Next month, I hit five years of working at Automattic. At five years, Automatticians are given a paid sabbatical. This is a time for us to relax, recharge, and come back to work refreshed. 

Five years is a long time. It’s the longest time I’ve ever been anywhere since, well… my elementary school, where I did Pre-K through 3rd Grade. Prior to this, I maxed out at four years at any particular place. Since joining Automattic, I’ve even lived in four different apartments.

Externally I’m stoked for my sabbatical, but internally, I’m all like…

Quite honestly, I’m scared of my sabbatical. I’ve spent so long defining myself by my work and measuring my success by my productivity, what does it mean when I’m not working? What does it mean to take off three months and just… exist?

My colleague Alex sums it up perfectly:

Take time for me. Even writing those words scares me. What happens when all the work stops? What do I do if I’m bored? I won’t have a default work to go to, so how will I spend my time? Is too much time on my own something I can handle?

Preparing for Sabbatical – Five Years with Automattic

I feel like I’m being given a tremendous opportunity for reflection and self-growth, but I’m going to squander it. That terrifies me.

I’m terrified I’m going to waste my sabbatical. I’m terrified I’ll spend three months in my PJs, sitting on my couch, playing video games. That without the pressure of work, I’ll turn into a slug. Or a rock. Not even a nice rock, all moss-covered and finely shaped, but a gross muddy rock under which a den of centipedes dwells. And slugs.

Alternately, I’m scared I’m going to fill my sabbatical with not-work that resembles work, and won’t have a chance to decompress.

To combat this, I’m trying to stack my sabbatical with relaxing and fulfilling experiences:

  • I’m spending 8 days in Ireland with my girlfriend.
  • I have two back-to-back weeks of printmaking lessons scheduled, something I’ve been wanting to get back into for a while, but haven’t had the time for.
  • I’ll be coaching drums at Girls Rock Campaign Boston, which is undeniably going to make me feel vulnerable and make me feel like an imposter but fuck it, I’m doin’ it anyway!
  • I have a coupon for a cooking lesson that I’ve been hanging on to for a couple years now, and will finally be cashing in this summer!
  • Hopefully towards the end of summer, I’ll be taking another trip, this time to Colorado to check out some parks and do outdoorsy things.

I also have some aspirational goals:

  • I will continue to work with my personal trainer at the gym every week that I’m in town for. Hopefully, I’ll also be motivated to go to the gym on my own more frequently, but if that doesn’t pan out, I’m going to give myself permission to not beat myself up over it.
  • I have a backlog of books I’ve been meaning to read. Surprise surprise. If I get through some of them, that’s awesome. If I don’t? That’s okay, too. They’ll always be there.

Luckily, I also have my amazing girlfriend to make sure I’m not spending too much time on volunteering (like at Ragtag, which you should also volunteer for!) or other things resembling work. I’m fortunate to have a partner who’ll help me from overcommitting.

Why am I writing this? In part, Alex’s post gave me the courage to admit this. It helps to know that I’m not the only person who feels this way about taking a sabbatical. I’m also writing this because my coach is having me read Daring Greatly by Brené Brown, which is all about embracing vulnerability.

But also? I’m hoping posting this will help me stay accountable for my sabbatical plans. If I write them down, maybe they’ll be more real.

This is for sure: if you see me on Slack over the summer, tell me to take a hike!

Edit: some wise words from my colleague Matt Wiebe:

The whole point of a sabbatical is to learn to be a human being, not a human doing.


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3 thoughts on “Sabbatical

  1. There’s a surprising amount of emotion around being an adult who gets to take a break like this. It’s almost like we’re being forced to grow. Luckily, thinking through all of this will only help us grow more. I can’t wait to see where this sabbatical brings you in life.

  2. I’ve spent so long defining myself by my work and measuring my success by my productivity, what does it mean when I’m not working? What does it mean to take off three months and just… exist?

    I know, right? I’m feeling the same way. I’ve been striving my entire life, measuring my success by 1) my productivity and 2) the praise of others for my work. (The flip side – criticism, especially unfair criticism, cuts me to the quick.)

    I see my sabbatical as a opportunity to measure my success by 1) my happiness and fulfillment and 2) to stop giving so many f*s about what others think – especially seriously unhealthy people.

    Wishing all the best on your sabbatical, Mel !!!

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