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Everything you Need to Know about Sabbaticals

Sabbatical Finish Line

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Everyone has probably heard the word Sabbatical but what is it, how do you take a Sabbatical, and are there pro’s and con’s? The world has changed over the last couple of years. The ability for average non-academic professionals to take Sabbaticals is becoming a trend.

In this article I’ll cover the basics around taking Sabbaticals and some resources to get you headed in the right direction. Taking a sabbatical properly can be restorative for both your personal life and help your employer reach their institutional goals.

What is a Sabbatical?


The actual word, Sabbatical’ is a derivative of the Hebrew word shabbat… more commonly known as Sabbath. Given that information alone it becomes clear that it pertains to taking a break or rest.

In the academic world, taking a Sabbatical is a what essentially boils down to a long leave of absence from normal duties. Usually, this time away from the University or College is used to travel or pursue another endeavor entirely.

Taking a long break, often for a full year, every 7 years is common as a Professor. Theoretically, the time away allows an individual to break through common thought modalities. It allows for personal and academic growth possibly helping to advance academic achievement.

Cleary the number 7 is likely rooted in Bible… not necessarily in output of some magic number for creative success.

Sabbatical vs. Vacation

Travel the World on a Sabbatical

Despite the clear length differences between a Sabbatical and a Vacation the true separating feature is the purpose of each. A Sabbatical is generally supposed to be career focused. It is intended to be a step away from the ordinary duties of Academic or Professional work.

A Sabbatical might end up with a book being written. A project completed. An experiment undertaken. An experience rationalized.

A vacation on the other hand is usually considered recreational. The purpose is to relax. There is no career centric function that implies a value towards one’s own occupation during a vacation.

Despite the lack of career focus, there are clearly mental benefits that come from taking a vacation that can be very beneficial after one gets back in the workplace. Check this article out for 7 Health Benefits from taking a vacation.

Long story short: taking a Sabbatical is not an extended Vacation.

Who takes Sabbaticals?

Traditionally, Sabbaticals have centered around the Academic community, but those times are changing. More and more professionals outside of Colleges and Universities are taking the time to explore complex career focused topics during long periods outside of the office.

Being able to take a Sabbatical in the modern era likely centers around your ability to sell the idea to your employer.

Can you make the case that an extended time away could be beneficial to the business or organization? If you can articulate a case that convinces not only your Boss but your Co-workers, you may be able to benefit.

How long is a Sabbatical? 

There is no defined time limit for a Sabbatical, but a year is probably on the long end. What really should define the length is the amount of time needed to complete the task identified.

If it is going to take 6 months to draft a Play you have been looking to write, then taking a full year is probably overkill.

A lot of projects that are likely to be taken in such a period are probably hard to plan for but as long as you do your due diligence and communicate with your employer, you should be able to have a rough idea on how much time you will need.

Is a Sabbatical Paid?

Sometimes Sabbaticals are paid, but I wouldn’t count on it. Only if your employer has stipulated that they support such ventures with paid time off then you are good to go.

If you are looking to convince your employer to let you take time off AND get paid for it the chances go down substantially.

Some simple advice is to plan for it to be unpaid. Determine how much money you will need. Plan for an extra 20-40% in unexpected expenses and start setting money aside each month to get towards your goal.

Additionally, it would be wise to have an emergency budget and an emergency plan. Economic circumstances at an employer can change quickly. If you are on Sabbatical, you are likely the first person to go during tough times… especially if you are being paid.

Make sure your resume is polished and your professional connections in good standing. Being able to land another form of employment at the last second is always a good skill to have.

Pro’s of a Sabbatical

    • Great Opportunity to do something New – Being able to break the mold and try something new can be refreshing and invigorating. If you once had a passion for your work but were losing sight on what you loved about it, a Sabbatical can help you reframe your perspective.
    • Can help you break past mental barriers – As mentioned above: getting a new perspective can be incredibly beneficial. It can help you break past previous mental blocks and allow you to lay the groundwork for thoughts you would not have even conceived of without the changes brought forth by some time away.
    • Allows you to develop your own rhythm – We all work differently. By escaping a workplace or environment where conditions are set by others or the collective we can find ways to truly harness our own strengths. Perhaps you work better while typing away late at night… perhaps you need a nap in the afternoon to think more clearly. Whatever scheduling conflicts you did have melt away while on Sabbatical.

Con’s of a Sabbatical

    • Dependent on Self-Discipline – Success in whatever project or task you plan to set out upon really depends on you alone. You are the supervisor. You are the worker. You are responsible for setting expectations and reaching your goals every single day. If you find yourself in a rut, you may find that the support system you had previously relied upon at work isn’t there in the same way you have become accustomed to.
    • Difficult to Reintegrate into Former Role – Being away from your workplace for months or even a year can lend itself to a difficulty in returning. Hopefully, the Sabbatical will change your perspective. Possibly your workplace will be different too. Bringing together to essentially new things may lead to difficulties ending the professional relationship entirely.
    • Can be Lonely – If you are setting out to travel far off in distant lands or perhaps write a book you may find yourself in an environment where it’s not easy to engage with other people. Even if you are sociable, showing up to working each day and having access to colleagues on good and bad days will no longer necessarily be in the cards. You may find yourself having to work much harder to get the same social benefits compared to when you were working.

Sabbatical Ideas

    • Travel – Traveling always seems like the popular choice when taking a significant time away from work. If you decide to take this route, make sure there is purpose.

      Are you trying to learn about certain cultures? Are you trying to see how your own perspectives can be challenged by others in your field? Plan it out. Find ways along your route to find others in your field in exotic locations and learn from them. Take them out to coffee. Spend a night on their couch. If you decide to travel, make sure you take the opportunity to be as fully immersive as possible.

    • Write a Book – Taking the time away to write a book is a great idea. This task is often very difficult when in a normal working environment. A Sabbatical’s break from normalcy is also a great way to get in touch with a whole new workflow that will be needed to draft a document that could not only benefit your profession, but also your own creative and analytical mindset.
    • Learn a New Skill – Sometimes learning a skill is not something you can do on the nights and weekends (although the Internet has certainly narrowed what you can’t). Sometimes it means departing your normal daily activities and pursing it full time for a long period.

What about Earning Money?

There are a lot of things you can do to earn money while off on a Sabbatical, however, if you are thinking about how to put bread on the table every day you may find that you won’t be successful. Figure out how you are going to make your finances work before setting out.

It could mean that you need to pick up a side gig. Perhaps drive for a personal driving service or make food deliveries. It could mean that you need to save ahead of time for your planned expenses.

Whatever it is you are going to earn or find ways to spend money make sure that equation is solved first. There is no point in taking a year off from work only to have to quit halfway through because the utility company cut off your heat.


Going off on a Sabbatical is becoming more and more common. Finding a way to enhance your career and professional aspirations can often only be accomplished by taking a step away from your normal routine. Don’t be afraid to venture outside of your comfort zone. Plan. Set your expectations high. Save for budgeted expenses (and emergencies!). Going on a Sabbatical is a great way to become smarter, healthier, and live life to the fullest! 

Guy Money

As a formally trained Data Scientist I find excitement in writing about Personal Finance and how to view it through a lens filtered by data. I am excited about helping others build financial moats while at the same time helping to make the world a more livable and friendly place.

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