November 2016, article published originally in El Periódico de Catalunya
Don’t take a sabbatical
He is the executive president of a multinational with 9,000 employees. Well, he was. We shared a chocolate pastry last week and he told me that he had asked for a 12-month leave of absence, and did not rule out extending it. The motive for this sabbatical period? His wife, who had given him 4 children and had taken care of the domestic duties until now, wanted to jump-start her professional life. And he decided to support her fully. So, at his forty-something years, he had “stepped off the boat” he piloted and had become the center of the home, taking the place his partner had occupied until then. It is he who goes to the supermarket, cooks, makes the beds, and picks the kids up from school. Of course he is still working, just as his wife had done, but it’s different. The most important thing is that he enjoys free time for self-inquiry, to explore his interests, to think, and certainly to innovate. This is not a fairy tale. It happens, even if it doesn’t happen often here. Although, to honor the truth I should confess that this person is Danish and works in Sweden (although now he and his whole family have relocated to Spain). His company wanted to support him to show that it is a socially responsible company and that any employee may do what he has done, independent of their position within the company.
Without a doubt, doing something like this has positive consequences for the society that defends and supports it through new ideas and new areas of focus. And this builds a better world.
This friend commented to me that beyond the acceptance of risk (because he acknowledged that he does not know if his company will take him back) or his interest in having time available to help his wife (which also has a dose of social value because we still live in a patriarchal society), he commented that he considered that we have our work lives badly set up. He said that he wanted to enjoy time with his children now, while they are young, because in 10/15 years they won’t be at home anymore. That’s why he wants to spend more time with his family now and spend more time working later. He explained that he does not want an early retirement, but a late one. He finds it intriguing to work more the older he gets. Regardless of gender and the circumstances surrounding a “sabbatical” (or various), what is needed to be able to take this time for oneself? To “take the plunge,” one needs (in addition to savings or very low expenses) the will of companies and the citizenry to support this initiative (and maybe some public aid and/or a legislative framework along these lines wouldn’t be a bad idea). Without a doubt, doing something like this has positive consequences for the society that defends and supports it through new ideas and new areas of focus. And this builds a better world. In Europe, our English or German neighbors do it regularly, especially before or after finishing higher studies (cheap backpacking). Both countries have a strong GDP, maybe because they take sabbaticals, or do they take sabbaticals due to the strong GDP (which came first, the chicken or the egg?). Those who take a sabbatical return to their work lives transformed, creatively charged, and bringing greater value (when they use their time properly). So above all, don’t take a sabbatical—it won’t do you any good.