Confessions of a SabSesh Convert (Part 2).

August 17, 2022

Confessions of a SabSesh Convert (Part 2).

May 29, 2023

What makes the Sabbatical Sessions so supportive for sabbatical-takers? As I wrote in my recent previous post, it comes down to four ingredients—structure, space, community, and distance. Before I get to SabSesh’s secret sauce, let me take a step back and tell you how I got here to Baja:

After an eight-year entrepreneurial journey, during which I lived in and traveled to dozens of countries creating the FICO score for emerging markets, I burned out. It was my dream job…until it wasn’t anymore.

As it does for most, burning out caught me by surprise. Wasn’t this something that only happens to people who hate their job? Unsure of what to do next, I set off in a completely different direction for four months—on a journey to dedicate some time towards what was important, not just urgent.

Those four months led me to quit the company I co-founded and set out to answer the question that had been bouncing around my head since I returned: “am I crazy, or is a sabbatical the best way to learn about yourself, heal, check items off your bucket list, and reimagine your future?”

Having worked alongside economists my entire career, I felt obliged to find some evidence to support (or disprove) my hypothesis. So I partnered up with academics from the Universities of Notre Dame and Washington to do just that. You can find some of the results of our research on our website: www.theSabbaticalProject.org. I came to SabSesh to transform this research—and the hundreds of stories from sabbatical takers—into a book.

And here’s what I think creates the magic of SabSesh:

Structure
For most, going on sabbatical means going from 100 mph to 0. We’re used to being busy with urgent matters to attend to and folks that depend on us. It catches people by surprise how disorienting it is to all of the sudden have a vacuum of responsibilities and an empty calendar. SabSesh provides a diverse, engaging and completely voluntary set of daily activities, ranging from guided discussions to art classes to yoga and meditation. It’s an easy and healthy (read: not binging Netflix) way to spend your days, weeks, and months.

Space
Paradoxically, despite several scheduled activities each day, there’s also hours of unstructured free time to get lost in your thoughts, or pick up an old hobby. There’s also ample physical space to feel like you have the place to yourself. The growing campus spills over into so many lovely buildings, each with various indoor and outdoor seating areas, pools, a library and kitchens erupting with free snacks and drinks. It’s a joy just discovering the nooks and crannies of the campus.

Community
Community was the one thing I didn’t have during the first stretch of my sabbatical. Doing something as countercultural and seemingly risky as giving it all up for a while is terrifying; having folks around you who are also on their journey helps embolden you. What’s unique about the community during SabSesh is that it’s multigenerational: in the ten days I’ve already been here, we’ve had people from each decade from the 30s to 70s, not to mention from all over the US and the world. It’s not every day you get to beat an Iranian in backgammon who’s been playing since you were in diapers! (Sorry Yasmin ;/ ) Joking aside, being able to tap into the experiences of folks at all stages of their life journey has been clarifying, and not unidirectionally—everyone seems to be learning something new.

Distance
The one thing that the hot, dusty highway from the airport to MEA is good for is putting extra geographic distance between you and your routines, identities, and trappings. Separation from your normal life—if only for a week or two—is crucial to dropping into a new state of being. Not only do different parts of your brain light up when traveling internationally, new surroundings can help you disconnect more quickly and fully from your former life, enabling you to make the most out of fewer days off.

As a reminder, while I’m here, I’m also happy to answer general (or very personal and specific) sabbatical questions. Let me know what would be helpful in the comments of Chip’s LinkedIn post about this blog entry.

DJ DiDonna is the founder of the Sabbatical Project and was an Alumni in Residence at the Harvard Innovation Labs. Find out more, and follow along with DJ’s research, stories from sabbatical-takers, and forthcoming book on sabbaticals: Newsletter | Website | Tedx Talk | LinkedIn

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