Thursday, February 18, 2010

Sabbatical Scheming: How to Get an "A"!

Figuring out how to approach this sabbatical thing has been something of a balancing act. On one hand, I know I'm going to have to tackle it in a way that fits who I am and where I am in life, and that it's going to take some experimentation to even get in touch with that. On the other hand, many have gone before. It would be foolish not to learn from and be guided by them, right?

Also, some part of me wants to be a good girl and get an "A" in sabbatical.

Have to laugh at the thought. This isn't the SAT. It's not an IQ test. And it's not a performance review. It's something different altogether, and may be hard to measure. Probably won't work very well if I can't give myself ample "freedom to flail." Yes, this seems to be time for a little experimental innovation. I have to be willing to make this up - or adjust it - as I go.

Similarly, at last week's research-team training in Michigan I asked one of the girls to take on a difficult assignment - to serve her team as research coordinator. It's a big job. I told her I thought she could do it. I told her I thought she was the best one for the job. I encouraged her to delegate or ask for help. And, heaven help us, I gave her a 40-page training manual to read in her spare time (slimmed down from 55 pages in a previous edition!) And what did she say? "I'm just afraid I won't be able to do it perfectly!"

She could have been holding up a mirror. I don't say that out loud, but I haven't outgrown that fear entirely, myself. Well, let's just take "perfect" off the table, shall we?

What does "successful" look like for a sabbatical? How do you know you've had a successful sabbatical? When you are rested... healed up... confident... refreshed, renewed, and excited to get into what's next? Could be. Dave, one of the trainers at the sabbatical workshop I attended, answered the question like this: "When you've heard from God about your past, present, and future." Reflecting, evaluating, listening. So there's a time for reading those old journals, for healing prayer, for professional goal-setting. But you don't have to do it all at once (see below).

I've gotten mixed messages about how much I should or shouldn't be in touch with supporters or colleagues, read and retool in things related to my work, or be involved with stuff at church. What about personal processing, spiritual reading, dealing with messed-up relationships, journaling, going on personal retreats? People said different things, and somewhere along the way I realized the copy of the sabbatical guidelines I was working off of, acquired in December from some friends in another organization, was several years out of date and didn't reflect the most current thinking.

The key, say the Navs "People Resources" guys, is that there's a time for everything. They break things down into three phases, and recommend blocking out a lot of those (possibly intense) kinds of things during the first phase, which is focused on rest.

One guy said he didn't journal at all for the first two months and hardly read his Bible. (I tried to pretend I wasn't shocked!)

Another, in spite of the bit about meeting with your advisor every other week and your "sabbatical support group" every month, went on the road in a motor-home and didn't come home until he was good and ready, two or three months later.

I didn't realize that was an option. Well, I don't really like to drive and don't have the funds to travel without tapping into savings. But I'll try to have fun right here, and probably take a few road trips here in Colorado. Apparently that wouldn't jeopardize my sabbatical "grade point." Might even earn me some extra credit, eh?

Wait, shake that kind of thinking! We aren't graded on this!

Back in December other friends on sabbatical told me what a relief it's been not to have to work on their personal "issues" until their sabbatical support team agrees they are well rested.

Actually, the Navs staff say that sabbaticals are frequently extended: your sabbatical advisor and support group encourage you to take more than you'd asked for - to extend the rest phase another month, for example. I don't know that all organizations would be so supportive. But for Navs, they couldn't think of any examples of someone whose sabbatical got cut short.

Their goal is to see every Navs staff take a 2- to 6-month sabbatical every seven years. That's a pretty significant commitment to their staff, isn't it? Would a secular company do such a thing? Could they afford to? No, I suppose not. Even though I could give you some good reasons why they ought to.

But here's the difference. If you work for, say, Verizon, and your marriage and family are kind of shaky, and you've lost your sense of center, and maybe you're having trouble dealing with stress, you can probably still do your job. When you are in a ministry position, it's not the same. You can't run on empty, at least not for very long. And most people don't know how low their tank is until they really stop and take a break.

My organization is just as grace-oriented. I think they could just adopt the Navs guidelines straight out.


Dean Smith said...

Entirely too much thinking! So how can I get Jennie to take a sabbatical. I think it would be great if she would take a year off to travel while I am young enough for us to enjoy it together.

Marti said...

Good luck with that one. Also, the thing about travel - well, it's a lot pricier than staying put, isn't it? Time and money do seem to be available in inverse proportions.