Have you ever wanted to take a break? Not a little break, but a big one? Like take a whole year off to do whatever you want?
In academia, people call this kind of break a sabbatical, and if you’re a tenured professor, you can apply for one every seven years. Big break, escape hatch, sabbatical–whatever you call it–we all need a major break at one time or another, and it often doesn’t fall neatly into our life every seven years.
In fact, the need for a sabbatical often happens when it feels truly inconvenient: when we have tons to do at work, when things are going crazy at home, when we lose our job, when we’re getting divorced, when several of these things are happening all at the same time. This need for a big break often happens when we are traversing the liminal space–when we are facing the unknown, can hardly handle what has already happened, and like the old saying goes, when we are stuck between a rock and a hard place.
How do we take a big break if we need to keep our jobs, pay the bills, support ourselves and our families, and these days, survive a worldwide pandemic too?
How do we traverse the liminal space when it feels so vast and scary?
How the heck do we make it through?
The solution to this question came in an email from one of my readers, Alyson Wagner.
You see, Alyson had read my post, My Little Boat of Uncertainty, and wrote to tell me that she could relate, and that she too was getting rocked on choppy waters. She described what was happening with in her life and I felt her pain while also feeling buoyed up that I wasn’t alone on the rocky seas.
Alyson then went on to share what she’s been doing to help herself through this liminal space and it struck me as such a brilliant and realistic solution that I asked her if I could share it with you. Thankfully, she said, yes. So, here it is…and please note that the line breaks and bold type are by me.
I began intentionally focusing on the essentials of my self-care regimen: diet, exercise, and sleep.
I started chipping away at some of the physical and digital clutter that had been stressing me out because I’d been letting it pile up.
I put on hold a creative project I’d been really excited about but recently lost motivation to work on.
And finally, a month ago, I decided to act on a modified version of my biggest fantasy: take a sabbatical.
Since I can’t afford to quit my full-time job, I’ve simply been slowing down or putting a pause on anything else in my life that I have control over.
On nights and weekends, and any other down time I happen to scrounge up, I’ve been allowing myself to simply be.
To fill in the time and space without an agenda other than self-care, to appreciate the present as much as I can, and to only do things that nourish me and give me joy (as much as possible), while intentionally pausing any efforts to dive into projects or goals that are results-oriented.
And the longer I’m in this liminal space, the more I’m practicing this after-hours sabbatical as I call it, the more I’m enjoying the slower pace.
Instead of being fearful of my disorientation and lack of direction, as I felt initially, now I see the fog around me as an opportunity to retreat and rejuvenate.
To borrow your metaphor, I do eventually want to start paddling again and finding new shores to explore. But I want to be less frantic about the way I do it from now on.
Going forward, I want to maintain a slower pace of life in whatever new normal emerges as we gradually recover from the pandemic.
If reading this passage sparks something in you, I hope you will take Alyson’s words to heart and will start your “after-hours sabbatical” as soon as possible.
You don’t have to wait until you get a real sabbatical or until you quit your job or until things get a lot better.
You can begin traversing the liminal space right now–and adding more self-care, nourishment, and joy to your life–with what you have and from where you are.
Alyson Wagner is the author of A Fairly Conventional Tale and is also a proud multipotentialite, book nerd, and design geek. A native Texan with Japanese heritage (“Texan-Japanese” for short), Alyson has lived in Japan, England, and Northern California. Now she lives in her hometown of Austin, Texas, where she can say “y’all” as much as she wants without getting weird looks from people. Learn more about Alyson at AlysonWagner.com and connect with her on IG @alysonimagines and on Goodreads.
Peg Cheng is the author of Rebel Millionaire, a guide for how to retire as a millionaire even if you make a modest income, and The Contenders, a novel that asks, can enemies become friends? She is also the proud owner of Plaid Frog Press with her husband Marcus Donner. Born in Southern California to Taiwanese parents, Peg currently lives in Seattle, Washington.
Photo by Robson Hatsukami Morgan