Is a Sabbatical Like a Long Vacation?

sabbatical vs vacation

I’m currently working remotely and also taking some much needed vacation time. It’s wonderfully relaxing. I get to sleep in, go for runs once the sun is up, cook more meals, spend more time with my kids, feel less rushed, and still feel productive. 

And I find myself wondering:

Is this what my sabbatical will feel like? 

And the short answer is: I hope so.

Some people imagine a sabbatical to be like a really long vacation. For anyone who has been on a long vacation before, you know that towards the end of it (even the middle of it), you are ready to go home. There is only so much completely unstructured down time you can have. 

On the extended vacations I have previously had, I started having weird dreams or getting to the end of the day wondering where my day has gone. There is nothing wrong with this. We all deserve too much time to think every once in a while. But too much time without purpose isn’t ideal.

But first, let’s talk about burnout.

You know you have reached a state of burnout when it is incredibly easy to walk away and take your vacation without a single worry about work. 

Think about it. When you aren’t burned out and take a trip, you may still be thinking a bit about work in the background. Or, if not work, you refocus on some other aspects of life that perhaps you have neglected for a time. Perhaps it’s a good book, or cooking, or long runs. Wherever it is, vacation is a great time to pick these things up again.

But have you ever gone on vacation and just felt in a complete haze for several days? Thinking about work, home, the past, the future seems like too much? Or perhaps things you normally enjoy on vacation, such as long walks on the beach, reading a good book, or cooking gourmet meals in a vacation rental, all seem too hard.

Instead, you just lay by the beach or pool and stare off into space. You order all your meals, don’t even think about checking your work email, and even the latest beach read is more than you can handle.

These are signs you burned-out. And now you are taking time to recover. That is ok (though you may want to re-imagine how to avoid burnout). 

So, if this is what a vacation feels like, what does a sabbatical feel like?

In my previous experience and what I am preparing for with my future sabbatical, a sabbatical is both similar to and strikingly different from a long vacation.

First, here is how a sabbatical and vacation are similar:

  1. Time off – With both a sabbatical and a vacation, you are taking time off from actively working your “normal” job.
  2. Spend your time how you want to – During a sabbatical and a vacation, you get to spend your time how you want to. 
  3. Aren’t actively working in your usual full-time job – Since you are spending time how you want to when you’re on vacation and taking a sabbatical, you aren’t actively working at your full-time job. 

Now, here is how they are different:

  1. Length of time – A sabbatical is much longer than a vacation.
  2. You don’t get paid – When you are on vacation, your employer is still paying you. But when you take a sabbatical, it is almost always unpaid.  There are a few exceptions, but it is pretty rare to take a paid sabbatical. 
  3. You may not return to the same job – Depending on whether your employer lets you plan to return to work (and holds your spot), you may be quitting your job entirely. 
  4. Purpose – A sabbatical usually has some sort of purpose. Maybe it’s to develop a hobby, launch a side business, hike the Appalachian Trail, or take a round-the-world trip.

This last point is what makes a sabbatical so much different than a vacation. A sabbatical tends to be more structured and has a purpose to it. Even if you don’t know exactly what the purpose is when you start your sabbatical (perhaps it’s to avoid burnout), you will discover it during your time away from your 9-5.

This post is part of our Sabbatical Sundays series. To read more, click here.

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