Posted March 29th, 2011
I recently took a self-imposed sabbatical. I didn’t talk about it much or shout it from the rooftops. I just quietly carved out a four week chunk of time where I didn’t see clients. I just saw me. I was my primary client. Even though I knew it was needed and wise – strategic, even – I still felt the requisite terror that comes with making a decision to stop spinning.
I was braced for a lot of snide “must be nice…” comments and was sensitive to how this leave would be perceived by others. Surprisingly though, all that came my way from clients, family and close friends was a resounding “GOOD for you!” I still was self-conscious, despite my commitment to this pause-by-design. Having been raised by a single mom, I was acutely aware of my privilege in taking this sabbatical and had to beat back that guilt with a wooden spoon daily.
I felt like I was breaking the rules. I hadn’t broken a leg, come down with diphtheria or just given birth to a baby (thankfully). But I did have a purpose.
I wanted to create some space – a intentional pause in an otherwise busy life.
I’ve had pauses like this before, but I’ve always had a baby suckling on me – or needing to be changed, held, picked up, put down or soothed. Those maternity leaves I had were some of the most profound moments of clarity I’ve ever experienced, which is amazing given the physical and mental demands of birthing and caring for a newborn. I came to see those leaves of absence from the world of work as a time to give birth to more than just a baby.
My business, for example, was born during a particular unique maternity leave, during which I had no baby to hold. That was a big one. I’ve have come to believe that I gave birth to myself during that leave.
My Homecoming Retreat was born during the maternity leave of my youngest child. I remember sitting on the couch one warm summer day, shortly after his birth, watching the sprinklers in the back yard go back and forth and back and forth while he nursed and then napped at my breast. It was in that moment that I realized I was ready to offer up Homecoming, which shocked me to no end (I thought that retreat was years down the road for me.) I’ve come to believe that dear, sweet child of mine actually pulled the idea for Homecoming out of my heart and into the light of day through his nursing (he was quite a vigorous nurser!)
So you can see how I’ve come to be a believer in leaves of absence.
So now, nearly four years later, I decided to embark upon another one, calling it a sabbatical this time. Having had some experience taking leaves, I thought I knew what I was in for. Ha ha ho ho ho.
I had forgotten about the need for undoing. I learned about this process – and fell in LOVE with that word – after reading This Time I Dance by Tama Kieves. If you don’t have this book yet and suspect you might go through a transition sometime in your life…or know of someone else who might go through one, buy it. I read it the first time after leaving my cushy corporate job after eleven years to start my own business.
“Undoing“, as the author explains it (and as I’ve experienced it and as I’ve witnessed my clients going through it), is necessary because the first step of change is to grieve a loss. A loss of an identity, a loss of a suitable answer to the question, “what are you doing?”, a loss of purpose, a loss of a known routine and, most significantly, a loss of “stuff to do”.
“In this slowdown, meltdown phase of your journey, you have the opportunity to sort through layers of your self and decide which ones travel on and which ones get shelved…This undoing process works like painting the interior of an old house. First, you clean the walls, sand them down, and patch them up, or else you paint over the old infirmities, the same warps and clumps of history….The doing of our chosen work comes easy, it’s the time of ‘undoing’ that requires every ounce of strength, vision, and persistence… Every belief that ever held you back from your desires will now come forth and stand before your door. This time will make you stand in your strength like you never have before.” – Tama Kieves
So what did this mean for me upon taking a sabbatical? It meant all those expectations I had, all those lists I made, well-set intentions…they had to wait. Instead, I cleaned out the basement. When I was done with that, I bored out closets, cleaned out my filing cabinets and took bags and bags of clothes, toys and books to Goodwill.
Like a dog that has to circle round and round in one of those poofy beds before finding just the right positioning, I found this busy work of cleaning out, organizing and purging remarkably soothing and incredibly satisfying.
Near the end of my sabbatical, I could feel that I had unraveled – not unlike the sensation of finally being ready for a vacation on the last day of vacation. I had arrived. I was undone – or nearly there. And with that realization, with that deep inhalation into the expanse I had created, I could finally think and see clearly – new ideas and thoughts came flooding in as possibilities. Like someone who has just completed one of those body cleansing programs, I felt my energy and creativity returning to me like the tide coming in during a full moon.
It was so worth it.