Tips for Taking a Sabbatical
February 4, 2022 8:03 PM   Subscribe

My new job isn't working out and it's making me miserable. I have enough money saved that I could stop working for around 10 months and still make rent and my normal expenses. If I were to quit and take a break from working for just 6 months so that I can refresh and recharge, what should I keep in mind? I am in my mid 30s, have a cat, and live on my own.
posted by The Adventure Begins to Work & Money (13 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Sounds like a great idea. Suggest you have a project/hobby to work on. Remember, whether you're working or not, every day when you wake up there will be something to do - if you choose.
posted by ptm at 8:16 PM on February 4, 2022 [1 favorite]

Unless you're in a very in-demand field... maybe plan to start looking for jobs at the 3 month mark, but you can be a lot more picky about which ones to apply for until the end of the 6 months (and have the luxury of spending more time on each individual application, like reaching out to peripheral contacts who might have relationships with the hiring person/ company).

Taking a break is awesome, but do have a structured project and (some) short term goals to meet. Personally, it helps if I'm beholden (if only very lightly) to a 3rd party rather than purely myself.

I've always been "money or time - I either have one or the other but never both" to allow myself to do "adventurous" things. Aside from grad school when I had neither.

10 months of liquidity sounds comfortable, but how does this impact your retirement savings plans?

I don't know anything about your situation, but instead of rage quitting, are you senior/ specialized enough where your position would be a PITA to replace (and hiring, onboarding, training, vetting is expensive, not only in money but also in time and opportunity for the company)?

You could leverage that for concessions (while you're quietly looking for a new position).

You mention that this is a new job, so "institutional knowledge" probably isn't a lever you can apply.

Have you brought up the reasons for feeling miserable with your line manager/ boss? If you're working for a larger company with a reasonably professional HR department, with (the hoperfully somewhat independent) HR (or whatever buzzword/ obfuscation they want to call themselves)?
posted by porpoise at 8:45 PM on February 4, 2022 [3 favorites]

Have you factored in the cost of health insurance? Even young healthy folks can have sudden accidents or illnesses. If you live in the US, the cost can be budget-busting without at least some kind of health insurance.
posted by metahawk at 8:49 PM on February 4, 2022 [10 favorites]

If you live in the US, some states allow you to enroll in Medicaid for health insurance purely based on income (there is no asset test -- California, Oregon, Washington, I believe, and possibly others), whereas other states require you to deplete any assets/savings first.
posted by cnidaria at 9:48 PM on February 4, 2022 [3 favorites]

Find yourself some routines/structure and a way to socialize. Doesn't have to be anything big, just "I'm going to practice piano for 20 minutes every day" or "go for a run or walk every morning". A weekly standing date with a friend or a class or gaming night. Sabbaticals are amazing but past the first week or two, you want some cues to help you not just sleep/scroll through the whole thing. Or at least I did.
posted by february at 2:42 AM on February 5, 2022 [5 favorites]

I have done this twice now and have discovered that while I am in the running for Laziest Motherfucker on the Planet, I get bored-shading-towards-depressed around the 4-month mark if I have no regular structure, so both times I have ended up taking a pleasant, low-emotional-energy minimum-wage job to get some socialization and routine in. This has the advantage of also giving me a little more income to stretch my sabbatical for a while. Something to consider!

Other than that, I strongly agree that regularly-scheduled activities with other people are key. I am also incredibly introverted but losing the daily contact with people (even remote!) is not good for me, and besides, why not use some of that free time to enjoy my friendships? It's trickier during a pandemic but also people will likely be much more eager to figure out the logistics because a loooot of people are lonely right now.
posted by restless_nomad at 7:55 AM on February 5, 2022 [4 favorites]

I took a 10 month sabbatical between jobs and it was phenomenal. No specific advice on job hunting. The one thing I did that was really helpful was put a big calendar on my fridge and try to do at least one non-life-maintainace thing each day.
posted by lorimt at 8:08 AM on February 5, 2022 [2 favorites]

I took a sabbatical where I moved to Buenos Aires with my cat and became a full-time student again in my mid-30s. I've now been back to the daily grind for a year and I feel great about everything, even with COVID throwing a wrench. University in Argentina was almost free, there's universal healthcare for emergencies and other procedures were much lower than in the US (comparatively, not for Argentines sadly), and rent is significantly less (I lived with roommates too.) COVID happened so everything got more complicated and expensive; I had COBRA the month before I moved and then qualified for Medicaid when I came back (I got stuck in the US when the borders closed my life was behind.) As others have mentioned, the healthcare bit is the most expensive in many ways and you'll want to take care of any major things now (new glasses, dental care, therapy, annual health exams, etc.) I did without for a few years and it was fine but took planning and luck as there were no major emergencies. I was only eligible for Medicaid after some time and never really used it but had it as back up; the system is so complicated and there's so much bullshit so my heart goes out to people who have been dealing with it for years. It doesn't cover you, except for emergencies, if you leave your state so keep that in mind if you get it and decide to travel a bit.

All of that said, the sabbatical was a wonderful thing for me, exactly what I needed after being burned out at my teaching job of over a decade. Planned were 2-3 years abroad but it ended up being almost a year in Argentina plus almost a year camping and living in my old car as I roadtripped across the US. I lived as frugally as possible, which is much harder when you have bills to pay like rent and healthcare; I was really lucky. I probably would have left the profession had it not been for this break to rest and reconsider options, and now I'm ready to teach for 16-17 more years till retirement. I have always loved my career but needed the break to know I had other options and reset my mindset on work. I now work smarter rather than harder, have more work-life balance, and moved to a new location that's a better match with higher pay. However, as a schoolteacher I was able to find a new job -- a bunch of offers actually -- as soon as I started looking, although the in-processing took over a month due to COVID and weather delays. I also agree with those above who suggested looking sooner rather than later, although definitely give yourself a few months to chill first. I agree that having a project is wise; I was studying because it was my dream but also would ultimately help me with my career later. With COVID things are changing for the better in that employers are more open to gaps in resumes but having a reason is always good.

Some people you know will be very critical of your choice. While it's good to listen to specific advice, like on things to consider, a lot of the naysayers are projecting their own fears and/or jealousy. I had a lot of cheerleaders, fortunately, and the loved ones who were negative eventually got on board when they saw how happy I had become as well as how well I had planned. I think of two people I had dated after, one who told me I was stupid for taking such a big financial risk and the other who felt I was too financially motivated when I found a better job upon my return. I hadn't asked for their opinion but also see their points. Of course, neither knew me well and we weren't a good match so it ended there. I'm sharing this because you will need to be very confident in your decision once you make it: not that you think it'll go perfectly but rather sure that you will be able to handle whatever comes your way with a growth mindset and proud resilience. When you tell your story to people, which you don't need to do but will want to sometimes, you will also want to think of how you frame your narrative. Your life would probably be temporarily more complicated due to the sabbatical but also more joyful and, ultimately down the line, much better. I wish you luck!
posted by smorgasbord at 8:24 AM on February 5, 2022 [4 favorites]

In a lot of fields it is much easier to get a job while you still have a job, and once an offer is made you can often negotiate your start date to be as many as a few months in the future. If you're willing to negotiate on the length of your sabbatical, it might be easier (and perhaps more relaxing?) to have, say, 2-3 months of rest and relaxation time knowing you have a job lined up, rather than 6-10 months not knowing what's next.
posted by telegraph at 10:58 AM on February 5, 2022 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: I am actually planning to reconsider my career during this time, so trying to get a new job right away (even if the start date is delayed) would definitely cause way more stress and pain than me giving myself the space in which to decompress. I appreciate that advice, though, Telegraph, and will keep it in mind in case my sabbatical's purpose changes.
posted by The Adventure Begins at 12:33 PM on February 5, 2022

Recommend taking a quick listen to Rands in Repose (Michael Lopp's) concept of the Pro Leisure Circuit.
posted by miasma at 1:51 PM on February 5, 2022 [1 favorite]

Don't drink too much, avoid hard drugs. If you don't know how to cook, learn.

Also throw stuff you don't need out.
posted by Max Power at 4:42 PM on February 5, 2022 [3 favorites]

Taking a sabbatical is a great idea and I encourage you to go for it! Lots of good advice here already.

Very much agree with having some structure. When I took a break from work I developed routines that kept structure and allowed me to enjoy and get to know better the place where I lived. I also managed to drastically reduce my spending since time is in many ways interchangeable for money. Figure out the ways this is true where you live. For example the big fruit and veg market in my city sold off stock super cheap at around 2 pm. I used to go there once a week, stock up on bargains and use all my free time to find and cook nice recipes for the week. I was able to use my savings to occasionally go eat in fancy restaurants that did lunch time deals and still save massive amounts on food.

Definitely set yourself some goals, as big or small as you wish. For example, I finally managed to finish war and peace during my sabbatical. I got more fit from getting a daytime membership at a gym and walking around my city. Those walks helped me explore the city and get to know it really well.

You will be able to do things at off peak times, which is often cheaper and more enjoyable. I visited museums and art galleries in quiet hours so often had them to myself. Socially I had much more time to dedicate to my relationships and I was able to deepen my friendships with people who didn't work a traditional 9-5 schedule as well as write cards and letters and keep up with my friends / family in far away places.

Since you want to use the time for restoration and possibly consider a career change I would suggest that you give yourself a grace period at the beginning to just rest and recharge, where you don't have to consciously think about or take any action for your next move.

In addition to throwing out stuff you don't need spend some time rearranging or developing your home to be more comfortable for you. There's a lot you can do spending no or minimal money.

Most importantly, enjoy it!
posted by roolya_boolya at 3:38 AM on February 6, 2022 [2 favorites]

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