career development sabbatical

I’m back from my sabbatical!

machu picchu peru

It’s been over a month now since I arrived home from a six-month traveling sabbatical. My sabbatical was time away from everyday life and career, to focus on myself for a while, give me space to recharge, reset, reconsider what is important to me and what I want to achieve.

Some will have already noticed I’ve returned to Twitter, my work and duties as chair of ALIA NGAC. The first few weeks back at work were harder than I anticipated, but perhaps not in the way people might think. I’ll share some highlights and the learning I experienced on sabbatical, as well as the benefits of taking a sabbatical.

The first few weeks

Sitting at a desk and being in one place for eight hours a day is…..different. A welcome change from the constant go, go, go of travel. I’d been craving routine, structure and consistency. I’d also craved being in front of my laptop for more than a few hours, believe it or not. Though this was one of the drawbacks of traveling as a partnership – I love looking out of a window, maybe in a city, people watching, daydreaming and writing the day away. I could have quite easily done this on many more days and traveled a little slower. But alas, my husband was always eager to go out to explore. Every. Single. Day. We inspire and balance each other out in those ways.

I’ve welcomed knowing where my next source of wifi was going to come from, as much as knowing where I’m going each day and how I’m going to get there (again, wifi). Decision fatigue is definitely a thing when you travel for so long.

Not spending every day exploring with my absolute best mate in the world is sometimes hard. You’d think spending six months out of each other’s pockets would make us want to be apart, or worse, separate. But no. Without work we’ve been able to focus more on our relationship and learn more about each other. When we did have an argument, such as when I couldn’t follow the little blue dot on a route in Google Maps in Scotland (I’ll admit I’m terrible. I’d rather drive, thanks), we’d put on The Proclaimers, ‘500 miles’, have a sing-a-long and we’d be right as rain. Often times we’d be frustrated with the situation, not with each other. That’s a really important distinction for arguments with significant others, kids.

Also, after my presentation at the CILIP Conference at the beginning of July, I switched off. In a good way. I only responded to mentions on Twitter or the blog, and NGAC emails as needed. Doing this was part of the plan and sabbatical process. I didn’t realise how ‘out of it’ I was until I arrived back at work and my brain didn’t process information anywhere near as quickly as it should! No regrets though.

The highlights

iceland volcano
Straight outta ‘Secret Life of Walter Mitty’. Eyjafjallajökull, Iceland. September, 2017.

Oh, there are so many stories I can tell you and possibly bore you with. So I’ll give you my top five locations and experiences:-

  1. The Amazon Jungle
  2. Lares Trek and Machu Picchu
  3. The Salt Flats (in Bolivia)
  4. Being back in Ireland
  5. Iceland
bolivia salt flats
‘Fish Island’ in the middle of the Salt Flats, Bolivia. May, 2017.

There was also the night spent dancing in a club in Baños, Ecuador with our G Adventures tour group, the canyoning down waterfalls also in Baños, the traditional village we visited outside Cuzco, Peru, the random garbage truck driving through the streets of Arequipa, Peru broadcasting The Little Mermaid tune ‘Under the Sea’ (do what you can to make your job pleasant, I suppose), seeing the big condors in the Colca Canyon, the night we were invited to an AirBnB host’s birthday party at their manor in Ireland, the all-salt hotel where we stayed in the Bolivian desert, the chaotic border crossings between Ecuador and Peru and Peru and Bolivia, the almost private flamenco dance in Seville, watching the northern lights at 2am one night and 11pm another in Iceland, not to mention the hikes, the city wandering and the people we met along the way…..too many stories.

lares trek peru
Lares Trek Day 3, Peru. April, 2017.


machu picchu peru
Made it to Machu Picchu! April, 2017.

The benefits of a sabbatical

Not everyone will agree with the choice to take a sabbatical, but it was the right one for me, my well-being, my career and my relationships. A sabbatical can take a number of different forms. It doesn’t have to be travel. A sabbatical could be volunteering, study or research, or family commitments. The traveling sabbatical was a journey, not only physically, but one of personal growth, understanding and acceptance.

Stepping way from my career for six months was the scariest and best thing I’ve done. I feel more like myself than I have in years and it is this personal growth that makes me not only a better person, but a better professional too. The sabbatical gave me space, as liberating and as scary as it was. I wrote a journal to record our experiences, as well as my thoughts and feelings along the way. I will never take my experience for granted. Almost a team of people, including my husband and I, made this happen. I’m eternally grateful.

Not only did my husband and I tick off ‘bucket list’ locations and experiences around the world, my sabbatical was a deeply personal journey that clarified values, heightened self-awareness, developed resilience and self-confidence and increased sense and appreciation of self. Career development to me, can sometimes mean development of the whole person. Knowing oneself informs direction. And energy is needed to follow that direction. The full benefits of the sabbatical and the lessons I learned probably won’t manifest until months down the track. I learned a lot and clarified what I want. Putting this into daily practice is a feat in itself.

So I’m back. I’m loving being home, back in Brisbane. I sense a new chapter. I’m ready.



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