It’s Freelance Sabbatical Time!
If you’ve ever been a college or university faculty member, you’re probably familiar with sabbaticals. You remain on your institution’s payroll while taking time away from campus to do things related to your work. Might be conducting research. Or writing a book.
Outside academia, there are a few private companies that offer paid sabbaticals for top employees. And that’s it.
But people are still taking sabbaticals – even if they’re not on an academic or corporate payroll. Let’s look at at how they’re doing it and how you can too.
The Working Sabbatical
Let’s say that you’re a freelancer in the rainy Pacific Northwest of the United States. You and your husband and brother decide that it’s time to see the world. So, the three of you go for a drive – to the tip of South America.
This intrepid trio – Jessica and Kobus Mans, and Jared McCaffree – are the creators of Life Remotely, a resource website for digital nomads. They’re people who enjoy traveling but also need to keep the money coming in. The Life Remotely team was recently profiled on FreelanceSwitch.
While Jessica, Kobus, and Jared are continuing their pre-travel careers as a freelance designer, web designer, and software developer, respectively, you may want to try something completely different. The world championship goes to…Daniel Seddiqui.
This young American did all the right things. Went to a top school – the University of Southern California. Was a star in track and cross country running. Got a very marketable degree in economics.
And then he graduated and couldn’t find a job.
In addition to working 50 jobs in just 50 weeks, Seddiqui also developed a knack for gaining publicity.
After getting rejected by more than 40 potential employers, Seddiqui decided that he needed to do something unusual to stand out. What resulted was a series of short gigs in each of the United States. Seddequi’s trek took him through stints as a West Virginia coal miner, a Wisconsin cheese maker, a Kansas meat packer, an Alabama football coach, and an Arizona border patrolman.
In addition to working 50 jobs in just 50 weeks, Seddiqui also developed a knack for gaining publicity. His efforts led to appearances on CNN, Fox News, World News Tonight, MSNBC, and the Today show, and the 2011 book 50 Jobs in 50 States: One Man’s Journey of Discovery Across America.
Seddiqui has gone back on the road, but he isn’t looking for more temporary job adventures. Nowadays, he’s traveling the college lecture circuit and speaking about career planning and the meaning of work.
In essence, Seddiqui has gone from the traditional college-to-employment path to forging his own way. Looks like the guy has become a freelancer. So, let’s invite Daniel over to our corner of the party and welcome him with the FreelanceSwitch Secret Handshake. Okay, so you don’t want to leave home and travel hither and yon. You’re just sick of what you’re doing and you need to get away from it.
May I suggest paid employment?
Yes, I know. J-O-B-S. They don’t have a very good reputation here on FreelanceSwitch. But sometimes a job can be the thing you need to break out of that low-money slump you’ve been languishing in.
Or maybe your friend the accountant sees something in you when she says that she needs help with managing her office while she concentrates on the numbers. Why don’t you put those organizational skills to work for her? Or perhaps you’re tired of the chase for clients and you’d rather teach. Well, would-be teacher, this world is full of students.
When the Sabbatical is Forced Upon You
On the final Friday of this past February, I received one of those fateful phone calls. From the hospital in the town where I grew up.
Social worker on the other end of the line says that my mother’s okay, but she’s going into surgery for her broken wrist and hip. Oh, my father’s sitting in her office, and he doesn’t remember how to get home. Social worker asks what I’m going to do.
Just like that, the well-ordered family life I used to know has been blown to smithereens.
I tell the social worker to call my parents’ church and see if they can find someone to get my increasingly forgetful and nearly deaf father home from the hospital. The church locates David, the next-door neighbor. David gives Dad a lift home after he gets off work.
During several phone conversations, David insists that I book a flight to Philadelphia – now. The tag team of neighbors and friends can’t mind my father for longer than the weekend. And who knows how long my mother will be in the hospital and rehab.
If that isn’t enough, David has this news about my father’s condition: “He has no short-term memory.” That’s quite a downhill slide since I last saw Dad at Christmas.
Just like that, the well-ordered family life I used to know has been blown to smithereens. It’s my job to go back east and reassemble those smithereens into…
So, goodbye warm winter in Tucson. Don’t know when I’ll see you again. Hello, frosty but snow-less winter outside the Philadelphia International Airport on Monday, February 27.
I spent almost three weeks back in Pennsylvania. First time in my life I’d ever been called a caregiver, and I can’t say that I was very good at it. Caregiving is like a 10-ton weight that suddenly lands on your shoulders. You simply do the best you can under the circumstances.
While I’m pleased to report that my mother recovered from both surgeries and is back to walking, driving, and bossing my father around, my relationship to my parents has changed. I’m the only child, and that means I’m responsible for what happens to them. This job isn’t going away any time soon.
Life Happens While We’re Making Other Plans
Much of the talk on this blog is about how wonderful our freelance freedom is and what world-beaters we’re going to be. I’m here to tell you that life has this messy habit of intruding on our best-laid plans.
You might find yourself forced into an accidental sabbatical like I was. In the course of that sabbatical, you might come to the same realization that I did, that major parts of your professional and personal lives just aren’t working. It’s up to you to change them – in the midst of the worst economic downturn this planet has experienced in decades. It’s important to plan ahead.
6 Sabbatical Tips for Freelancers
Have a years’ worth of savings – you may need to live off it. That’s what I’m doing right now. As mentioned above, I decided that my professional life as a web designer wasn’t working. Instead, I’ve decided to focus on copywriting and photography.
Web design? Let’s say it’s allowed back in my life as long as the project involves WordPress. Because I’m a WordPress-lovin’ gal. Right now, I’m now in heavy prospecting mode. Once the business starts coming in, my cash burn will stop. But, for now, it can be pretty frightening. I’ve lost count of the times that worry has jolted me awake at 2 a.m.
Your professional and personal lives not working? Don’t keep trying to make them work – change them! Start by doing a visioning exercise. Before you think I’ve gone all woo-woo around the New Age bend, here’s what a visioning exercise is: You ask yourself two questions.
First, If you could arrange your business life any way you wanted, what would it look like? Second, ask the same question about your personal life. Your answers may fill one page. Or several. Once you’ve defined your dream, you can start building a pathway to it.
- It’s time to end the “save for retirement” paradigm. Why not schedule mini-retirements throughout your life? Props to Tim Ferris of 4-Hour Workweek fame for popularizing this idea. And, if you want to keep working while you travel to exotic destinations, check in with our FreelanceSwitch friends at Life Remotely.
Use your sabbatical time to learn something new – and don’t forget that sense of humor. Sure, it’s fun to take six months off to travel far away from home. So, learn the local dances in every place you visit. You might make a fool of yourself, but so what? Laugh along with everyone else. Or your sabbatical might not be so fun.
Say you were in a car accident and now you’re laid up for a nine weeks. Open your mind. Yes, you the injured person, might find working at a computer to be difficult for a while. Find a group of friends to keep you supplied with educational audiobooks and DVDs.
Sabbaticals have a beginning, middle, and end. If you haven’t set an end date, it will come to you. In November 2006, I took the first of three trips to Hurricane Katrina-ravaged Mississippi with International Relief Teams. We were one of many volunteer groups helping to rebuild damaged homes along the Gulf Coast.
The couple supervising our local efforts was living in a trailer next to a United Methodist Church-owned warehouse in Vancleave, Mississippi. They’d sold their Ohio home – and everything inside it – because they felt called to help rebuild. By July 2008, they were ready to move on to the next stage of their life. My team’s final dinner doubled as their farewell to Mississippi.
- So, you can afford to take a sabbatical, you’ve made arrangements to keep serving your clients from wherever you’re traveling to, or you’ve handed them over to someone who can. And you may or may not want them back! That’s the fun part of sabbaticals. You may come back as a different person. The freelancing business you had before may not be the one you crave when you return. Be open to the changes that are to come.