In July 2014, I took a three-month sabbatical after over 13 years of building my business Livity, with my business partner Sam Conniff. When we founded the company in 2001, we wanted to find out whether there was space and potential for a socially responsible youth marketing agency. A business that placed equal importance on both purpose and profit. About this time last year, 12 years on from starting the business and that exploration, we were celebrating continued growth and success and were the strongest we’d ever been. I however, was worn out by the unrelenting adventure of proving such a different kind of business. Worn out and worn down.
Over a number of months I well and truly lost myself. It wasn’t good for me and it wasn’t good for the business. The solution? I got myself out of the way and took advantage of a sabbatical. The idea wasn’t just to rest, but also to create the space to let joy in and work out my own professional ‘What’s Next?’ in the business. Here are my tips for taking a sabbatical from your business.
Getting yourself out of the way can be great for the business!
If you’re committed to building and empowering a team, then being out of the business for a short while can enable people to develop and grow in a brilliant way. Empower and trust your team, but do make sure they feel ready, supported and trusted to do things their way, whilst keeping aligned to the business vision, values and plan that you have laid out.
Disconnect and set clear boundaries
On the first day of my sabbatical, I checked my emails as usual throughout the day. On the second day, I got Shaun at our brilliant IT partner, to change my email password and promise not to tell me for three months. I also asked Shaun to remove all social media from all of my computers and devices. On day three I took a deep breath and relaxed. I had two clear and agreed reasons for the business breaking it’s ‘no contact’ pledge with me: if someone in the business was seriously ill or worse, and if we were about to appear in the media for the wrong reasons – both unlikely, but possible worst case ‘what if’s.’ I’m pleased to say that there was no need for anyone to have to contact me. So I truly disconnected!
Don’t overload your time off – just be
The truth is that on day three, I made a great big ‘To Do on Sabbatical’ list. It was on day four that I tore it up, and then day five that I truly took that deep breath and relaxed. Maybe I didn’t need to have a plan for once… To just be at home – as mum, wife and me, was probably enough. And it was; it was a luxury and joy to go more slowly for once – and importantly to take time to be completely devoted to and present for my family. I also made sure that I made time for myself and enjoyed two amazing yoga holidays in Spain. Taking time and caring for myself meant I was better placed to be a lovely and happy mum and wife for the rest of my sabbatical.
Plan your arrival back into the business
Do make a plan for reconnecting yourself into the business after your sabbatical and watch out – it might feel strange, difficult even. It did for me! We had 13 new people in the business and the fast pace and continued growth of the company – after three months of going slower – was hard to adjust to. I was keen to not go back to the day-to-day defaults of my role before my break, but needed to find ways to feel connected. So I decided to meet with everyone in the business. All 73 people. When else do you have the luxury of an empty diary? It was connecting personally with all the brilliant people of Livity that powered me back up.
Be patient – a new dawn is starting
Use the break to make a positive change to your business role. When you arrive back after the time away you’ll have changed and the company will have changed as well. Embrace the change! This is a rare opportunity to truly develop your role and continue to head towards a place where you are investing more of your energy and attention ‘on the business’ rather than ‘in the business’. Is this the opportunity to be setting the next part of your vision and enabling your team to deliver it? Be patient with this process and hold your nerve, you’ll get there. Remember the change curve: shock and denial followed by anger and fear leading to acceptance and finally commitment. Once you’re there, you’ll reap and enjoy all the benefits of your sabbatical and getting yourself out of the way – as will your business and your team.
And one final tip… It helps to buy a fabulous pair of ‘going back to work heels’ – in my case a beautiful pair of Isabel Marant boots helped me walk into the office ready for business!