I had been busy building a career for 15 years. This was the path I thought I needed to excel in to have a "successful life." I had been collecting degrees, accolades, promotions. But last year I was feeling stuck and unfulfilled. Maybe success meant something else? I was very good at putting my work subjects through various experiments but I had never taken the time to do that with my own life. So why not design a life experiment to test my life perceptions? All I needed to do was conquer the fear of leaving my job and give myself the permission to change a few life variables.
Inspired by Arianna Huffington's book Thrive and her journey through redefining success, I decided to leave my job, my home and my packed calendar to visit a different country every week. It was time to put up for review the very well-planned life that I was holding on to so tightly -- one that was not bringing me joy. As I went through my life experiment, let's call it my Thrive sabbatical, I noticed I was experiencing magical changes week by week.
1. I became closer with the world around me. I became more present. Of course, staring less at my cell phone really helped! I observed more, I felt more and I did less "sleep walk" living. Instead of being self-absorbed and always in my head, or on my phone, I chose to travel the world with an open heart for every person and experience I encountered. I found language was not a barrier for the heart and stories to connect. Inspired by the traditional Thai greeting, I found myself taking the time to bow to and recognize the presence of other beings. I felt closer to every life expression. I also never really felt alone.
2. I came to terms with my active mind. Taming your mind is like teaching a child to behave... a hard task. I went on two retreats, and at the beginning of each, I was resisting the experience of calming down. Apparently my mind was not OK with being still. After a few days of Yoga, meditation and silence my chatty mind surrendered to the simplicity of life. And I was happier. I was learning that mastering my own mind was more meaningful than getting another Master's degree.
3. I stopped feeling time starved. The time famine stopped as I was experiencing the world without a set schedule. As a result, I became more generous with my time. I enjoyed simply being part of someone else's life for a little bit. I watched the sunset every day. Believing that time was not scarce gave me more freedom and joy. I learned that time famine is something I create and a feeling I control. I can now set better priorities that include time for joy and helping others high on the list.
4. I began to let go more easily. My plans changed a few times -- like with the unexpected military coup in Thailand, which affected travel. I also had to let go of my routine, expectations and old thought patterns -- like negative feelings from the past. The more I did it, the easier it became. When it rained at the beach, instead of running to find shelter, I chose to stay out and enjoy the water. It actually felt warmer. When I danced with life versus trying to stop the dance, things simply flowed better.
5. I discovered endless lifestyle choices. I met fascinating people with refreshing lifestyles -- scuba instructors, teachers in foreign countries, yearlong sabbatical people, athletes, entrepreneurs, etc. This helped me lessen my fear to change things in my own life. It was a permission to redefine what success looks like. I asked myself frequently: "If my main life purpose was simply to thrive, how I would design my life?"
6. I learned that the things that really matter in life are portable. I am not my house, car or job; I am just a human being who is here to experience the world every day as it comes. We don't really need as much as we think we do. In my case, all that I needed came along with me on this trip. My whole being, which includes my body, my soul and yes, the chatty mind I wanted to calm down is portable. And their well-being is what became most important to me. Success without a peaceful mind, a thriving body and a joyful spirit was not the kind of success I desired any longer.
These are just some of the magical lessons that I learned from simply living differently for six weeks. The benefits of this life experiment still continue: Upon my return, my feeling of being stuck went away; I was fully happy in my heart, mind and body. Strangely enough, letting go also brought me new opportunities, people and ideas that I didn't expect. Instead of losing my job, I got promoted upon my return.
I am determined to live by these lessons and to pretend I am on a sabbatical every day. I want to be energized and more present. Give my best to others. Make meditation and watching the sunset part of my weekly routine. That is what having a thriving life means to me. And if I ever forget how to do it, I will keep going on sabbaticals to rediscover life's magic.
What are you waiting for to design your own sabbatical life experiment? I promise it will be magical.
If you need encouragement to go on a sabbatical (yes you can do it!) or have questions tweet me @crogoll.