for me.

I did start a business after that, two actually, but my caveat here is that I have developed many businesses before, and knew what I was getting into. I don't necessarily recommend that you start a business if you don't have a very clear idea of what you want to do and a reasonable expectation that it will succeed. I was hoping to turn at least one of them into a career, but due to mitigating factors, it looks like that neither one of them will be paying me the salary that I want any time soon.

So I started doing some business consulting, which is what I'm still doing now, years later. I'm still building up my client base, but it's work I both enjoy and am good at, and I would never have had the freedom and stability to go down this path without that passive income.

Figure out what it is you want to do that will support you in the way that you need when this money stops coming in. Then spend the next couple years working towards that as a goal.
posted by ananci at 4:48 PM on May 16, 2016 [1 favorite]

I'd start a farm, no question...but I've worked on a lot of small family run organic farms and I know I'd love it and I know how to run it as a profitable business (it's starting up that's tricky). My other considerations would be grad school, travel, and art.

I think if you're unsure you should take your time. Just because you can doesn't mean you have to!

Or lastly, just help. So much work needs done in the world. Pick something and work to make it better - it almost doesn't matter what. (Maggie Doyne is a huge inspiration).
posted by jrobin276 at 5:09 PM on May 16, 2016

Capri: [Just to reiterate, I'm really looking for what you would do with this opportunity. Honestly, that's what would help me the most.]

Ideally, I would be spending my time taking lots and lots of classes that relate to my hobbies and interests, especially if they would help me monetize my hobbies and interests at some point in the indefinite future.

I'm trying to do a mini-version of that right now with the Coursera data science specialization, which I just started today and which conveniently plugs in not only to my own interests but also one of the current fastest-growing career fields. So we'll see how that goes. But if I had nigh-unlimited time and funding, I'd also:
  • Learn a new language, specifically the one many of my relatives speak. No monetization factor here, though (priceless?)
  • Take some studio photography classes and get some practice taking headshots
  • Pick back up with the sewing machine classes I started last year and learn how to tailor and/or design clothes
  • Grab the most expensive ClassPass and a Groupon for a few sessions with a personal trainer. Again, not monetizable, but could reap those sweet, sweet savings in healthcare later?
  • Somehow apprentice myself to a distiller. Is that a thing you can do? Whatever it is that lets you make your own bourbon and then legally sell it - that.
Now, those are my interests, not yours, (although we're nearly username twins so maybe we have lots of other hidden commonalities?) but hopefully there's something in that list that sparks an idea on your part.
posted by capricorn at 7:22 PM on May 16, 2016 [3 favorites]

I would read the 100 great books. Then I would read 100 more, written by people that are not dead white men.

Then I would knit my entire yarn stash into all the things I have planned to make that, being realistic and given my career, I probably will not have time to finish before I die.

I would volunteer for at least 10 hours a week, probably in a hospital.
posted by sockermom at 7:57 PM on May 16, 2016

Thanks all. Much to ponder, and you've kicked several thoughts loose in my head, which is just what I was hoping for.
posted by Capri at 9:38 PM on May 16, 2016

Honestly, I would learn the harp, and then play it at people's weddings.

Hey, you asked!
posted by Toddles at 10:22 PM on May 16, 2016 [1 favorite]

I have been daydreaming about just such an opportunity. I would start a small business that has both local appeal (events, workshops, meetups) and can generate interest beyond that (e.g. as a charity, via social media presence, livestreaming events, whatever). Specifically, I'm thinking of a space filled with books and music and science. A bookshop with a small stage in it would be ideal. None of these things on their own generate much income, but I'd also hope to be able to do some freelance writing (and maybe finish my eternal book proposal) at the same time.
posted by easternblot at 4:29 AM on May 17, 2016


My friend's Mom made a pile of dough in the eighties in the stock market, so she bought a bookshop/café in Marin county (Fairfax.) The bookshop was never an actual going concern, it just came with the venue. I'm not sure she ever sold a book.

So people would go there, hang out, drink coffee and they'd play bridge or board games. I didn't exactly LOOSE money I don't think. After a decade or so she sold it because, "At the end of the day I just worked at a coffee place." But it was a very social and pleasant job.

I once wrote a story in which a guy who had come into money bought a pool hall. He got a big TV and a bunch of comfy chairs and wrote a schedule of what shows would be screened. It was a college town, so kids would come, hang out and watch their TV shows. There was a bar and a café too. This was fiction, but it was based on a pool hall/Brazilian restaurant in my neighborhood.

I spent last night watching Tiny House time on HGTV. Now this is NOT my cup of tea, but perhaps you and your daughter can get a Tiny House and travel the US in it!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:47 AM on May 17, 2016

Thanks so much. The best answers I've marked are simply the ones that kicked up the most dust in my mind; every answer was helpful. I'm currently a lawyer, so not in a dead end career, and I love my job, but it isn't full time and doesn't support me. Also, I generally see massive disruption as opportunity, and being supported during this transition is a gift I don't want to waste.

My daughter and I have done a lot of traveling, I'm learning another language, I've opened a small business, I'm thinking of opening another, larger business, and I'm also improving my legal writing in a methodical way, so I'm not totally lost. I just wanted to see if there were other ideas that would complement my own. I love the vineyard/bookstore/farm ideas. I love the self-improvement, and just need to be sure I'm not being too self-indulgent and keep my eye on what I'll do when the support ends. I love the beehive plan :) Thanks all, and if you have any other ideas, I'd still love to hear them.
posted by Capri at 10:48 AM on May 17, 2016 [1 favorite]

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