Conquer Fear, Dream a Little, and Go on That Sabbatical

Breaking away from your regular routine will let you test whether your life can be significantly better if you live differently. Maybe that means living in a different country, learning a new skill, changing jobs or completing your bucket list. But even as exciting as it sounds and the happiness it promises, the decision doesn't come easy.
09/30/2014 11:36 am ET Updated Nov 30, 2014

Going on a sabbatical is equivalent to conducting a life experiment. Breaking away from your regular routine will let you test whether your life can be significantly better if you live differently. Maybe that means living in a different country, learning a new skill, changing jobs or completing your bucket list. But even as exciting as it sounds and the happiness it promises, the decision doesn't come easy.

When considering going on a sabbatical your thought pattern might look like this: I desperately want time away. Want a new perspective. But if I do it will the world stop? What will I do if I am unemployed upon my return? Should I wait until retirement? Can I really afford it? Will my family be ok with it? Am I going crazy? Fear has a great paralyzing effect, thus most people abandon the idea quickly. Sadly only a few get to find out that once you do it, the world keeps on going and everything is fine. Making this decision is actually about conquering fear.

I found the best way to overcome the fear and ease into the decision of going on a sabbatical is to actually begin to plan it, even if you feel you are not ready. Instead of having this debate in your head, where fear always wins, sit down and begin to plan how your life experiment would look like. The reason why this strategy works is simple: it appeals to both your mind and your heart. When you begin to plan your time away you will a) Determine if you can really do it or not -- the rational part and b) If your heart really wants it, the courage to make the decision will come naturally.

Here are the planning steps to follow that will greatly ease your fear:

1. Set an intention. Having a clear intention or theme for your life experiment will give you strong rationale why to do it. It will also help you design the kind of sabbatical that is right for you. Here are some examples of intentions: travel around the world, self-discovery, religious pilgrimage, learn a language, write, time with the family, a bucket list journey, volunteering. Or simply just to get away, which is a totally valid reason. Which one is the right for you?

2. Articulate your biggest fear. What is the worst that can happen if you go on a sabbatical? Write it down. Is what you fear the most completely true? Would you go on a sabbatical right away if that fear turns out not to be true? You will find that what is holding you back is just thoughts. More often than not, the new life possibilities will surpass your worst fears. My biggest fear was impacting my career negatively. Worst case, I needed to find a new job upon my return. I was ok with that. I articulated that fear, I conquered it, and guess what? I got promoted upon my return.

3. Research your support options. If you are employed, understand what benefits are available to you. Most companies these days offer a time-away-from-office option. If you are self- employed, understand how your responsibilities can be delegated and continued while away. Consider involving your family, support network and friends to either help out while you are gone or visit them during your trip. Making them part of your experience will be enriching for them as well.

4. Set your budget and length of time. Money and time are the two variables that you need to plan around. There is a sabbatical for every budget and length of time. You can make a long sabbatical cheap or a short one very expensive and vice versa. Money shouldn't be an excuse not to go on a sabbatical. There are plenty of options to travel and live cheaply, especially outside the US. Just keep in mind that you also need to plan for any cost or commitments that you leave behind like rent, utilities, etc.

5. Go after Experiences. Most sabbaticals will allow you to experience life differently. That is where the growth comes from. Being present and in touch with life. Maybe you want to play Globe trekker or immerse yourself in a new language?. Build a rough sketch of the main places you are drawn to, while looking at a map, as it is helpful to keep the distances in mind. Or maybe you want to focus on one activity and volunteering? Research options and contact people at the location you are interested to understand what your day to day might be like. Get excited. Of course don't over-plan; just prioritize activities and experiences that will allow you live life differently.

6. Get familiar with technology and travel insurance. Currency and language translators, digital itineraries like Tripit, Government travel advisories and Trip advisor reviews -- are all available tools that make you a savvy traveler. Having very good travel insurance will also ease your fear. All these tools will make you feel equipped on your journey and also provide a safety net in case of trouble. There are multiple providers and options to choose from.

7. Daydream. Finally, the last step to ease your fear is to daydream! Let your daydreams take over, say yes more often than no. The rest will follow. I leave you with three great sample itineraries from sabbatical experiences from friends and from my own.

Theme based Experiment: Different country/experience every week. (Seven weeks, Budget: $10,000 )
Week 1: Two countries in Central and South America
Week 2: Teaching/ volunteering
Week 3: Family and friends time
Week 4: Thailand- Beach, Detox and yoga
Week 5 and 6: Cambodia, Hong Kong, other Asian destinations
Week 7 : Spiritual Retreat at the Omega Institute with Eckhart Tolle

Around the world Experiment: Eight months with one around the world ticket (Budget: $20,000)

60 Days in Africa (Adventure and Volunteering): From Cape Tow to North Africa
Turkey: 15 days around the country highlights
India: Cross country train trip (six weeks)
Mongolia: Living in the desert experience (one week)
Southeast Asia: Visiting Top cities (one month)


Around the US visiting National parks: Family with three kids (two months, Budget: $5,000)

From Mid-west to West Coast on an RV
Benefits they reported back: Experience of bonding together and with nature, reset
expectations on what is really important. Best gift they could have given their family.

Follow these steps to let fear go and finally go on that well deserved sabbatical. It can change your life. And you will see that your world does not stop, does not fall apart, when you invest in yourself. Even if you decide not to go on a sabbatical now, I hope you still do it in this lifetime. Remember, the trip really begins when you start to plan it. Whether it is on paper or real, enjoy it!