I just returned to work after having taken off 5 months in a fully paid sabbatical leave. It’s been a gift from God to me. I had spent 20 years at a social change nonprofit organization. Alright, now how many of you want to come work at my company?
While I was on sabbatical I did so many amazing things. I took a solo train trip across Canada. I saw the rock group Styx in concert. I read 20 books. I lost 20 pounds. I jokingly say that while I was on sabbatical, I found my waistline!
More important than what I did, sabbatical for me was about how I will write the next chapter of my story.
I’d like to share with you the lessons I learned by taking intentional time to Rest, Reflect and Recharge for the road ahead.
When I started my leave in December, it took me about 2 weeks just to slow down my idle rate.
Through the rest period I learned from my therapist that I am an ‘overfunctioner.’ I didn’t even know that was a thing. I am an overfunctioner in part because I was role-trained from childhood to play many roles. I was the kid, I was the daughter, and at times the parent. No wonder when I requested my sabbatical leave I was exhausted. I had carried this ‘overfunctioning’ into my work, I had consistently taken on roles that were too big for one person and tried to do them with not enough support and few resources. It hurt me and I in turn hurt others along the way.
Once I had time to rest, I was able to invest in reflecting and recharging for the road ahead.
Upon reflection I realized that the last 6 years of my life had been the most difficult in my professional career. Reading the book “Rising Strong” by Brené Brown encouraged me to do some deep excavation of the stories I’ve been telling myself. My former boss was diagnosed with cancer 5 years ago. Thankfully, today he is in remission. While he was battling the disease, he took very little time off. The illness took an emotional toll on me and all the staff. As a response, I took on even more responsibility and strained under its weight. I didn’t always show up as my best self. But the story I had been telling myself that he was responsible for my mistakes. As Brené Brown would say, that was a confabulation – a made up story designed to protect ME. The truth is I had many choices on how to respond to difficult situations.
The last part of the sabbatical has been recharging for the road ahead. I read, “The Book of Forgiving” by Bishop Desmond Tutu and his daughter Mpho Tutu. If you recall, Bishop Tutu led the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa and helped their country come together when their system of racial segregation ended. I tried one of the exercises they suggested in the book. I chose a rock and carried it around in my non-dominant hand for 6 hours one day. The rock represented ‘unforgiven hurts.’ After a few hours of carrying the rock in my hand I got used to it. This symbolizes the fact that even though unforgiven hurts are awkward to carry around at first, we get used to carrying them. I realized I needed to let go of some hurts and forgive some people. Can you relate? I also learned that if I’m honest with myself, the list of people who need to forgive ME is longer than the list of people I NEED to forgive. I’m having important conversations with some of my amazing colleagues now that I’m back to work.
I learned all these things by taking time to rest, reflect and recharge on my sabbatical break. Now, I realize that most companies don’t have a 5-month sabbatical leave policy. Even so, imagine what would happen if we all took the opportunity to rest and get to know ourselves better. Imagine if we reflected on our lives, and revisited the stories we’ve made up about ourselves and others. Imagine how our lives would be different if we recharged for the road ahead by letting go of unforgiven hurts and making amends for the hurts we’ve inflicted.
In “Rising Strong,” Brené Brown says, “You either walk into your story and own your truth, or you live outside of your story, hustling for your worthiness.” I’m learning how to be more honest about my story, so I can write a new ending.
We all fall down, right? It’s how we get up that matters!
Author: Denise Padín Collazo
Denise Padín Collazo is a social justice leader, a mentor to women of color, and a family work integrator. She is the author of Thriving in the Fight: A Survival Manual for Latinas on the Front Lines of Change (Berrett-Koehler, 2021.) Her work has been featured in the Miami Herald, Telemundo, Chronicle of Philanthropy and Nonprofit Quarterly. Twitter @DeniseThriving