August 8, 2018

Twelve Months In: Sabbatical Recap “What Did I Learn?”

My yearlong self-imposed sabbatical has come and gone. Before starting the adventure, I had visions of answering all of life’s mysteries regarding the who, what, when, and where of my life. A few months of solitude in Australia with nothing but farm animals, beaches and myself seemed like the right environment to figure out what I want and more importantly what I need out of life.

Twelve months later I’ve got a notebook filled with, well nothing. In all honesty, I mailed my blank journal back to my mom in January because it was just useless weight in my bag. I have answered no insightful questions about the universe or the more important question, what do I want to be when I grow up? That was the big question. That was the question I traveled around the world to answer. And while I don’t have any solid answers about the universal key to happiness (if there is one) or what career path I want to follow, I have definitely become more self-aware about the things I want or don’t want in life to remain happy, sane and most importantly fulfilled.
I also learned to scuba dive!
When I first started typing this out, I didn’t think I would be able to get anything down. Turns out I spent more time trying to whittle down a novella into something coherent. To try and keep it shortish, I summed up the most important realizations I’ve had during my Australian isolation. These are the three points I’m going to try and focus on while I continue to navigate life. I don’t expect these points to direct me to that sought after, perfect career path, but I at least know they won’t lead me astray.

I need to converse with people.
Now, I am very comfortable on my own. I travel solo well. I love my Me Time, sometimes I think more than I should. Loneliness isn’t a feeling I am familiar with. However, even though I relish my hermit hours, I cannot survive as a total recluse. I love to talk too much.

In the backpacking world, you’re constantly meeting people but you usually hang out with those new friends for just a few days until people move on. In that type of environment, you tend to build short-term friendships around superficial conversations. The interactions all start the same: Where are you from? Where have you been? Where are you heading? Once you find common ground you go from there. The short lasting relationships tend to limit your conversations to what’s happening that day. You don’t usually make it far enough to ponder the philosophies of life.  And this year abroad has made it very apparent that I crave those conversations. I truly think I have gotten dumber due to the lack of discussion.

I need conversations about why the Earth rotates. Whether or not the salt levels in the sea affect the types of marine life present. The direction Burberry will take now that Christopher Bailey has stepped down. I always have questions, and I would much rather ask someone the question to start a dialogue than check Google for an answer. 

So how does this realization change my life going forward? Well to start, life as a full time traveler probably isn’t for me. I think I would also struggle working remotely. It’s apparent I need a physical community around me. Now, this doesn’t change the fact that I would love to spend several months each year traveling, (if I could be so lucky!) but it’s apparent now that I need a place and people to come back to.

I don’t need to be corporate.
So far the “success” of my adult life has been based on the title and company logo on my business card – and I’ll be frank, the numbers on my paycheck. I imagined spending my adult years in a pantsuit and becoming a total boss lady. I’m competitive and I like power… corporate life seems like a no-brainer fit.

But now that I’ve stepped back from it all, the corporate structure doesn’t seem like the best fit for me. I am definitely a person who wants the whole picture. I want to oversee something from start to finish to make sure it’s perfect. And in the corporate world, at least the world I’ve been exposed to, you tend to do one small piece of the puzzle. I need more control than that.

So what options does this revelation leave me with? Well, anything! This year has definitely widened my view on how to gauge success. Going forward it’s going to be important to me to find a company with a product, service or experience that really resonates with me. I need to make sure whatever I’m doing adds to my life, it isn’t just a means to an end.

To start my job search: I’m looking for unlimited vacation time or possibly the ability to work remotely, control over my role and room for growth, good retirement benefits, a supportive work environment, a management team that fosters creativity. That should be easy enough. Ugh, this is why the question “What do I want to be?”, is left unanswered! ๐Ÿ˜ฉ

I constantly need to be learning.
I have one dream job, only one that has stuck with me for years and years without me losing interest. And that job is a professional student. Oh, if only there was such a thing. If I could find someone to pay me to go to school, I would sign up immediately.

It has always been important to me that in any role I am challenged and learning – whether it’s learning new systems, processes or about the ins and outs of a particular industry. I can’t maintain a job where my knowledge of the role has reached a plateau and there’s nothing else to gain.

It’s now obvious to me that outside of work I also need to make a point to push my intellectual boundaries. The job I was dreaming about at 18 doesn’t excite me anymore and there are so many other avenues I would like to explore. I’ve looked at taking web design and photography classes several times since I left Loyola, but for some reason, I never pulled the plug. Outstanding student loans were probably the biggest roadblock – but now that isn’t a factor! ๐Ÿ˜ So, I have decided once I get back to a reality where I have a real income and some disposable funds, I’m going back to school!

I’m by no means going to be a full-time student again. However I do know, astronomy, drawing and coding are on my to-list. I have no delusions about these passions evolving into careers, maybe a serious hobby at best, but I do know they will challenge me and make me happy. They are topics that I’m genuinely interested in and that is enough reason to invest.

I think my biggest takeaway from this year abroad is that learning needs to be my number one priority because the world is just too complex. How can anyone know what their dream job is if they aren’t exposed to everything?

So after twelve months, I’m by no means enlightened. I hold no secrets of life. I do however know how to raise alpacas. I can show you how to trim back herbs for growth. I can train donkeys to walk on a lead. I know the best course for survival after a poinsonous snake bite. I’m full of random skills now!

Did you make it to the end of that novel? I'm surprised... thanks for sticking with me.

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