Our 2017 Sabbath Year

I previously wrote about principles that guide our family’s thinking about the concept of a sabbath year. Those principles were written to be generic enough that they could apply to all of our future sabbath years. While I’m sure we will iterate these ideas over time as we learn from experience, they represent the current thinking.

The next step is to take those principles and apply them to our current life state in order to come up with a specific plan for our 2017 sabbath year.

I predict that every sabbath year will look slightly different, because every period of life offers different circumstances. For example, having young children to take care of is going to make a year look much different than a year in which there are no kids to take care of.

To start, here are some of our current life circumstances that we think will impact the year ahead.

Circumstances To Account For

  1. We have three young kids – 3, 2 and 10 months old. So any year we plan must take that into account. Children are a lot of work which makes resting difficult. Furthermore, many things which might be relaxing for adults alone provide tons of extra work when children are added to the equation. If I were single, living in a remote cabin in the woods with no electricity or running water might be really relaxing for me. I’m not certain that doing so with three young children would have the same effect.
  2. My wife is pregnant with #4 – Our next baby is expected to arrive in early November – month 5 of our planned sabbath. This means that we need to account for the months leading up to that when my wife is pregnant, tired and somewhat limited in the physical activities she can participate in. We also have to plan for the actual delivery of the baby and the period after that while my wife’s body recovers. Finally we need to account for the period of newborn sleepless nights and getting the family’s new routine in place – I’ve found it takes 3-6 months after adding a child to get back in a groove.
  3. My employer agreed to a six month leave of absence – For the last six years I’ve been working at a startup that I joined as #10. In that time it has grown between 20-50X depending on which metric you look at. We’ve had a great employee-employer relationship, and, as I approached this sabbath, I brought up the discussion to see if there was a better option than me outright quitting. We agreed on a six month unpaid leave of absence with a few different possibilities for how to engage after that. Being on a leave of absence comes with a number of super helpful advantages for our family. The flip side is it also means I won’t be non-working for a full 12 months as I had originally planned. We decided the pros outweighed the cons – more on this later.
  4. Starting the sabbath in Seattle – Despite popular opinion and the thoroughly data backed analysis I produced, Seattle is not always grey and rainy. For about three months of the year it is one of the nicest places on earth, bursting at the seems with natural beauty, amazing events and comfortable weather. Those months start as our sabbath does which gives us an amazing opportunity to enjoy them.
  5. Renting our current home – This might seem minor but actually gives us a ton of flexibility. If we owned our home, we’d be on the hook for a mortgage or finding a renter. Because we’re renting, we can potentially live somewhere else temporarily without much financial downside. We do have to be cautious about how much extra work (and thus not-rest) moving would create though.
  6. Flexibility to end somewhere different – We have been living in Seattle for two years and aren’t sure we are going to be here long term. Because of that, if we chose to spend the sabbath somewhere we enjoy, we might not require a move back at the end.
  7. A number of planned events – As we looked at the calendar for the year, we also noted a number of planned events – a family reunion, a few weddings, a marathon (or three) and all our usual holiday convening. Though there is some flexibility around all of those, considering them would be part of our planning cycle.

Tentative Plan

With those circumstances in mind, we laid out a plan for how the year would unfold. We are breaking it up into four periods, each of which will cary extra emphasis on a specific subset of the principles. The idea is to create a natural progression through the year.

Period 1 – Rest and enjoy

3 months – July 12 – Oct 12

The focus of this period will be unwinding from current things, resting and enjoying the chapter we are in. We plan to spend lots of time outside and with people we love.

There are a number of specific events we’re looking forward to and we have a list of cool things in and around Seattle that we would like to see as long as we can do so at a relaxing and restful pace.

We are figuring out what the family routine will look like, but the tentative plan is to make time for each parent have a few hours of alone time every day to exercise, read, think, visit with friends, etc.

Most days will include a family activity: a short hike, a trip to the museum, a visit to the splash pool, etc. This will be similar to our current Saturdays.

There will still be a lot to keep up with having three kids three and under – wake up/nap/bedtime routines, meals, diaper changes, dishes, garbage, cleaning, etc. Having two hands on deck should mean we go from a feeling of constantly underwater to one of sitting above it. That alone should allow us to feel more relaxed and then having a few hours per day of alone time will be a welcome and enjoyable change of pace. Our responsibility will be to use it in a restful & enjoyable way. I would personally like to make a dent in my pleasure reading stack.

Period 2 – Going Lean

3 Months – Oct 12 – Jan 12

The focus on this period will be stripping back the unnecessary in order to create more space for the critical.

This will be made easier as we’re having another baby, which tends to force that sort of prioritization for a while.

I actually do a super nerdy thing where I list out all of my life priorities and assign a priority level from p0-5 (zero is the highest priority). Lately I can only focus on items p4 or lower, though periods of DEFCON 3 pop up where I have to temporarily ignore the p4 items.

During this period I plan to operate on DEFCON 1 or 2 such that I am only putting attention into the highest priority items. This means that unlike the previous period where we will be traveling and sightseeing some as a way to enjoy, in this period we do not plan to do that. I have a few things I already know I need wrestle with, like the New York Marathon and Star Wars 8 coming out – neither of which are p2s for me.

Our current plan is to live on the East Coast in my wife’s hometown for this period. We’re excited to spend extra time with family and experience a new location. The relocation should also assist with temporarily dropping lower priority items as it creates a proximity lever.

The family routine during this time will probably look a lot like a normal day in the previous period, except I expect my load to be much heavier as my wife prepares for and recovers from childbirth. The biggest impact will likely be the lack of big adventures and a change in how we spend non-child raising time. I expect I’ll be sleeping whenever possible as opposed to trying to read much and I will be avoiding new projects like the plague.

Period 3 – Looking Around

3 Months – Jan 12 – Apr 12

The focus of this period is taking a broad look at what is possible. There will be a lot of data collection but not much action. The goal is really to make sure we have as comprehensive as possible a picture of what our options are for the next six years and as detailed as possible a view of what those actually look like. To answer the question ‘what is the life we want to create for ourselves?’

Scanning isn’t something we avoid in regular life but it isn’t something we’ve been able to put a ton of effort into due to daily tactical responsibilities. Instead of the detailed dossier I want to have, what we have now is an unwritten (until now) list of rough ideas we think are interesting – running a surfing retreat, starting a tech company, being the first family on Mars, opening a artichoke farm, becoming a nomadic family, etc. The goal is to finish the period with a more detailed description of what those lives look like – what type of work would we do, how would we spend our days, what would our finances look like, what things must we give up, what are the biggest difficulties, what are the risks, etc.?

We know a lot about what it takes to live in a West Coast city, work for a tech company and live a fairly normal life. We like that life pretty well, but while it gives us plenty of chance to exercise certain skills and passions, it leaves others atrophied. How might we create a life that allows us to utilize all of our talents and passions? Does it require minor adjustments or an overhaul?

There is a ton of ambiguity about what our days will look like in this period. We have no idea where we will be living, when I will resume work, how much I will be working or the specific type of work it will be. Because of that, is it hard to plan much. We trust that details will fall into place more as we get closer.

On the topic of returning to work half way through the year – I debated this one prior to and after finding out about my company’s offer for a six month leave. My conclusion was that even though the verse that inspires much of this sabbath year principle talks about resting our fields for a year, it is the spirit and not the details of the law that are important. I had a friend take a sabbath year where they continued to work, but intentionally scaled back and held off on certain projects – that can be as much of a sabbath, or even more, as a year of not working at all but doing many other things that feel busy. In this spirit I am fine with returning to work, but would likely look to set up the first six months in a way that was conducive to the sabbath year principles – either fewer hours, less strenuous projects or staying in familiar territory rather than taking on bold new ventures. This will be an area I will have to pay close attention to.

Period 4 – Looking Ahead

3 Months – Apr 12 – July 12

The focus of the final period of the year will be planning for and beginning to enter the next six year cycle. During this time we plan to take the short-list of potential lives that we developed in the last period, narrow it down to our final selection, and begin to break down potential next steps. Though I don’t want to get started on that path until the sabbath year is over, knowing what it is will allow us to prepare for it specifically in our prayer, rest, reflection, conversations, and re-entry planning.

Much like the previous period, we don’t have much clarity as to what our days will look like in this period because we aren’t certain where we will be living, what the details of my work will be, or what we will be preparing for. We do know that around five months into each new child’s life is usually the time we start to feel like we arrive at a new normal – so this should be a great time to get the engine started up again.


Conclusion

The four periods of our year flow through a progression of unwinding, stripping back, scanning, and planning. Though all seven of the sabbath year principles will be present throughout the year to some degree, some will be overemphasized during specific periods. Three (a sabbath to the Lord, rest, and a year set aside) will be general and consistent themes throughout the entire year. Four (enjoying this chapter, pausing things, living without, and evaluating) will be overemphasized in specific periods.

We are really looking forward to this first experiment in taking a sabbath year. I suspect it will be the hardest since a) it’s our first attempt and b) we will have four kids under the age of four. We should learn a lot from it though and will look forward to improving the concepts and applying them in future sabbath years.

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