What I Did and Didn't Do On Sabbatical

Hey, hey there and welcome to another episode of The Bold Leadership Revolution podcast. In case you have forgotten, we are here to show you how to optimize your performance as a leader without all the buttoned up stuffiness of corporate leadership and the drivel of the personal development industry. We promise in a world that swings wildly between serious business and woo-woo bullshit, we will be firmly planted in the middle. We give you the practical side of business strategy, the necessary skills to build your mental strength and the woo-ish principles to effectively manage your most precious resource, your energy.

Today I'm going to be talking about what I did and didn't do on sabbatical. This is the great sabbatical recap because as some of you may know, especially if you follow me over on The Gram, August was the month that I took a sabbatical. I took a 30 day sabbatical.

As you're listening to this podcast today, I'm recording it, I'll have been back to work. I'm back to work now for about a week and so this is fresh on my mind, so I want to walk you through what I've learned and an action that you can take now to work your way toward more time off because who doesn't want that? Right?

What I Did and Didn't Do On Sabbatical

I want to start with why I decided to take 30 days off. 

What was my motivation for this undertaking? First and foremost, it was totally practical. My kids were going to be home in August. They went to sleep away camp in July and they were going to be home in August. And I work out of my house and I don't know if there's any work from home parents out there, but navigating working from home and wrangling kids full time is like death. It feels like death to me. It is super frustrating. It saps my energy. It makes me way less productive. So I figured I would just take the time off. 

Second, I needed the time off. I needed the time off. I believe so strongly in the power and advantage of stepping out of your day to day business. If you're struggling to think strategically, you most likely needing to just step away and get a different perspective. Also, growth cycles are exhausting. They're exciting, but they're also exhausting, and recovery is needed. The more growth and stress on your system and business, the more recovery you need. So this 30 day sabbatical is a sign of tremendous growth. As a matter of fact, in August, I celebrated my four year quit date from corporate. I started my business probably eight or nine months before I quit corporate. So effectively we're in year five.

We're about to celebrate our fifth year in business, and we've 10X-ed the business in those five years. Now I get it. There are some people who can teach you how to 10X your business overnight. Eye roll. For me, it took five years and that felt like lightning speed. It was a tremendous amount of growth to navigate, and not only did we grow, but we grew in a way that is stable and sustainable. So that took a tremendous amount of strategy and work to get us to that point where we have grown stably. So this 30 day sabbatical was really needed and it was evident as I'll share with you later on in this episode, it was evident by kind of what went down on sabbatical that was awesome and what didn't quite go as expected. 

Before we get too far into this episode, let's just quickly talk about what a sabbatical is.

Now, sabbatical leave is defined as a time period in which a person does not report to his regular job, but who remains employed by that company. This is very popular among professors in universities. Like maybe they take a sabbatical and they go off and they work on some research or they work on deepening their studies or something like that. And it's becoming more prevalent in companies as well, where they allow people to take an extended period of time off to go and better themselves. It's not really a vacation. You're still, you're very intentional and purposeful about the work that you are going to be doing, but it's also not the work that you do every day. And in my business, I've taken two kinds of sabbaticals. So the first kind of sabbatical that I took was unplanned, and this was early in my business.

It was about six months after leaving my corporate job. I took a month off from everything but client delivery. I didn't market. I didn't sell, I didn't go on social media. I needed this as a time to step back from a really stressful time in my life and take a look at my own mental health and my physical health as well. Even though technically I couldn't afford to do this, I needed to keep doing those things like marketing and selling because my business wasn't anywhere near where it was today. I really did need to step back and I did. And I believe that if I kept going the way I was going, it would set my business up for failure and not for success. While I was on that sabbatical, I got clear on what I wanted my business to look like moving forward because I was miserable and my confidence was tanking fast.

People who I thought were my ideal clients were not my ideal clients and they were sucking the life out of me. So that was really my first sabbatical where I kind of was like, okay, I feel like I want to burn my business down. So instead I'm just going to step away for 30 days. I'm going to service the clients that I have, but I'm not going to take on anything new. I'm not going to start any new projects. I'm not going to be marketing. I'm not going to be doing sales. I'm not going to be scrolling my news feed ad nauseum, I'm just going to step away. Now, this last one that I took, it was planned, right? And ideally we want to plan for our sabbaticals. 

The first part of this conversation, I want to just share a little bit about what we did to plan for this sabbatical.

And I got to tell you it's really not that complicated. I think the thought of taking 30 days off is way more, your anticipation of it is worse than what it actually could be and is. So I made the decision to take sabbatical about 15 months prior to taking it. So there was a very extended period of time where we were planning for me to step out of my business for a month. The main reason why I had to give it that much time is because I had to hire the team that would be on board during this time and we had to get organized and be strategic about it. I didn't really have a team that could support me in taking 30 days off. 

So the first thing I did was when I hired people in one of the filtering questions for hiring them and for the work we would plan together was would this hire allow me to take 30 days off? Would the work that we're planning allow me to take these 30 days off? So everything got put through that lens of will this allow me to step out of my business for one month? Now the second piece of this was around picking the month. How did we know what month to pick? Right? And this goes back to my regular CEO debriefs. I have data around each month in my business. What typically happens, I've been in business enough years where I can start to see themes and trends and typically August gets slow, my clients are away on vacation. People who might be in a buying cycle are away on vacation. Not all the time, not all the time, but some of the time. I mean I've certainly made sales in August in the past, but it just tends to be a slower sales month and for me and that's why I chose August.

I also chose August because it works with my life. So I have always, whether I worked in corporate or not, taken the last two weeks of August off to be with my family and to bridge that gap between camp and school and to get everybody prepared and organized and restructured for the new year. And it's just a time that I really enjoy spending time with my family. So it works for me as well. The next thing we did was when we were looking at what our offers were going to be for 2019 we created offers around by time off. That meant that we found consultants to do some of the delivery. And not only did we find the consultants, but we hired them, we've tested them and vetted their services because nobody comes into my business as a consultant to work with my clients unless they've worked with me or for me.

So I have people that reach out often that want to come and coach on our company's behalf, but I've never coached them or they've never coached me. So I don't know what service or experience they would be delivering. And so that's a no for me. So these are people when these consultants got embedded into my programs, there are people who I know their work and I'm confident in what they deliver and it's something that my clients at the time could greatly benefit from. So it's not like I picked people just to fill my spot. I was incredibly intentional and discerning with who we brought in and we will be looking to grow in this way in the future, but only with those trusted reliable sources to ensure the quality and culture of our company is represented.

The next thing we did was we evolved our strategic plans and this included our marketing plan.

 I want to give a huge shout out to Stacey Harris over at Uncommonly More because without her this would not have been as successful as it has been. And I'm not even sure that this would have been possible without having a strategic marketing plan in place because the biggest thing at risk when you step out of your business is that if you're solely responsible for the marketing and it's not strategic and it's not planned out ahead of time and systematized and automated, you're going to dip in your sales about 90 days after your time off.

So I needed to make sure that my marketing efforts and initiatives were ongoing and consistent even though I wasn't there to be delivering them. And we had podcast episodes going out and we had social media content going out and we were engaging with our audience and on our platform, even in my absence and building those relationships we didn't step back from relationship building. And personally I didn't step back from relationship building as well either, but I just did different relationship building activities. So one of the things that we started doing is sending out actual snail mail.

By the way, the United States postal service sucks. They're delivering, so we send out these postcards and you should see how these poor postcards are getting delivered to all of you wonderful people. They are super mangled. They take forever to get there. It's really, really fascinating. But we have decided that we are a high touch company. We want to connect with our audience, our listeners on this podcast, our social media community as well as our current community in a way that builds intimacy and an emotional connection. So we decided that we were going to be sending out handwritten postcards. And so while I was stepping back from business, I was sending these handwritten postcards to our current clients as well as anybody who was giving me their permanent, their physical address over on Instagram. And let me tell you folks, you all want my snail mail. So if you have yet to give me your physical address, I really want to encourage you to get that to us.

You can either reply to an email that we send with your physical address or you can DM it to me. If you DM it to me on Instagram, it's probably one of the easiest ways to get it to me. So if you would like physical snail mail, a physical postcard from me, some love letters from yours truly, head on over to Instagram and DM me your physical address and I will send that out. So that's what I was doing behind the scenes while I was on sabbatical and that felt really awesome to slow down, to write something out, to really connect with another human being. A lot of times people DM-ed me their address and I wasn't even sure what their first name was because it's not evident immediately on their IG profile. So I would go over and look up who they are and find out what their first name is and learn something about them and it was super cool. I'm really enjoying that. So give me your physical address and I will send you a postcard and it will show up completely mangled and well beyond the time that I have actually sent it.

Back to the actual marketing, right? We needed to have a real strategic plan for how we were marketing and continuing to market through the time that I took off. So that we know that our strategic marketing efforts are a leading indicator of revenue and that we wouldn't suffer a dip in revenue later down the line when I returned. The other thing we had to look at was evolving our customer and client journey and really understanding what would amplify their experience during my time away. It's so easy to think I'm the only one, or I'm the one who can deliver this client journey, this customer experience. But it's not true.

My clients and communities are better because I leverage a team of people and don't believe that I'm the only one who can do things well in my business. I do not believe that I'm the only one that can help my clients. That would be incredibly arrogant. And unfortunately, or fortunately, I'm just not that arrogant. So as a matter of fact, my greatest skill is building teams to support strategic initiatives and win on the field. So it's what makes me unique and that I look to maximize all the potential around me for the benefit of all. It takes a unique personality to lead from behind and put others in the spotlight without fear or scarcity or mental chatter. And I happened to be that personality. So this really, this sabbatical really gave me an opportunity to play to my strengths and I really loved watching my clients supported by a powerful team of people.

Now, what work was going to get done? 

A sabbatical isn't a vacation. I did have things that I wanted to work on and needed to remove myself from the day to day of my business in order for that to happen. So I wanted to have the space to rest, to focus on my family and be a mom without having to juggle motherhood and business and to do some thinking about next steps. So one thing that I did set the intention of doing was a complete review of my personal performance as a leader and a reset. 

The other thing I wanted to do is write and record 20 podcasts episodes while I had some quiet from non-forward facing client time and we wanted to work on some web copy. Now the kind of work that wasn't getting done, we drew a boundary forward facing anything wasn't going to happen, no client calls or forward-facing work. There was zero expectations of me showing up on social media unless I really wanted to.

So let's check in on the reality and the results. 

Did I stay true to my intentions and what were some of the results? So my first most important thing that I wanted to do was be a 100% present mom. Both my kids this year are changing schools and they are growing. They're 13 and 11. They're at a wonderful time and I wanted to be 100% present mom. I can't think of a time where I was able to just mom. I've always worked and momed, that has been my life for the last almost 14 years. So this was really a gift that I was giving myself to just be a mom and to be 100% present as a mom and I was. I was so excited to see my kids when they returned from their first time at sleepaway. They grew and matured so much. It was fun getting reacquainted with who they had become. We spent time at the beach. I spend time being a chauffeur because apparently that's how my role as a mom has changed now that I have preteens and teens, I just drive them everywhere. Would I actually cherish that time because it's always about 10 to 15 minutes that I get with each of them to just have a conversation. And so that was really fantastic. I was also on a mission to reestablish boundaries, responsibilities and get my home running like a well-structured organization.

We decided to let go over our house manager. For those of you who didn't catch the podcast episode where I shared that I had hired a house manager. That was about a year and a half ago, maybe 15 months ago. We hired a house manager and to take some tasks off my plate, but in the end that really didn't work out for me. So I work from home and didn't enjoy having someone else in my space multiple times a week.

We had committed to a certain amount of hours to this person and I found myself making things up to give her, to fill her time, which went against my value of simplicity. And our kids were doing nothing around the house and now they're getting older and that definitely isn't the message that I wanted to be sending them. I felt so disconnected from the organization and planning and running of my home, which in actual fact allows me to slow down and focus on something other than business. So we really made the radical decision to let go of the house manager and reestablish what our boundaries were in the home, how we wanted the house to run, what our processes were going to be, how we were going to divvy up roles and responsibilities. And we actually made a radical shift by the end of my sabbatical where I'm actually hiring more help in my business so I can focus more on my life.

That's where I'm at my best and it will set us up well for the next level of company growth. So the first few weeks of sabbatical also resulted in a lot of napping. I'm going to be completely honest. As I committed to looking at my own performance, I had to get serious about my habits and most importantly how I was fueling myself. Because in March I was presented with about two and a half pages of food intolerance, some more significant than others, things like eggs and olive oil, which are in so many things guys, and cilantro, there's a lot of cilantro and things too. And I can't have cilantro. And as well as every preservative known to man in food and beauty products are on this list of things that I'm intolerant to. My inflammation was off the charts and after months of starting and stopping and seriously tantruming about having to eliminate all this food, like the mental tantrums were intense.

I took this 30 days and just eliminated it pretty much for good. And through doing this, my body kind of went into a healing crisis and was requiring more sleep. And so I really allowed myself to nap. I allowed myself to stay up a little later at night and then sleep in a little more in the mornings because hello, any mom out there with young kids who are getting up super early, I just want to let you know help is on the way. By the time they are 11 and 13 you will not see them before 11:00 AM. So taking advantage of the fact that my kids didn't have to get on the bus, I allowed myself to sleep in and just give my body a break and allowed it to heal and allowed my mind to decompress. And that's not easy. That's actually really hard to allow. I don't think we all realize how much stress our nervous systems are under just from everyday life.

Forget running a business, forget being a mom just like everyday life puts our body under a lot of stress. The other thing that we did while on sabbatical is I spent a lot of time decluttering. It's my secret pre-goal setting strategy. Declutter like a mofo to make room for what is to come. And whenever I look at decluttering, I pay special attention to my thoughts and beliefs and energies that I want to release as well. And whether you're decluttering stuff or self-belief, it's tiring work and it requires more self-care. So there was a strong recommitment to mindfulness, my Reiki practice and habits that support both my well-being and my performance.

Things like drinking a gallon of water every day, breath work every day. Gratitude and training my mind to be optimistic. I also renewed hobbies like cooking now that my kitchen is finished. If you head over to Instagram, we had been talking about our kitchen renovation and it is about finished and now that I have to navigate all these food intolerances, I really use the time to find some recipes and to get back into the kitchen and to find my rhythm in preparing meals for myself and my family so that now when we added work back in, we just added work back in around my food prep and cook time.

It's almost like it's become a boundary in itself. Now, the space to think paid off in a big, big way. I'm certain. I'm 100% certain of our direction for this company in 2020. We are already executing on 2020 plans. We've added support to take us through 2020. I was able to document some processes that I've wanted out of my head and onto paper for a long time. Things that got taken off my plate for sabbatical may not come back on my plate at all because I'm saying no to a lot more than ever before. I'm saying no to a lot more than before sabbatical started.

This was one of my biggest takeaways is I liked having that space. 

I liked slowing down. I liked being more intentional and discerning. I'd always been that way, but I had let the business come and kind of start creeping too much into my life. And I think that's normal and I think people, we do that and we have to be really present to when that's happening and make sure that we're stepping back to see it because you don't see it when you're in it. You really need to step back.

So sabbatical wasn't perfect. There were things that I had planned and that didn't go as planned and then didn't happen. So I didn't record those 20 podcast episodes. I found that I needed a very, very long hiatus from this show and thankfully we had plenty of episodes batched so you didn't really know the difference. We have some ground to make up now, but I'm also feeling much more energized and ready to sprint for it. Web copy, I completely offloaded that to my team and I felt a huge weight lifted from me when I did that. Again, I was finding myself way too in it, getting into resistance, getting into self-doubt, getting into perfectionism, and I just had to hand it off to people who just did not have as personal of a relationship to the web copy as I was having.

Weekly I played with... So this is new, this is actually was unexpected but was super fun. Weekly, I played with the journal prompt, what do you suck at and where are you failing? I know it sounds a little negative and I was like, "I'm training my optimism." But it became incredibly freeing and it led me to create a new framework for us to teach from. 

The other thing was that I got more granular on the values in my business as well as what growth means to me. I'm still sitting with this custom definition of growth and boundaries, but honestly, I never thought to define it for myself in the absence of the echo chambers we all get caught in around what does growth look like, right? So stepping away, even for the shortest period of time has such an incredible value. 

Now here's some takeaways. 

One, a 30 day sabbatical is not 30 days. So it's 30 days plus however much time you need to get things in gear again. And I didn't have a plan for re-entry. And so last week, my first week back, it was also my kids first week back to school and it was a little sticky. Okay? It was a little messy. And so the next time I do this, I will plan better for reentry. 

The inbox really isn't the problem. I think everybody fears their inbox, but we communicated way in advance that this sabbatical was happening. You could set an out of office email to go out and everybody seems to survive and the things that can't wait got handled by my team. So it was funny, I think the thing that I was the most concerned about really felt like a non-issue at the end. 

And the third takeaway it was the right amount of discomfort. Taking 30 days off was really, really uncomfortable for me. It was uncomfortable for me to take a month off when my husband hasn't had vacations since before the new year. His business is in the middle of a big turnaround, including hiring team to support all the functions. So while he is in a hard season, I've created a business that can accommodate my ideal lifestyle. And so that was really bumping up against my comfort watching him work all the hours. As a matter of fact, he probably worked more hours in August than in any other month. And me having all this time off, not being able to enjoy it with him, but also feeling like it was hard for me to be happy when he was in the grind. So that was uncomfortable, but it was also just uncomfortable in general. 

Every time I told someone I took a month off from work, my insides squirmed massively. I was so uncomfortable with it. I had to really get present on saying, "Oh, I'm taking a month off from work. Oh, I'm not working in August." And not using filler words like, "Oh wow, I'm not really working in August." Or, "I'm taking some time off in August." No, I had to be like, "I'm taking 30 days off. I'm taking the whole month off." And sit with how uncomfortable that felt for me to talk about.

Now what's next for time off for me? Am I going to be doing a 30 day sabbatical again? 

Now, if you asked me this question last week, I would've said no. I would've said, I don't know if taking another 30 days off is for me. Personally, I really am fueled and fulfilled and I feel like my work is meaningful and it brings me a lot of satisfaction and joy. I like being connected to my audience and my listeners and this podcast and my clients and my community. I felt like it felt really strange to me and so I'm surprised to say that I would actually plan to take 30 days off again because this was a test and I'm not sure like in order to see this test through, in order to see if we can improve upon the results or something like that, I need to do it again.

I need to test it again. Right. Research doesn't happen with just one experiment, right? You have to do multiple experiments here. So I am considering doing another 30 day sabbatical and it'll probably be in August again because again, I always take those two weeks off at the end, spend time with my family and get the kids prepared to go back to school. So why not take another two weeks during that time. I would plan my integration back to work differently and I might use the time next year to write a book so I might be even more focused and intentional about what I'm using that time for. Also, now that I've experienced it once, I can easily create the imagery and vision for how I want it to look moving forward. I think that the first time you do something like this, you lack some clarity because it's the unknown.

Now, I promised you that I was going to give you an action to take away when we wrapped up this episode of what I did and didn't do on sabbatical.

My husband and I had a lot of conversations around this in August because I was often, he was overworking and what I realized is that 30 days is a really long time for people to bite off and if you've never experienced it before, it can seem like I'm never going to get there. And I think what happens is people go, "Well, I can't do it." Right. You immediately take yourself out because 30 days feels unattainable. And so what I really want you to do is if you're someone who hasn't taken a week off, start with taking a day off and then move to a week and then move to two weeks and then move to three weeks and then move to four weeks. Right? You don't have to go from zero to 30 days all at one time.

That would be nuts. That would probably not work out for you so well. You would have bitten off way more than you can chew. So if you're someone who needs more time off, what's the smallest increment of time that would be sufficient for you right now to get you started? Because the more time off you take, guess what? The more time off you'll take. So if you need to start with as small as a Friday afternoon, start with a Friday afternoon. If you need to start with as small as one day, start with one day. So as you're listening to this identify, what's your first step? What's now? What's your first step? What's next and what's uncomfortable? Because once you identify what you can do now, what you can do next and what would be uncomfortable, you can start to create a plan.

I often share lessons learned on this podcast. It's one of my favorite things to be able to do and I'm able to do this because of a strong commitment to radical self-reflection. This commitment means that every week I'm looking at what's happening in my business and in my life. The good, the bad, and yes, occasionally the ugly. Doing this work allows me to look at my months and even my years with real data, even for the less tangible parts of my business and life. I call these weekly meetings, CEO Debriefs, and I do them twice per month inside The BRAVE Society. We do them together. I have pulled together some of the highlights from CEO Debriefs that I've done inside of BRAVE and I'm sharing the best of the best with you. You might've heard a couple of these on the podcast, but I want you to take it a step further and feel what it's like to do these with us inside of The BRAVE Society.

Sign up now to receive 10 CEO Debrief questions you will want to ask yourself plus listen in on some of the most popular shares that I've made. Listening to someone else's debrief is a great way to find the language for what you're experiencing. Get a concrete example of radical self-reflection and learn how to grow your business because it's often not what we think.

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Tara Newman