Sabbath Year – After Eleven Months – Preparing for Reentry

With one month until our sabbath year is officially completed, we’ve begun the process of reentering normal life.

I wrote this a year ago as I planned our year:

“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.”

Sitting here now, we have more clarity about what our days look like and what we are preparing for. It is also true that with our youngest at five months old now, we’ve gotten out of newborn fire drill mode & have reached a point of equilibrium. That equilibrium just happens to be very intense.

Deadlines

Over the past six months our family has been wrestling with a few big decisions. I’ve reflected about it a few times (here & here). Having now made those decisions, I am impressed with how effective deadlines are. Had we not been trying to stick to our intended timeline, we might still be undecided now.

But, having a target date in mind gave us something to shoot for. It let us work backwards and understand when it was time to broadly explore, when it was time to narrow down and look at details and then eventually, when it was time to make the final call.

Timelines

More important than the specific decisions we made is the deeper understanding we’ve gained about what our timelines look like for those. For many reasons, we won’t start day 1 of our next 7 year cycle in the exact place we want to finish it. But having done a lot of thinking about specifically the next 7 years and also more broadly about how many 7 year cycles we might have left – we now have more of a north star for guiding other decisions along the way.

As we think about reentry, the are the short term things we want to get done in the next month, there are mid term things that will follow over the coming months and there are a few bigger items that we will spend a few years progressing towards, as those opportunities become possible.

In that sense, I don’t think it will feel light a light switch flips on the first day after the sabbath year, but I do feel the impact of this year has already and will continue to drive drive meaningful change in the way we live.

Sabbath Year – After Ten Months – Killing Inertia

Our lives are often driven by inertia – the force that keeps something moving in the same direction it has been. Sometimes this is for better, but often it is for the worst. This force makes it hard for us to change directions, even if our underlying values or priorities change and the direction our life is heading no longer makes a lot of sense.

I’ve found that taking a sabbatical has been a huge inertia killer. In the best ways. Sometimes also in the hardest ways.

The Effort To Change

Change always requires work. There are times we keep heading in the same direction not because that is right, but because the effort required to do something different seems overwhelming. If the work required to change course is more than the work required to keep going the same direction, that makes a bit of sense. For a lot of people it seems easier to stay in a job or career they don’t like than to go through the effort to switch companies or careers.

This is often a shortsighted fallacy. It will require a ton of effort to change careers, but that work is finite, it will be over eventually. It will require some heavy upfront but then things will get better. Staying on a path you don’t enjoy might seem easier in the short term, but its effect will last much longer, and eventually surpass the total effort you would have put in to fix things now.

Would you be willing to add 100 extra units of effort over the next two months if it saved you 1 unit of effort per week for the next 10 years? This is a tradeoff decision that involves, time-value, confidence and prediction factors. It is the type of equation that most people frequently get wrong.

If you stop moving altogether, however, the calculus changes. All of a sudden it would take a lot of work to get the engine going again, regardless of the direction you decide to head in. That equalizes the playing field a bit. The right direction might now only require as much work as the old direction.

If you are going to have to add 100 units of work to the next two months, would you rather point it towards the option that saves you one unit of work per week or the one that doesn’t do that? All of a sudden this is an easy decision, even for people that aren’t good at spotting their own time and confidence biases.

Our Sabbath Year and Inertia

I’ve recently expressed how stopping working and moving made our sabbath year very difficult and added work that took away from rest. That was one of the negative affects of our plan.

The counter argument is that by moving, we have killed our previous location-inertia and thus we’ve made it easier for ourselves to make a good decision, instead of defaulting to the way things had been.

Specifically, most of what we own is packed up in a storage unit right now. No matter where we decide to live next, we’re going to have to put all of that stuff in a truck and bring it to a new house. It is a little bit easier if that house is closer to where the stuff is stored, but most of the hard work of moving is done once it is in boxes and on a truck. That means that we feel more free to decide if we want to return to the place that we have been moving, or move to a new place. The work required to either is pretty big, so we might as well do what we actually want.

This is a big decision. One that we haven’t yet reached a family agreement on. One that I haven’t even reached internal agreement on. Sometimes, as my wife and I get to talking about it at night, watching the hours pass away, I just want to stop it and decide nothing. This is inertia too. Sometimes a decision is so difficult that it isn’t the work required to change, but the work required to even decide that keeps us in place. Sometimes neither option is selected but the process simply drags out long enough that the current default ends up maintaining its place. Maybe for months. Maybe for years. Maybe for decades. Maybe it never changes.

Our sabbath year design has helped fight that type of indecision inertia by creating a deadline.

We are now ten months into a twelve month sabbatical, so we feel some urgency to come to a decision in the next two months. That is, after-all, what we said we would do. That deadline is close enough that we have to continue to make progress, but we’ve had enough time that it doesn’t feel like it will be rushed or ill informed.

Adding to the urgency is that we are intentionally in a temporary living situation. As we feel the pressures of that situation, it pushes us towards a decision even more. We know this chapter will come to an end eventually, so we might as well be in control of the timing. Thankfully there is also enough flexibility that it doesn’t feel like we need to make a really bad decision just to line up the timing.

Other Inertia Types

I focused most of this post on how our sabbath year has killed our location based inertia and helped us come towards a better decision about where to live. This happens to be the decision we’re wrestling with most right now, but I want to emphasize that this isn’t the only type of inertia being killed.

A quick brainstorm helps me realize that the way we took our sabbath year has also killed inertia related to; our family-roles, our church, our external friendships, my job (including company, industry & role-type), our hobbies, our habits, many of our expenses, the stores we shop at and our daily routines. Is there anything I haven’t covered?

Some of those items will return to a state similar to before. To some degree that is to be expected, it isn’t as though we’ve had no control over them and we’ve actually gotten a few soft-resets when we moved, got married and had kids.

But some of those aspects will end up being different.

Regardless of whether a particular item changed or not, because we took the effort to kill the inertia on them and in many cases do a bit of broad exploring, the decision to ramp them back up is more intentional. Thus, I feel a lot more confident in them and what our life will look like for the next six years.

That is really valuable. Maybe even valuable enough to give up a year’s worth of income and take on the stress of changing everything about our lives temporarily.

Sabbath Year – After Nine Months – Sabbath While Working

I have now been back at work for about two months and wanted to take this month’s update to reflect on what it is like to be working while trying to take a sabbath year.

Last year when I set out to define what our sabbath year would look like – I knew that there were a few major details about the latter half of the year that were yet to be determined. As I speculated on how things might play out, I knew where the risks lied. I wrote:

“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.”

As I predicted, there has been a lot of pressure, internal and external, to take on a role that has bold goals and long hours. I ended up returning to a newly created role that is very different than anything I had done before. The role is full time, an because the role involves talking directly with our customers, my hours are dictated by when they are available – which means there isn’t a ton of flexibility.

That said, I do feel this role is conducive to the sabbath year for a number of reasons. First, it allows us the flexibility to decide where we live now and when + where we will move to next. That was one of the major topics of reflection we had set aside for the year. Second, the role is at a company I have been at for a long time, so there isn’t much of a learning curve. This means I was able to start adding value right from the start without having to spend a ton of time digesting new information and learnings the ins and outs of how to get things done within a new organization. In addition, the role is still ramping up which means it isn’t yet as difficult as many roles I’ve had in the past. I’ve actually found this is pretty common with new roles because it takes some time for an organization to fully understand a new role and to fully load it. Where as longstanding roles often take on all sorts of adjacent work that no one else owns, a new role isn’t yet burdened by that inertia.

With all of that considered, I would maintain the position I wrote last month that the best working conditions for a sabbath year would be “to keep as much the same as possible, but to perhaps scale back their working hours by 25-50%”. I would say that regarding my job, I kept ~50% of things the same and scaled back by 10-20% from my previous peaks. Not perfect, but better than many potential outcomes.

Attempting to work, raise four kids, train for a marathon, complete this year’s focus items and also to have a restful sabbath year has been difficult. It mostly means I have cut out many other things I used to do. Really, everything else that isn’t those things. Actually, even some of those items are getting less attention than they should. Progress on my 2018 focus items and on the broad searching I was supposed to be doing during the last three month period of the sabbath year was reduced to a minimum.

I shouldn’t have been training for a marathon. There are also a few other odds and ends projects I took on that weren’t urgent. As I reflect it is clear that working isn’t the big blocker, working just means I need to cut out anything that isn’t leading my family or the sabbath year.

Now is a good chance to reset.

At this point we are in the final three months of our sabbath year. This last period was designed to be focused around reentry – starting to look at what is next and what we need to do to prepare ourselves for that.