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The Value of a Sabbatical

It is time for you to take time off?

A new year is a time to think about big goals and possibilities. We’re more deliberate about how we want to grow and what we want to experience. And maybe we know what we want to accomplish, but it doesn’t seem possible.

A few years ago, I found myself in this position. I was 13 years into my career and had never taken more than a week off work. There were so many things I wanted to do and places I wanted to see, but my work schedule didn’t allow it.

After months of planning and preparation, I left my job to spend a year traveling solo. I visited 20 countries and returned home with a renewed perspective that has helped me both personally and professionally.

For anyone who has considered taking a career break to travel, I’m going to share some of what I learned from my experiences. Maybe this is the year you too can make it happen.

Benefits of Taking a Breath

Countless studies have shown extended time away has a positive psychological impact such as lowering stress and improving wellbeing. What you may not know is that research has shown that these positive changes remain long after returning to work.

There is value in disrupting your daily routine and being exposed to learning opportunities you don’t encounter in your everyday life. Columbia Business School found that cross-cultural experiences increase cognitive flexibility and creativity.

I’ve learned many lessons from traveling that have made me a better employee. For example, adaptability in handling unexpected problems. What do you do when you get into a motorbike accident in Myanmar? What happens when you arrive to a Communist country without the required documents? These are just a couple situations I navigated that tested my patience and resilience.

One year of travel requires constant planning with limited information, which is also useful when working at a tech company. You know how you can’t rely on everything you read on the Internet? That’s especially true when it comes to international travel. You run into outdated information or content that makes you think your options are limited.

Inevitably, my ability to find and leverage resources substantially improved. Whether it’s trying to track down that one person at the train station who understands English or attempting to find headcover to enter a mosque, a year of travel not only tested my creativity, but also made me appreciate the kindness of strangers. I even find that networking or meeting new people comes much more naturally to me now. 

Challenge Yourself

So, this year, I challenge you to do something bold and unfamiliar that broadens your perspective. Travel is an easy way to do that because it turns you into a child; you’re experiencing things for the first time and constantly learning.

It doesn’t have to be one year. Before I ultimately embarked on my mid-career gap year, I would extend my work trips to spend a few days exploring on my own which led me to solo trips around the United States.

Perhaps one of the most important lessons I took away from my sabbatical was that I am capable of much more than I ever thought. I’m grateful for the people and places that inspired me and for having the space that allowed for introspection. This year, I hope you can find meaningful ways to challenge yourself and gain perspective.

Featured Image: Jenna Bauer

Jenna Bauer
After 12 years in the corporate world, Jenna spent a year travelling solo to 20 countries. She returned post-Covid to work at Micah Group, a fintech startup, where she is now chief of staff. Outside of work, Jenna is a dog mom, jewelry maker and travel fanatic.