Sunday, May 5, 2013

Sabbaticals

Bill relaxing and reading on sabbatical in Bolivia
Sabbaticals have been on my mind lately. The obvious reason is because my business partner, Mark, is just finishing up one and my good friend, John, is two weeks from starting one. (Check out Mark’s blog if you are curious about his experiences.) As I work very closely with both of them, their sabbaticals have a fairly large impact on me. I already was able to take mine thanks to them covering for me, so I’m glad they each have the opportunity to take a sabbatical.

The reason all three of us have had this opportunity is that our company, Principled Technologies (PT), has a sabbatical program. Mark and I were inspired by a talk we heard at TED a few years ago. The program we designed is one that both enables time to rest away from work and encourages folks to do something good in the world. A person is eligible every seventh year of employment at PT to take seven paid weeks off from work. We tell folks to not check their work email and to disconnect totally from work for that time. We also encourage them to do “something good in the world” with at least one of those seven weeks. If the person does so, PT pays $5,000 towards that cause or effort. Mark worked in a local soup kitchen and John is planning to ride his bike 750 miles to help children in Africa

Two years ago, and a couple years late, I took my sabbatical. It was a wonderful time of relaxing. Because of my personality, my idea of relaxing included lots of scheduled things and kept me fairly busy. I read quite a bit. I spent a wonderful week at Sandals in Jamaica with Susie. I did some things around the house I had been putting off forever. The highlight, however, was the two weeks I spent at an orphanage in Bolivia. (OK, it may have been two weeks of hanging out with some amazing kids!) 

The combination of time away from the pressures of work and of time helping others enabled me to focus on what is important. It was a great seven weeks and I would have loved to have had more time, but I also was glad to get back to work. When I returned, Mark and I reevaluated my role at PT and made some adjustments in light of what I learned and what Mark and PT learned in my absence. 

Beyond the value of the sabbatical to me personally, I think the sabbatical program is a valuable benefit for PT. There is an obvious cost to PT of the seven weeks of salary with no work in return. In a small company, someone being gone for that long can be very difficult to deal with. The benefits, however, outweigh the costs. Over time in any job, stuff just piles up. The time away allows that to go away and for the person to only pick back up what is important. I’m hopeful as well that the sabbaticals will help people avoid burnout. And, I really like that people from PT are making a positive impact, however small, on the world. 

I’ve also given some thought to the Biblical perspective on sabbaticals. I’d like to claim that I suggested the program based on concepts from the Bible, but that is not really the case. In truth, I don’t know whether the idea was mine or Mark’s. (As an aside, I seldom can remember whether “our” ideas start with Mark or me. Maybe it is because we see any credit as shared regardless of who thought of it first.) 

The word sabbatical is from the same lexical roots as Sabbath. The Hebrew word for Sabbath means to cease, desist, or rest. In Genesis 2:3, God blesses the seventh day as a day of rest as He rested from Creation. (I’ll leave what it means for God to rest to theologians!) The key is that from the very beginning, we were created with a need for rest. Matthew Sleeth does a great job of looking at that need for rest and a Sabbath day in 21st Century America in his book, 24/6: A Prescription for a Healthier, Happier Life.

The Sabbath also made God’s top ten list as one of the Ten Commandments, “Remember the Sabbath to keep it holy.” (Exodus 20:8) Just to make sure we did not miss its importance, this is the longest of the commandments and includes details about how and why we are to implement the weekly day of rest. There is quite a bit of irony in the fact that what seems like the easiest commandment to follow is one that we have so much trouble with. In the New Testament, Jesus spends a decent bit of energy arguing with the religious leaders of the day to not be so legalistic about the Sabbath, but affirms its importance.

The concept of the Sabbath in the Bible extends beyond just resting one day a week. Every seventh year for the nation of Israel was to be a Sabbath Year. The land was to be left fallow and debts forgiven. (See Leviticus 25:1-7 and Deuteronomy 15:1-6.) One of the sins of the nation of Israel was its failure to implement the Sabbath Year.

I don’t claim that PT’s sabbatical program fills the same role or importance as the Sabbath or Sabbath Year in the Bible. I do think, however, that we were created with a need for rest and I hope that PT’s sabbaticals help in that direction.

I know I’m looking forward to my next one. Only three more years!

4 comments:

  1. Thanks for sharing and especially for Mark's blog on his trip to Paris. I was able to spend time at the Louvre and Versailles and the Eiffel Tower and his pictures brought back good memories.

    I really like the idea of a sabbatical.

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    1. My best memory of the Louvre was showing up with the three kids at 5:15 only to hear it closed at 5:30. So, we went in anyway and managed to run through the place yelling things like, "That is a really important piece over there on your right!" It was hilarious and fun.

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  2. I greatly appreciate all the work you did, Bill, to make my sabbatical possible. Like you, I can't remember who first thought of the concept for PT, but I know that doesn't matter; our best ideas come from us, as a team. I spent a lot of my sabbatical alone thinking, and one of the things that thinking reaffirmed to me is how important you and our relationship are to me. You're a good man, and I am lucky to have you as a partner.

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    1. Feeling is mutual. Glad to have you back!

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