It is a couple of weeks before my 6 month sabbatical comes to an end. I am walking my little dachshunds (i.e, daxies) at 11 a.m. in the local park. While sitting on the park bench embracing my last hours as a free agent, I realize one of the hounds has lifted his leg on a neighbor’s stroller and I need to go apologize. As I approach to diffuse the situation, I start thinking.
“How did I get here?” My life is so different to what it was 6 months ago. I was a Communications Executive launching world-leading tech products, and now I am cleaning pee off a stroller wheel with a used tissue. And it is not even my tissue. It belongs to the baby in the stroller. This is rather humbling.
My journey began the previous year when I was involved in an armed robbery. It might be a cliche, but an event that could have ended my life, changed my narrative. A life-threatening experience really does make you question things. What would I do differently? What would I regret? Who would I miss? Who would miss me?
It is very difficult to admit that it literally took having a gun at my head, to realize I needed a break from my career. While I loved my job, I love my husband, family and friends more. Answering these questions made me realize that I had been so busy building my career, that I had forgotten to build a life.
It sounds like a simple decision to make. I would like to say I made it easily without any fear or doubt, but that would be a lie. It takes a lot of courage to walk away from a promising career and I was scared. Really scared. Taking time off from work sounds wonderful to most people, but it was absolutely terrifying to me. You see, I am a planner with very high expectations of what I want to achieve and I had never considered time away from my career as being part of my plan.
However, coming from the tech industry, I am very accustomed to change. No two days are ever the same and you are continually thrown out of your comfort zone. This is part of the reason why the industry is so innovative, with many people following the same philosophy of ‘nothing great comes from comfort zones.’ I realized it was time to take what I had learned on the job and apply it to my personal life. A change in direction was okay, and I now had the guts to do the one thing that scared me most—leave my job without a plan.
I made the decision with the support of my husband and resigned. This is where my first lesson was learned. Not everyone agreed with my choice and they were very vocal about sharing their thoughts.
“But you are only thirty,” stammered a close friend. “And you launch iPads.”
“You don’t know what you are going to do?” muttered a colleague in utter disbelief. “You won’t be able to find a good job when you make up your mind.”
I think it was startling to people that I was about to dismantle the career I had spent the past seven years building. I had had an epiphany and those around me had not. But something else I learned from the technology industry, kept me motivated and encouraged. When people tell you an idea will never work, it is probably when you are onto a good thing. People are afraid of uncertainty and even more frightened of potential failure. I ignored everyone’s concerns, put my big girl panties on and left.
Now, this is the point you expect to hear that I have used my time off to learn yoga in a monastery or teach English in China. But it has not been as glamorous as that. Instead, I have used my new-found flexibility for self-discovery while being with the people I love most. I have finally watched the Breaking Bad series with my husband, gossiped over lunch with my grandmother, wandered art galleries with my mother-in-law and played beer pong with my brother. I have done what most would view as weekend leisure activities, just a little more frequently.
Self-discovery is something I suspect most people go through on sabbatical. My career was very relationship focused, where I was seldom alone. I have now been forced to do many things in solitary confinement, mainly because most people I know work. This has been really good for me. I never would have dared to go to a movie alone in the past, but I thoroughly enjoyed watching Paddington Bear in an empty cinema. Although, this might have had more to do with not having to share the box of popcorn with my husband (he is not a good food sharer) or with being able to pick a movie without having to barter for a chick flick.
I kept myself extremely busy and had to learn to slow down. Fast. Sitting still has never been my strong point and I completed my bucket list of sabbatical activities in my first few weeks off. I was so accustomed to filling my day, that even on sabbatical I was rushing through life, crossing off wish list items like they were actions on a marketing plan.
I have always been deadline driven, but what was the rush? I made a new bucket list and decided to complete it differently. Whenever I felt I was working through things too quickly, I took my dogs for a walk. I thought this would help me lose some energy (and hopefully some weight) and I would pace myself better. My dogs became accustomed to being walked twice a day.
On these long walks, I had time to reflect on my decision to indulge in ‘me time’. The most common question I have been asked is “What do you do all day?” In the beginning my ego got the better of me and I would respond with the justification that my time was productive because I was discovering new interests. This was not dishonest, but what was I trying to prove? We are so accustomed to assigning value to work achievements and I was falling into the competitor trap again. I stopped trying to rationalize my days and comparing myself to others and started to view my sabbatical as my journey. I no longer needed to explain it to anyone else.
It was at this point that I became conscious that my sabbatical had changed me. Just before I return to work (despite warnings, I am going back to a great job), I can say with confidence that sometimes the best plan is to not to have a plan. I may have left my career at the age of thirty when everyone advised me against it, but it has resulted in me being more self assured, confident and cognizant that there are more important things in life. I will no longer question a gap year on a candidate’s resume. In-fact, this will make me view them more positively. I now know that they are more self-aware and there is a better chance that they are sitting in the interview because they really want to be there.
In conclusion, lets go back to the dog urine and how I started this story. I clean it off the stroller wheel with a sigh of relief. Not only have I saved face with a neighbor, but I have been reminded of what a marvelous journey this has been. I am so glad I discovered this at thirty and not sixty—the more socially accepted age to take time off and walk my dogs twice a day.
About the Author
Taryn Hyam is a marketer and designer by degree, public relations executive by coincidence. Having spent many years working on Apple and other world-leading tech brands, Taryn fell in love with startups that change the world. She has launched revolutionary products like iPad to press in South Africa, Nigeria and Ghana. Taryn recently left the corporate world to take a sabbatical and work through a bucket list of personal interests. She likes long walks in the park with her husband and 2 dachshunds, is an amateur pet photographer (@daxiediaries) and a wannabe wake-boarding enthusiast (because skiing is so 90s). Taryn believes that if you feel comfortable, you have stopped learning. You can find her on Twitter, @tarynhyam.