Saturday, November 9, 2013

Why a Sabbatical?

I Googled this question and found the following article considering the role a sabbatical year plays in the world of academia and it's roots.  Much of what Max Page articulates in "Who Took the Sabbath Out of Sabbatical? Worshipping real academic productivity means giving it a rest now and then." resonated with me. Here is a good chunk of the article.

"...Something seemed woefully wrong here. It made me go back to that word that is at the heart of this whole endeavor— sabbatical. As in Sabbath. As in “day of rest.” How did we make “productivity” the key word associated with a term that expressly forbids productivity?

I decided to go back to the source to make my case anew for an old idea of the sabbatical.

The very idea of the sabbatical year (yes, a full year), as opposed to the weekly Sabbath which is derived from the seventh day of creation, comes from the Old Testament, in Leviticus, chapter 25:

The Lord spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai: Speak to the Israelite people and say to them: When you enter the land that I assign to you, the land shall observe a sabbath of the Lord. Six years you may sow your field and six years you may prune your vineyard and gather in the yield. But in the seventh year the land shall have a sabbath of complete rest, a sabbath of the Lord: you shall not sow your field or prune your vineyard. You shall not reap the after-growth of your harvest or gather the grapes of your untrimmed vines; it shall be a year of complete rest for the land.

It was not understood, at the time or by later commentators, that the sabbatical year was a year for doing nothing. (And what faculty member would, even if I proved that this was the biblical decree? At my university, a joint administration faculty union study recently found that tenured and tenure-track professors work on average sixty-three hours a week at the various aspects of their jobs. There is no danger of faculty members working less than full-time jobs.) The Sabbath was established for religious reasons: this was to be a year of dedication to honoring God, as was the weekly Sabbath. It was also established for practical ones: fields and animals worked endlessly will become progressively less productive and eventually die. The sabbatical year was a time for shifting emphases, from production to reflection and rejuvenation. The long-term goal was to produce better fields, a better harvest, and better people.

What “sabbatical” meant was that the land—your productive capacity, your brain, your heart—should not be used or exercised in exactly the same way it had been for the previous six years. It needs to be refertilized. It will be more productive and life giving (and refereed journal article producing) if it is allowed a rest from its usual activities. I found it particularly remarkable, and disturbing, that in the sabbatical seminar I attended no one spoke about improving the quality of the work of their sabbatical, only that they produce more, and faster.

My plea to my striving colleagues is to be true to the origins of the word. Don’t do nothing—but don’t focus on your usual activities either. Do not till the same soil; dare to do things differently for a year. You will be doing exactly what you are supposed to be doing— honoring your profession and the confidence placed in you— when you explore new areas, pursue projects that might fail, expand your mind with art or music or great literature, and generally upset your routine.

You will be doing what you were hired to do, renewing your capacity for thinking, teaching, researching, serving the public good. You will be doing yourself, and the very idea of the university, a favor."

Page, Max. "Who Took the Sabbath Out of Sabbatical? Worshipping real academic productivity means giving it a rest now and then." September 2010.

I like this. I love the concepts of "reflection" and "rejuvenation."  My life in the Valley is wonderful and full but I've created a life that doesn't allow much time for these two concepts.  And as I consider what my "calling" is and a possible career change, I'm finding that the time away is helping me to consider what my gifts are and figure out how those gifts translate to the right career. 

And I'm challenged by these concepts. Growing up we regularly practiced a day of rest on Sunday. After church and lunch we all came home, changed into pajamas and took naps for a good two hours, then woke for a leisurely afternoon of watching football. I recall scheduling a Sunday afternoon work session on a group project in middle school and was quickly taught that we don't do work on Sundays. I knew we didn't do work on Sundays but I didn't know it was intentional, until then.  And that lasted until 2003. 

I can make all sorts of excuses for why Sabbath rest has not been a part of my life in the last decade but I think the most obvious one is that I've chosen to live in a community that values "doing" more than "being". For example, if I'm not out taking advantage of the Rocky Mountains in the form of skiing or hiking (I'm one of the few who doesn't bike) I feel lame.  And in the last year, I've been challenged by my Uncle Chuck to take a "Day of Solitude" each month. I did a really good job for 4 months. And then I neglected to be intentional in setting the day aside.  And now I have declared that I am on "sabbatical"!  This is an entire year devoted to "rest" or at least that is what the word implies. So when I landed in Pokhara, Nepal last week, it became clear that this would be my spot where rest could happen. Very clear. I was excited about the prospects of doing "nothing."  And then 24 hours later panic set in. What am I going to DO for a month or more in this laid-back tourist town in the middle of Nepal? I had to remind myself of Goal #4: Rest. 
And so I have a routine. I leave my $8/night hotel sometime between 7 and 9 for breakfast. I eat breakfast and read for the next two hours. Then I figure I should move on so I go to my "desk". 

I get some masala tea, read, then a few hours later, I order some tomato soup. It arrives an hour later.  I watch life go by at the pace of Pokhara. Over the course of those 7 hours or so, I have usually met a new friend and heard some version of their story.  And then, the evening consists of dinner and socializing. In the midst of this busy schedule I've found time to take a few boat rides, a hike around the lake and several strolls along the path around the lake. 

But, I've found my office hours to be extremely "productive" the last few days. 

I finished the book "Banker to the Poor" by Nobel Peace Prize Winner Muhammad Yunus and founder of the Grameen Bank, the original micro-credit organization. 
Take away: Although not well written, it's a captivating account of a revolutionary, yet simple idea coming out of Bangladesh in the 70's.  The evidence is there that micro-credit can help break the cycle of poverty, welfare dependency and give people dignity and opportunity. 

I began to watch TED talks. I was hoping to watch one a day on this trip. I started yesterday. The first installment was a recommendation from Camino Amigo, Gorka: Barry Schwartz' "The Paradox of Choice."
Take away: Choices can paralyze.  This laughingly hit close to home as I tried to choose from the ridiculous number of hotels in Lakeside, Pokhara. There are quite possibly as many hotels as there are tourists. After happily making my decision to stay at the Nanohana Lodge for the next month, I began to question if I 
maybe missed out on a better choice. 

This TED talk made me want to make up for lost time and go through the rest of my bookmarked list. And then I remembered I had time. So instead, I will marinate on this idea... and save another one for tomorrow. 

I began to read through my "reading list" from bookmarks on Safari. (This is a brilliant invention by the way... How many times do you want to read an article but don't have the time?  No problem!  Save it for later by "adding it to your reading list.")  I started my reading list in February. I'm just now getting around to reading selections such as... 

This is what I've been doing with my sabbatical the last few days. 

I've also learned to "expect the unexpected", which is a separate blog post. I've learned to love flexibility. And I've loved watching how The Lord works when I ask Him to use me today. 

Which reminds me... When I tell people that I'm on sabbatical (which is unpaid, BTW.  The Eagle County School district has been generous in promising a job back in the district, but the budget does not include funding my budget in this time away)
I often hear the response: "Must be nice"!  And my response is: "You can do it too"!  I'm not naive to think that some professions might be harder to take a break from than others.  For example, I think of my bro and sis-in-law who have taken years to build a client base in the field of wealth management.  You can't just leave your clients high and dry. But not all sabbaticals are the same and my guess is there are some creative thinkers out there in your field of work who have managed to make it happen. But just like the principle of the risk/reward relationship in the financial realm, it might take a little risk to do this, but I'm quite certain the reward is worth it. 

If you need more inspiration, read on. Or if you are already inspired and have any questions about this crazy Sabbatical talk, email me!  I have time...

A TED Talk where I heard the idea of taking 5 years of your retirement and interspersing them throughout you career....
Stefan Sagmeister: "The Power of Time Off"

Dizik, Alina. "The Career Value of a 'Pointless' Sabbatical."

Barr, Corbett. "10 Lessons Learned on a 6-month Sabbatical."  July 16, 2009

Quora. "If You Were To Take a Year Long Sabbatical How Would You Spend It To Enhance Your Career"? April 15, 2013.

Lazier, Meghan. "Should You Take A Sabbatical? 3 Women Weigh In." 

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