8 Essential Habits That Helped Me Make the Most of My Sabbatical

Domonique Worship
Sep 5, 2023
Around this time last year, I found myself grappling with a phenomenon that is all too familiar for many of us: burnout. I was depleted - physically, mentally and emotionally - chronically stressed and exhausted, and disconnected, both from myself and from the people I love most. As someone who coaches executives and mid-career professionals to find balance, joy and fulfillment in their lives and careers,  it was hard to grapple with the truth that I had not been practicing what I preached - not by a long shot.

Yes, I preach to my clients (and anyone in my life who will listen, really) about the importance of carving out time for self-care and  nurturing their whole selves—mind, body, and spirit—but when it came to myself? I prioritized everything above my own well-being, much to my detriment. Don’t get me wrong - I did believe that I deserved rest, and I certainly believed in the power of self-care. But when you’re a (recovering) perfectionist who has a tendency to hold herself to impossibly high standards, rest doesn’t always come so easily.  Somewhere between balancing all of my responsibilities and trying to be everything for everyone, I realized I had lost myself in the shuffle.

I became all too familiar with the old adage, “you can’t pour from an empty cup,” as I found myself struggling to show up for others when I couldn’t show up for myself. So I did the unthinkable. I left my job (before Bey gave us all permission to quit our jobs, might I add) and gave myself three months to recharge and reset. A summer sabbatical, if you will. And honestly? It wasn’t easy. As a Black woman, I’d grown up hearing that I had to work twice as hard to get half as far. And without realizing it, I’d fully internalized that message from a young age. Over the course of my academic and professional career, I’d conditioned myself to be productive around the clock. And even though I’d now created a space in which my only job was to unplug and decompress, I didn’t know how to turn it off. After a couple weeks of somehow feeling just as stressed and “busy” as I’d felt before I’d left my job, I finally had an epiphany: like any other goal I had worked to achieve, I would need to pursue the goal of unplugging with intention. Here are eight lessons I learned and implemented to make my sabbatical everything I needed it to be.
#1: Start With Clear Intention
At the beginning of my sabbatical, I gave myself time and space to consider what I wanted to get out of my time off. My worst fear was that the three months would pass and I’d feel just as depleted as I felt at the outset. So I took time to sit down and really reflect on how I hoped I’d feel by the end. I asked myself what I wanted out of this break and explored what a successful sabbatical looked like for me - what did I need to have on the other side of this in order to make this time feel worthwhile? In the end, I landed on clarity, revitalization (i.e., feeling rested, re-energized and recharged) and joy as my top priorities.
#2: Set Aside Time For Reflection Each Morning
Julia Cameron’s Morning Pages became my best friend during my summer break. If you’re unfamiliar with Morning Pages, it’s a journaling practice that entails completing three pages of longhand, stream-of-consciousness writing first thing in the morning, right after you wake up. The purpose is to help you find peace and clarity before you start your day.

This practice helped me move into each day feeling rooted in purpose and intention, and it gave me a safe space to address any doubts, worries or fears that were coming up for me. I also prompted myself with pointed questions around each of my three intentions: How can I gain clarity today? What will bring me joy today? And what can I do to feel revitalized today? This helped to ensure that my intentions for my sabbatical were always top of mind, and that I was taking active steps each day to achieve these goals.
#3: Create Structure For Your Days
I quickly learned that waking up with the vague goal of simply enjoying my day wasn’t enough to get me there. Ironically, the less structure and routine I had, the more confined I felt. So I gave myself full permission to play around with different structures for my day until I figured out what worked for me. I paid attention to when I felt most sluggish and when I felt most energized, and started building my days around these cycles. I blocked my time religiously, which allowed me to ensure that I had ample time set aside for exercise, self-care and the things that brought me joy, along with my more serious to-dos.

I learned that structure and flexibility can co-exist and that the combination of the two is the sweet spot for me. Not every day had a rigid plan, and that was okay. But having an idea of how I wanted to spend my time and being able to time block my day as needed helped me feel like I was able to make the most of every day on my break. And I was finally able to just let go and enjoy!
#4: Go Outside
I made sure to integrate movement and time outside into my daily routine, whether it was a morning run or a leisurely walk in the neighborhood with my dog, Luna. Instead of taking an Uber or subway everywhere, I opted to walk whenever I could. I looked for any and every excuse to get outside and take in the fresh air, and it made a world of difference for me.
#5: Find Ways To Move Your Body
Starting my days off with a workout did wonders for my mood and energy during my time off.

I love all things Peloton, so I started a weekly regimen of strength training, cycling and running classes on the app. I planned out which classes I would take the night before so I could wake up with —you guessed it —intention.
#6: Embrace Play
Does anyone else find it hard to do things strictly for pleasure? That’s how I felt at the beginning of my sabbatical - if it wasn’t productive, it didn’t feel worthwhile. So each morning, in addition to my three core reflections, I also asked myself, “how can I play today?

”Whether it was reading for pleasure, dancing or having drinks with friends, I committed to doing something each day that served no other purpose other than bringing me joy. This small commitment of doing one thing a day brought me more joy and introduced me to more fun, creative outlets than I could have anticipated. So note to self: it’s okay to play!
#7: Travel - Near or Far
Nothing makes me happier than visiting new places - it gives me a sense of freedom, adventure and discovery like nothing else. This summer, I planned a number of trips to places like Colombia, Italy and Barbados to help me on my quest to reconnect with myself.
So traveling anywhere, whether it’s to a new neighborhood or across the world, was one of my favorite ways to tune back into myself this summer.
#6: Connect With New People
I admit, networking has never felt particularly fun or exciting to me. But with my newfound free time, I knew that I wanted to prioritize forming more authentic connections with new people.

Even as an introvert, connection is something I value immensely. So I took the plunge and joined Chief, a private membership network, to meet and build relationships with phenomenal women around the world. I went on a retreat to Barbados, where I was able to build new friendships with 11 other amazing women. And I said “yes” to any opportunity to connect with new people. I found myself energized and inspired by the people I encountered. Little did I know, connecting with others in a way that felt authentic for me would ultimately help me reconnect with myself.

Now that I’m standing on the other side of my sabbatical, I’m happy to say that I did find the clarity, joy and restoration that I was seeking. Now it’s your turn! Whether or not an extended break is in your future, I hope you can use these habits to keep filling your cup and create more rest, joy and clarity in your everyday routine. You deserve it!
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