Create Your Own Sabbatical

Create Your Own Sabbatical

This month I celebrate the four-year anniversary of fulfilling a life-long dream that I’ve come to think of as my sabbatical: I lived in Paris during the month of August 2010.

As the daughter of a university professor, I understood early that the word “sabbatical” means time off granted to tenured professors in order for them to rest, recharge and do research in their area of study. My own sabbatical was inspired by the death of my mother the previous year. There’s something about sitting by the bedside of a loved one who is dying that inspires us to look at our own lives and think about the things we’ve left undone. One of those things, for me, was living in Paris.

In college I studied French, fell in love with the language and the culture and was determined to someday study in  Paris. I also fell in love with my husband-to-be and instead of taking my junior year abroad, I got married. No regrets… I just told myself, “Oh, I’ll get to Paris someday,” never imagining that “someday” would be more than thirty years later.

During those last few weeks of my mother’s life, I was visited by an urgency to accomplish my dream of living in Paris because I was painfully aware of how short and precious our lives are. In the absence of a university committee, I granted myself a sabbatical–and you can, too. Here’s how:

  • Make a declaration. Even university professors have to lobby for time off–and so will you. But it won’t happen unless you give yourself permission and the power to declare your sabbatical to the world. Like any big goal worth achieving, your commitment comes first–then you can figure out how to make it happen. I began my sabbatical by declaring, first to myself and then to anyone who would listen, “I’m going to Paris!”
  • Talk it up. When I first began talking up my Paris sabbatical, I had no idea how I was going to make it happen. I had some money saved: check. I had some frequent flier miles to cash in: check. I had the blessing of my husband (once I invited him to come visit for a week): check. And I had an idea of the time frame: I wanted to stay a full month, and I wanted it to happen within the year. That was about as far as my planning had gotten. However, by sharing with everyone I knew, I began generating resources. My business coach Jackie Sloane connected me with a friend who owns an apartment in Paris. (Please contact me if you, too, are looking for an apartment in Paris and I’ll hook you up.) The dates of the apartment’s availability aligned with my calendar. Things began falling into place.
  • Determine your goal. Why do you want or need a sabbatical? For some, it’s to fulfill a lifelong dream as it was for me. My goal was simple: I wanted to live in Paris and experience daily life and all that implies: shop for groceries, visit the laundromat, practice my French and just be. Others might look to a sabbatical to volunteer, learn a new skill or pursue a creative endeavor like writing, painting or photography. Figure out how you want to spend your time and how that will enrich your life going forward.
  • Cover your bases. There are, of course, practical concerns to consider when you’re taking a sabbatical. There are companies that now understand the value of sabbaticals–click here for a list of companies that provide sabbaticals (some paid, some unpaid) to their employees. I have a dear friend who worked for Intel and she received a sabbatical while working there. If you are employed you may have to cook up your own sabbatical policy, demonstrating a clear plan to your employer about why they should grant you the time off and how it will benefit the firm. If you are self-employed, you’ll need to shore up your business, communicate with clients and arrange your schedule to accommodate the time away. And if you choose, you can keep a tether to your business from afar, thanks to technology. Just make sure it doesn’t interfere with your goal.
  • Pull the trigger–then enjoy the ride. Taking a sabbatical is scary. You’re disrupting your life and the status quo, suspending time in search of something bigger than yourself, and there are no guarantees. In a Forbes article called “How to Take a Sabbatical from Work,” writer Helen Coster quotes author Dan Clements as saying “The best sabbaticals are taken with a dose of faith.” Mr. Clements, who wrote the book Escape 101: Sabbaticals Made Easy, added “Learn to trust that things will work out.” Once you’ve declared the commitment, determined your goal and covered your bases, all there is to do is pull the trigger and actually do it. Then, be prepared for surprises.

Moi aussiLiving in Paris was nothing like I imagined–yet it was everything I dreamed of. My rusty French came back–at least enough to stimulate my brain and amuse the natives. I learned about the history of Paris in spite of my own appalling lack of study or preparation. And best of all, I immersed myself in art and culture in a way that has sustained me these last four years. That month in Paris reminded me that I live in a world-class city that, just like Paris, is steeped in history and culture. So I’ve made a concerted effort to enjoy the arts here in Chicago in a way I never would have without having taken that sabbatical.

What’s your dream? And when will you be taking your sabbatical in order to fulfill it? I can’t wait to hear from you.  

Postscript: During my month in Paris I revived my first blog, Quotidian Adventureswhich documented my first trip to Paris and then my August 2010 sabbatical. The blog is like a diary in reverse chronological order… please feel free to read and enjoy.]

[Photo credits: Masthead–my photo, Le Jardin de Luxembourg; Inset–livin’ the dream, across the Seine from Notre Dame Cathedral, compliments of friend Leanne Wallisch.]

The City that Never Sleeps

The City that Never Sleeps

We are just back from New York City, the City that Never Sleeps. It’s taken me a few days to catch up on my own sleep after logging hours and miles on the subway, visiting the Whitney Museum of American Art (usually just referred to as “The Whitney“), the New York Public Library, Central Park, Union Square, Chelsea art galleries, Hell’s Kitchen and most importantly, the campus of Columbia University where our beautiful daughter graduated with honors. Grateful to our hosts, Dwight and Colleen Olson, who moved lock, stock and barrel from Cleveland to Brooklyn in order to be close to their grandchildren, we traversed the city from one borough to another, marveling at the art, the energy, the diversity and the overwhelming sights and sounds of the Big Apple.

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New York Public Library

There’s something about New York–ask any New Yorker. Where did Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, a woman of unlimited independent means, choose to live out her life? Actors, writers, artists–they gravitate to New York City. People with means, who want to be where the action is, find their way to New York. Woody Allen has used the city as a set for most of his movies. Carrie Bradshaw made it her own, professing her love in every episode of “Sex and the City.” New York comes with a playlist, and I couldn’t help bursting into song without provocation: “Start spreadin’ the news…” or “They say the neon lights are bright on Broad-WAAAAY…” And when we thanked our hostess and insisted we reciprocate, asking “Won’t you come to Chicago?” she demurred with a smile, “No, thanks.” After all, what’s in Chicago that you can’t find in New York? (Besides us.) They call it “Second City” for a reason.

Now that I’ve nearly recovered from the trip, I’m left with images, impressions, judgments and a new kind of longing for that wider world where it seems anything goes. You can find any kind of food there you might want to eat. If you grew up feeling “different” for any reason–gay, bisexual, transgender, shy, outrageous, immigrant, glamorous, homely, tatooed, awkward–New York is a place where you fit right in. There’s poverty and fortune. Little old ladies are dressed up in their Chanel suits and propped on a bench in Central Park next to their caregivers who are in turquoise hospital scrubs and texting on their phones. Fifth Avenue should come with a warning label: Window shop at your own risk, and beware of deep-seated envy. Beautiful girls, handsome young men, moms and dads pushing strollers, the theater-hungry, the arts aficianado, parents walking their kids to school, older couples drifting arm-in-arm toward their apartments: they all have a place in New York City.

Could I handle that pace for very long? I don’t know. Just as the city nurtures and nourishes, it depletes one’s reserves. Perhaps if I, too, lived in a cozy brownstone in Brooklyn or on the seventh floor of an old building on the Upper West Side, I’d find my place, get my groove, fall into the rhythm that beats louder than the drummers in Washington Square Park and with all the force of a train pulling into Grand Central Station. When we stopped at that venerable landmark to admire the clock and the ceiling and to grab a cold drink, my husband observed, “It sure is crowded here.” Wryly I replied, “Where do you think we got that saying, ‘Man, it’s like Grand Central Station in here!’?”

And since said husband is an artist, New York has an even bigger appeal. There’s a gravitas to the city from an artist’s point-of-view, the ultimate destination for those who are fully committed to art. The galleries of Chelsea intrigued me with their clean, white spaces, almost antiseptic save for the art. The young assistants, each skinnier and more beautiful than the next, pored over their MacBook Pros, ignoring us unless we insisted on discourse. The unlimited menu of possibility, from events at the New York Public Library featuring famous authors to the rich choices of exhibits at the world-renowned museums, offers a tempting glimpse of what it would be like to live there.

But for now, back in our sleepy suburb of Chicago, I’m content to upload my photos and muse about a week that included graduation celebrations, Nathan’s hot dogs at Coney Island. a reading by Garrison Keillor at a local bookstore in Brooklyn and the loving connection of family and friends. Whether New York is on loan to me as a tourist or luring me as a potential residence, tossing its mane as the High Priestess of Art, remains to be seen. In the meantime, I have homework to do: my mission is to get my husband’s artwork out of our basement and onto a NYC gallery wall. Wish me luck!

[Masthead photo: Public art by Sol LeWitt, New York subway station]

The Importance of Ritual

The Importance of Ritual

While driving through town on a summer’s day, I was struck by the front lawn of a business near the center of town. In front of the office there was a crowd of plastic pink flamingos with a sign that read “Happy Flockin’ 50th, Cindi! Love, Your CST Buddies.”

I circled back around the block and pulled over. I had to take a photo. There was something about the humor in the sign, the mildly naughty play on words (“Happy Flockin’ 50th”), the flamingos, even the word “love,” that touched me. Maybe it’s because I work as a solo business owner and miss the camaraderie of a team… the idea of a group of co-workers happily conspiring to celebrate Cindi’s birthday moved me. Although I’ve never met her, I imagined this Cindi coming to work, startled by the signs, blushing, laughing and enjoying her special day, made all the more special by the people at work.

We underestimate the importance of ritual. Whether it’s something major, like a 50th birthday or graduating from college, or a smaller victory like finishing a project or completing a task, we often forget to observe the rituals that get us from here to there. Rituals imply celebration, completion, the end of something and the beginning of something else.

I heard Gretchen Rubin speak at Changing Hands Bookstore in Tempe, AZ, last week, talking about the sequel to her best-selling book The Happiness Project. Her new book, Happier at Home, delves more deeply into some of the choices we make that either add to our happiness or deplete our joy. One of the rituals she took on was “Give warm greetings and farewells.” I’ve adopted this small ritual of stopping what I’m doing to enthusiastically greet my family when they come through the door, and making sure that I give more than a perfunctory kiss as I say goodbye to my husband Bill. For years I’ve complained that Bill greets our dog, Peanut, with more energy and affection than he greets me. But why not? Peanut goes into paroxysms of joy every time she sees my husband, wagging her tail, going in circles and (he assures me) grinning that big terrier smile… is it any wonder he responds in kind?

Ignoring rituals robs us of the chance to celebrate. I have a beloved client who, after years of a very successful career in finance, chose to go back to school to get her master’s degree. Her undergraduate record was spotty so she was thrilled to be admitted to a prestigious program at a top-rated university based on her stellar work performance and her drive. She admitted that she often suffered from “imposter syndrome” and was waiting for the campus police to bust her, exposing her as a fraud. When she graduated, I insisted that she throw herself a HUGE party to celebrate this wonderful accomplishment. The ritual of celebrating milestones like graduations, birthdays, retirements, quinceañeras, new babies and weddings is critical to our need for acknowledgement, closure and new beginnings.

My friend Lesley is the Queen of Ritual. When Lesley traded in her role as a specialty advertising marketer for a new life as a yoga instructor, she confided that she was having trouble making the break. Old clients were still calling her to place orders for specialty ad items and, as lucrative as that business was, she wanted to complete that chapter and begin her new one. I had an idea: “Let’s throw a party to announce your new life as a yoga diva!” I said. Together, we cooked up the guest list and I hosted a party at a local restaurant to celebrate her new role and announce to the world that she was now a full-time yoga teacher. It worked. Later, when Lesley was undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer, she threw herself a “Half-Way Through Chemo” party at a local Mexican restaurant. Not only did we celebrate her victory of surviving and buoy her through the next half of her treatments, but she received many, many gifts–a great by-product of ritual! (Who doesn’t like gifts?)

Gretchen Rubin recommends throwing holiday breakfasts for “minor holidays” like Valentine’s Day and St. Patrick’s Day… with little investment in paper plates and napkins from the party store, you can gussy up the breakfast table and enjoy the day before it begins. What holiday traditions can you continue, invent or create? At our house, we have a tradition of hanging crêpe paper in the dining room, twisting it through the arms of the chandelier and anchoring it against the walls, to honor a birthday. Then we throw curly multi-colored serpentine party throws over the paper to give the room a crazy, festive look. Without the crêpe paper and the serpentines, it just wouldn’t be a birthday.

So what rituals are you going to celebrate? Maybe you’ve completed your root canal treatment–celebrate! (But not with caramels.) Completing a degree? Throw yourself a party! Changing jobs? Celebrate with some good friends and a bottle of champagne or sparkling juice. Write a comment below to let us know what milestones you’ll be celebrating as you look for opportunities to acknowledge others and yourself.

Bring on the flamingos.

Staying Relevant

Staying Relevant

 

Remember these?

Remember these?

 

 

 

Maybe it’s because I just had a birthday but lately I’ve been thinking about the importance of staying relevant. Watching someone riding a bike while talking on the phone; seeing Facebook photos of my three-year-old grandnephew Grady reading a book on an iPad; and hearing the news of Jeff Bezos buying the Washington Post (and reading Arianna Huffington’s response, “The Future of Journalism,”) have made me dizzy from the speed of change.

Each generation has to embrace change. My dad, a professor and a prolific writer, resisted using a computer. As a fellow wordsmith, I thought he would love using a tool that made writing and editing so much easier. Instead, he stuck to writing hard copy (and lots of it) on his IBM Selectric III. He never really embraced the ease and expansiveness of computers but instead continued to bang away on his electric typewriter, cranking out books, articles and letters which I now treasure, typos and all.

My mom, however, was an early adopter. Back in the mid-1990s when e-mail became all the rage, I remember my mom asking me with a sigh, “When are you going to get e-mail?” She’d already opened her first AOL account and was impatiently waiting to send me notes from her computer to mine. Years later, when I was visiting her in Tempe, AZ, and she and I were finalizing our dinner plans, she said breezily, “Just send me a text.” Text? I hadn’t yet learned to text. My seventy-eight-year-old mother beat me to the punch, thanks to her grandchildren who had nudged her into the world of texting. (Yes, now I know how.)

So as someone who thought the Internet was a fad, I have to be wary of my resistance to change. How can we stay relevant in today’s world?

  • Stay alert. Keep your eyes and ears open and watch what’s going on around you. I’ll never forget seeing my first Walkman and later, seeing someone reading a book on a Kindle at an airport. I was taken aback, then intrigued and ultimately it caused me to…
  • Ask a lot of questions. I remember breaking down and asking someone, “So, how do you like that Kindle?” I got a full report. After interviewing several other people about that technology, I learned I needed to…
  • Be courageous. I don’t think it’s an overstatement to say it’s courageous to learn to read books a whole new way. I admit, I still favor “real” books, but I’m learning to enjoy reading on my Kindle. And I appreciate the advantages of being able to read multiple books on one device without schlepping multiple books with me on a plane.
  • Hang out with young people. They’re fearless. Young people have grown up with computers and other digital devices. Watch and learn and don’t be afraid to ask them questions about how things work. And when it doubt…
  • Try it, you’ll like it. Jump in, experiment, and be comfortable with being uncomfortable. That’s the only way to grow.

Staying relevant means staying engaged, being curious and continuing to learn–at any age. We don’t have to adopt every new gadget or be on each social media site available, but to ignore new options for communicating would rob us of some exciting opportunities. I remind myself to be open to what the next generation will bring, not just to be “hip.” Staying relevant is good business.