As I’m writing this first draft on 4 September, it is the last day of my sabbatical, a three-month paid leave Automattic give its employees every five years.
Before I started my sabbatical, I asked several colleagues about their experiences. One of the most frequently recurring tips I heard was to not plan too much. Having too many goals creates its own type of stress, and that’s precisely what to avoid. So, rather than having a long list of DIY projects, I only had two goals: spend a lot of time with family, and run my first half-marathon.
Spend time with family
The first one was super easy. Kim, Mila, and I travelled to five different countries, and spent almost three months in Europe, giving us plenty of opportunity to hang out with my parents, my siblings, and their families. It was busy – we relocated a total of 18 times – but it was also wonderful. I loved that the sabbatical gave us this opportunity. Next to trips within Belgium to Leuven, Bruges, and Antwerp, we went to Corfu, and went camping in France. The latter led us through Reims, allowed us city trips to Avignon and Marseille, and gave us the option to return via Switzerland and the Alps.
I’m especially grateful that I could spend so much time with Mila at an age where she’s becoming so much her own person. It was hard sometimes, I’m definitely not cut out to be a stay-at-home parent, but I cannot express in words how privileged I feel about the time we had together.
Run a half-marathon
The second goal was a bit more tricky. While I got in a good running routine in South Africa, our travels broke that routine entirely. While I had planned to run the half-marathon in June, I reached my goal in the very last week of the sabbatical on the 30th of August: 21.1 km. And I did it in what for me is a great time: 1:54:26.
So, which unplanned things did I do? I read a lot. One of my frustrations with the Kindle is the limited selection of Dutch books. While I’m fluent in English, it’s not as effortless as reading my mother tongue. So, when I’m tired before bed, I prefer reading in Dutch. While I was in Belgium, I got an e-reader from Bol.com, giving me a wide array of Dutch books (both original and translated). I read 16 books in those three months, of which 1 comic books (Blake & Mortimer), 1 children’s book (Kikker is Kikker), and 1 audiobook (Anna Karenina). Next to that, I also went on an Agatha Christie reading spree.
I did end up doing a few DIY projects. I sanded and painted some crates for Mila’s books, I installed cupboard doors in her bedroom, and I painted a beam white. Definitely not as much as originally planned, but enough to have a sense of progress.
The sabbatical was also a great time to catch up on admin tasks, but I think the final fun thing I did was make my very first cake topping for Mila’s birthday, in the theme of her favourite TV character: Shaun The Sheep.
It’s difficult to put into words how valuable this time had been. Together with my 6 months of parental leave, I’ve now been able to spend 9 months of Mila’s first year with her. This is such an incredible privilege, and I’m confident it has helped me become a better parent than I would’ve been otherwise.
I occasionally receive an invitation from a head-hunter on LinkedIn, and while some may offer slightly higher salaries, at other positions, my first question for them is always what their leave policy looks like. Salary does play a role, but having so much time to spend with my family is invaluable.