Ah, adulthood. The “ever after” we imagine as children, when we’ll finally be in charge of our lives and have our own homes, schedules, and important, bustling careers. When we have everything figured out, aware of our purpose in life and confident of our every move, generally very aware and proud of how well we pulled everything together.
Cue the eye rolls.
We all have private realizations when we realize that that fairy tale is a bunch of BS (and once you’re on the other side, you know that the sooner you realize it, the better). For me, that moment came the day I looked up and realized I couldn’t deny it anymore- I had put six years into a career that was successful, but that was eating away at me. I had tried making tweaks, changing employers, changing accounts, reframing it in my mind, but the bottom line was now clear and I couldn’t pretend I was okay with it anymore. My mental health and emotional health were suffering.
I knew I needed to leave my job for my own well being. I was also extremely fortunate to be able to do so, having emergency savings set aside and health insurance through my husband. But while I knew I wanted to leave my job, I didn’t know what I wanted to do next. Without a clear purpose or plan, leaving my job felt both immature and like jumping ship into a dark, terrifying abyss.
Then one day, I received a beautiful gift from someone I was confiding in. “You do have a plan. You’re taking a sabbatical,” she said, simply. “People do that.”
I felt my whole body exhale as I turned the word over in my mind. I wasn’t going to be paid by my employer while I wasn’t working, but the term fit. I didn’t know what I wanted to do next, but this was going to be time to figure that out. I was going to pursue other interests, to work on things that I loved, to use that knowledge to inform my future path.
The word gave me a way to communicate my experience in a phrase- “I’m taking a sabbatical,” but it gave me something else, too. Through intention, it gave me freedom.
It shifted my perspective and solidified my understanding of what this chapter in my life was going to be. It was intentional time towards myself- for recovery, growth and discovery. Realizing that boosted my self love and compassion for my unease about something that was uncertain.
If you’re a human being, you are programed to be terrified of the uncertain. The very survival of all your ancestors depended it, and it’s still wired in all of us today. That fear often leads people to lie to themselves, to numb themselves to their feelings and experience, to not pursue their dreams, to stay with the wrong partner, to not tell the truth- because they don’t know what will happen if they do differently.
Intention could just be the antidote. While you can’t know what the future will look like, you can know why you’re doing something. To take care of your health. To be happier. To do what’s best for your family. To put an end to suffering. While I didn’t know where the sabbatical was going to lead, I knew why I was doing it. Focusing on what I knew was my truth gave me the permission and courage to face what I didn’t know.
If you’re struggling with where you are now, know that you don’t always need to have all the answers. Try defining the intention of what you want instead and let that be your guide. It really makes all the difference.
How to add intention to your unknown
- What am I struggling with?
- Why am I struggling with it?
- What do I need right now?
- What would I do if I wasn’t afraid?
- What is my intention?
- How can I take a step towards it today?
What my sabbatical looks like today
Now a few weeks into sabbatical, I still find myself coming back to this list. It’s been invaluable on any given weekday when my husband and friends are at work and I’m not. When negative self-talk creeps in, coming back to my intention is a lifesaver. In those moments of doubt, I remind myself that this was always going to be uncertain, and that’s okay. Grounding in a daily intention has been equally important. The combination of a larger vision and daily actions to achieve it are usually enough to stop the negative swirl.
But remember to be gentle with yourself. Some days, your intention may be to just spend 5 minutes researching your next step, or even to take a break and recharge so you can get back on it the next day, and that’s okay. Progress is quiet and slow. Let your intention guide you, and take it one day a time.