When Craig Owen White turned 40 last year, he took stock of his life. “I woke up to the reality that I’d been practicing law literally seven days a week for 15 straight years,” says White. While those 15 years had been productive–he was a partner in a large law firm and the youngest member of its board of directors–success had come at a price. He had missed out on some traveling and cultural experiences. And although he knew he wanted to continue in mergers and acquisitions, his specialty, White wondered if he might explore another angle.
The solution: White went to Taiwan for a month as part of an International Rotary study program. While living and meeting with movers and shakers in the Taiwanese business and legal communities, White was able to make valuable contacts and experience a new culture. As a result, the Cleveland native now expects to expand his business to South Asia and learn to speak Chinese. Like White, more and more people are taking time away from work to pursue personal, educational or charitable interests.
“Life is moving at a dizzying pace. People need a break from their lives to regroup, recharge, renew, re-energize, refocus, rethink and get their bearings,” says Ramon Williamson, a personal and business success coach based in McLean, Virginia, and author of Achieving With Joy (Success Research Press, $12.95). It can be called a sabbatical, extended leave or personal retreat. Although it was traditionally offered to educators every seven years and lasted six months, the term sabbatical has broadened to mean a break of anywhere from one month to a year and is now offered in several industries.
“Over the next 10 years, the idea of sabbatical will be redefined [further to mean] shorter periods of time taken off more frequently over a person’s life,” explains Williamson.
Pamela Holley, 43, whose 15-year-old daughter is being treated for sickle-cell anemia at Children’s Hospital Medical Center-Oakland, based in San Francisco, took a six-month sabbatical to help the hospital’s sickle-cell unit set up a database system. Although the computer and project management experience helped her advance at Wells Fargo, it was the personal contact with doctors and more knowledge about her daughter’s affliction that remain with her 11 years later.
“To this day, I have a relationship with the doctors, and they keep me updated on breakthroughs in sickle-cell,” says Holley. “I gained a new light.”
Since only about 10% of large companies have formal policies for allowing their employees to take a sabbatical, heed these tips to smooth out the process:
Approaching the boss. First, do your homework. Figure out what you want to accomplish personally and professionally and how these goals will benefit the company. Once you know what other companies offer and your own priorities, sit down with your supervisor to present your case. Are you flexible about how much of your leave your company will pay for, but firm on when it will be and how long it will last? Put the agreement in writing. “If