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Why Sabbaticals Are Good for You, And I'm Not Just Stating the Obvious

Some of the world's top companies (and coincidentally the ones people love to work for) see sabbaticals as the best way of keeping their staff -- not losing them. Sabbaticals are so much more than a career break. And here's why.
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So rewind me back a year or so. I loved my work, I put in the hours, I often overstayed my welcome. Rising to the heady heights of middle management, my sights were on a glittering career, a house in the country and a trophy husband.

There was no way I would get off this treadmill. Why on earth would I? After two decades dedicated to my job -- I wasn't going to do anything stupid.

Then it all came crashing down around me. The reality of my life just didn't match my level of ambition. Work wasn't going wrong -- it just wasn't working for me. Life looked a little hopeless.

But still I couldn't see any option beyond calling in sick or calling it a day. Until one of those emails turned up in my inbox -- quietly offering the chance to go back to college. The Knight-Wallace fellowship at the University of Michigan gives mid-career journalists the opportunity to step back and take stock -- it's a wonderful gift.

DISCLAIMER: Now I know what you're thinking. Any fool would see a sabbatical as a dream come true. But believe me, people just don't want to quit for a bit. Terrified of the unknown and tied to a mortgage -- I felt exactly the same. You just worry you're replaceable, or that ambitious colleague will steal your job away. Your bosses will never want you back.

But some of the world's top companies (and coincidentally the ones people love to work for) see sabbaticals as the best way of keeping their staff -- not losing them. Sabbaticals are so much more than a career break. And here's why.

  • You just stop. Just like that -- you hit the brake on a rollercoaster ride and it might be fun to hang from the top of an enormous loop for a while.

  • You see some of the world that's beyond the end of your desk. Yes, there are people out there who care little for your day to day worries.
  • You meet brand new people. And guess what, you can make friends in middle age and it makes you feel so much better about yourself this time around.
  • You look at your work and career and laugh at it a little. Work really doesn't define you and you're reminded that you need to find ways of enjoying it again.
  • You can do something completely different -- utterly unrelated to your job and life. Surprisingly you may find that it's still totally relevant.
  • You learn new skills, new perspectives, new opportunities. You can grow as a person outside of your office and bring back new ideas to your team.
  • You feel a little young again. You're finding your way in the world again and in my case you're meeting some of the cleverest people of that generation (or two) below you.
  • I return to my job as a better version of who I used to be. Rebooted and improved. In Ann Arbor, I became involved in a fantastic group called OptiMize -- full of incredibly bright students who want to change the world. They always ask "Why Not Me?" I urge you to do the same.