When's your next sabbatical?

Exploring the power of taking sabbaticals from your life and work.

When's your next sabbatical?

I’d like to share an appreciation 👏. A big appreciation 👏👏👏. I appreciate having the opportunity and resources to take a break from my normal routine. As some of you know, since March I haven’t been working a Monday through Friday, 9 to 5 job. Instead, I’ve been taking a sabbatical — time off from my normal routine. So what did I do? What didn’t I do? What did I learn? And would I do it again?

I thought about taking a sabbatical for a few years. It just never seemed like the right time or it was too scary 🙀. But in early 2019, events conspired to make it happen. Waffle.io — the product I was working on at the time as a Developer Advocate was being shut down to allow the team to focus on incorporating the features into Rally and my mom was also about to have surgery and needed help recovering. I thought about looking for another job or taking a different position within the company, but then I thought — perhaps this is the universe ✨helping you to have your sabbatical, Adam! My initial intention was to be off through July 2019, using a lot of my free time and energy to brush up on some programming languages and learn more about machine learning and data science. I also intended to go on some adventures and really learn about what’s it’s like to have a lot of free time and energy again. 😁

I love being able to make things and try to balance consuming (ex. reading, watching, listening) with doing (making, coding, writing, cooking, traveling, etc). However, in the past few years, some of my ideas took a long time to make. I needed to learn new programming languages, new skills, new tools. I love learning, but there’s a fine line between challenging but achievable vs overwhelming. It was taking me a month or more to make some of my ideas into a reality — too long. I wanted to be able to prototype an idea in a day or a week. Thus since 2018 and into 2019, I’ve been learning JavaScript w/ ES6, Node.js, Mongo DB, React, React Native, Pandas, FastAI and machine learning. My goal isn’t to become a full-time developer, but rather to be able to prototype my ideas within 1 day to 1 week to be able to test them and share them with others. While I still have a lot to learn, I’ve been making much more quickly 🛠— such as an Appreciation Photo Booth, a few GitHub Actions to improve my GitHub workflow and automate repetitious tasks, and a few mental wellness tools that are works in progress.

My initial intention also included helping my mom recover from back surgery. My mom lives in Maryland, so I traveled to Maryland for three weeks to help her have a successful recovery and get back to being physically strong and mobile. Having had a few minor injuries in my life, I really appreciate the importance of being healthy and try to make time to help others to be healthy. Being sick or injured is no fun. Good news — she’s made a great recovery so far 💪! But a funny thing happened during my time in Maryland, I had a lot more time to read. And during that time, I started a journey to find my “religion” — or perhaps more specifically my philosophy 🧠 — along the way.

I normally read at least one fiction book 📗 at any given time, mostly before bed and sometimes in the afternoon as a break from focused work. However, I’ve struggled to find time to read non-fiction books. I really enjoy reading non-fiction, but I want to learn, think, and reflect on these types of books. For me, non-fiction is about learning and growing. But reading non-fiction before going to sleep often makes my brain spin up rather than spin down 🤯, which is not so helpful for a good night’s sleep 😴. But while in Maryland, I had a few hours to myself each day where I’d walk to a coffee shop and read — to take a break from helping my mom or taking programming courses. And read I did! I read Principles, Flow, The Evolving Self, Small is Beautiful, Feeling Good, and The Gifts of Imperfection in addition to lots of blog posts, podcasts, and a few units from an online psychology course. Many of these books are people sharing their wisdom and own philosophies. Reading and considering their points of view made me consider my own personal philosophy — how I wanted to live my life. 🤔

This wasn’t the first time I’ve considered and refined my personal philosophy. Over the years, I’ve developed a practice of journaling and meditation which has helped me to reflect on my life and be more intentional about how I live it. But reading these books — learning about other people’s philosophies — really made me more deeply consider my own personal philosophy. I felt like my mind was awakened! I read voraciously! I talked about new ideas with family and friends. I even started sharing some of my journals publicly which I intend to continue. I am so appreciative 👏👏👏 of these authors sharing their wisdom, and they have inspired me to share more as well. While I’ve periodically written blogs posts and spoken at conferences, I have a renewed and invigorating purpose to share! Why not let there be an abundance? Why not share what could potentially help other people to live more fulfilling and intuitional lives? 🙌

At first, it took quite a lot of permission to go “off path” of what I had intended for my sabbatical. Considering my personal philosophy wasn’t what I planned. I felt like I was failing by doing something different 😕. But I couldn’t say no to the joy of learning, discovering, growing. I tried to trust it since it felt so fulfilling and joyful! After all, learning a new programming language will certainly help me to be a better maker, but it won’t help me decide what to make. It won’t help me to be more intentional about what I want to do and not do with my time and energy. So after a bit of working through the anxiety and feelings about going “off path”, I tried to be vulnerable and lean into the unknown path — discovering it as it unfolded. I immersed myself in reading, journaling, discussing, considering, practicing. It was an amazing spark to start a journey that I hope to enjoy for the rest of my life. And it was a worthwhile detour from my “planned path”.

While there are lots of specifics I hope to share in future posts, for now, I want to share the big picture of what I’ve learned and how I’ve changed. What I’ve come to appreciate and believe in the most is the importance of being physical, mentally, and spiritually (or philosophical) well and strong. Having lots of free time — lots of slack — has helped me to realize the importance of these things. Having time for self-care, wellness, and wisdom is the foundation from which a person can live an intentional and fulfilling life — positively impacting themselves, the people around them, and the world as a whole. For me, this is why I invest in eating well, strength training, being active, meditation, journaling, and reading / learning, and sharing. And for me, that is really the most valuable takeaway from my sabbatical — realizing the importance of these things. I’ve also seen the cost of not having enough time for self-care, being weak or ill physically mentally or spiritually, or not having the wisdom or philosophy for living an intentional life. I’ve seen this through experiences in my own life and the lives of my family and friends. Everyone should have the opportunity to live their best life. And while a small few are rich in these things, so many people could use more of them. Deserve more of them.

And so as I prepare to return to work as a product manager, I’ve decided that I want to focus my time and energy through the lens of helping others to have more physical, mental, and spiritual wellness. As I start looking for my next job, want to work with an organization that’s helping people to have more time, wellness, and wisdom. Maybe that’s helping people be physically strong, maybe that’s helping people have less stress and anxiety, maybe that’s helping people to have more time for living an intentional life according to an intentional life philosophy. Those things have the opportunity to have a hugely positive impact when they’re done well.

As a product manager, I am fortunate to help create products that can positively impact people’s lives, and thereby positively impact the lives of those around them and the world as a whole. While technology is just a tool, apps and other technology-based products can transcend and scale across location, culture, money, etc. It can have a huge positive impact if used wisely! I am excited about technology’s potential in the wellness space. If you know of an organization where I can focus on this, please let me know. What do you think is the next most impactful problem to solve? Who do you see trying to solve it? I appreciate you for sharing 👏!

I thoroughly enjoyed my sabbatical and look forward to taking many more in the future. My intention is to take a 6 week to 6 month sabbatical every 5 to 10 years for the rest of my life. I don’t ever intend to stop doing meaningful work, so really this is just my alternative plan to a “normal retirement”. That’s what I’m going to do, and I think you should do that same! There’s a joy in having a different rhythm to discover different types of activities and perhaps a slightly different path forward. 👨‍🎤

P.S. I also appreciate getting to do lots of other cools things during my sabbatical. I super appreciate my wife Val 👏👏👏 for helping me to have space, time, and resources to do these things, and for being my buddy in many of these adventures. I went on a few adventures— spending time with family, friends, and making a few new friends along the way. I watched a thunderstorm roll through as the sun set ☀️ in Moab, I almost didn’t fall at a ropes 🧗‍♂️ course in Myrtle Beach with my brother in law, I visited Disneyland (and StarWars Land!) ✨ with Val, and I floated 🛶 around Jackson Lake with friends. I continued to lean into overloading (vehicle based travel 🚚), exploring the areas around Westcliffe with Val without any plans, and learning how to use a snatch strap and a winch at an overland recovery class and campout with Rocky Mountain Overland. I volunteered with HistoriCorps at the Alamosa Guard Station project, learning how to replace daubing, hang a bead board ceiling, and shingle a roof with cedar shingles 🔨. I planted a container garden 🌱 from seed and to date been unsuccessful in trying to kill my lettuce — so many salads. I attended Boulder Startup week. I bought a kayak and have been padding around here and there. I’ve cooked lots of tasty food, including fgried chicken 🐓 and waffles with spicy sausage gravy. I’m helping my mom move into a new condo. And I look forward to continuing to work on the mental wellness projects I’ve started. 👏👏👏

-Adam Zolyak