How I'm not working as much but also still kinda working
Before I dive into this week’s piece, I wanted to welcome and thank all the new subscribers who have joined us since last week’s piece. We finally got over the 2,000-person hump (again, sorry for the poor word choice) a few days ago!
While I saw a nice ‘lil bump in subscribers from that piece, most of you seem like you came from Substack’s new Notes feature. Notes is sort of like Twitter but without a weird, exceedingly rich megalomaniac running it. Plus, it’s filled with fellow Substack writers and their readers, so basically a bunch of thoughtful people who love longer-form writing. That’s actually where I posted what’s embedded above. As a subscriber of mine, you’ll automatically see my Notes and can share Notes of your own. You can share links, short posts, quotes, photos, and even highlight this very sentence to “restack” it on Notes.
Okay, onto today’s piece.
For the past few months, I’ve seen the word sabbatical all over the place online.writes about sabbaticals frequently in his newsletter and talks about them often with guests on his podcast. While he was on paternity leave in March, he even tapped who wrote a guest post about her sabbatical. published a post entitled How to Design a Sabbatical just last week.
My friend Shivani Shah quit her job at Google and moved to India to learn acting during her indefinitely long sabbatical.
My Foster friendsand do this thing called 7th-week sabbaticals where they take a week off every, you guessed it, 7th week. even writes an entire newsletter about them called .
The reasons they cite for wanting—or needing—to take a sabbatical are as varied as you might imagine. Corporate-world burnout. The grind of trying to make it as a solopreneur. Feeling the need for a major career shake-up. Wanting to travel the world. And everything else in between.
Traditionally, sabbaticals are periods of paid leave for a teacher at a university to study and travel. But the more modern sabbatical is typically unpaid and often supported by freelance contract work that can be done anywhere there’s an internet connection. Paul traveled to Taiwan. Tobi is in Portugal right now (I think). And Cécile spent her sabbatical in Bali.
As much as I would love to pick up and spend six months exploring some far-flung country (or countries), the realities of my home life don’t allow for it. But for a while now I’ve wanted to do something to change things up.
I spent the last year-plus as the Head of Community for a web3 educational project called Invisible College. If you aren’t familiar with the term web3, it’s basically an alternative, more friendly-sounding term for crypto. And if you’ve only been vaguely aware of the web3/crypto space over the past year, you know that it’s been rough.
We had taken a couple of weeks off over the holidays, which gave me some time to reflect on my work. Our growth was stagnant and I knew we needed to shake things up a bit to get some momentum going. I was already writing a weekly newsletter for us, so I figured I could double (or even triple) down on it, with live Twitter Spaces events coinciding with each post, all in an effort to grow our audience more. So shortly after the new year, we tapped a community member to help write one of the three weekly posts and we set about ramping up our content output.
But despite our best efforts over nearly two months, the project just wasn’t growing enough to justify keeping me on full-time. And, to be honest, I was burnt out.
Since that break over the holidays, in the back of my mind, I was already thinking about what could be next for me. I wasn’t naïve. I’ve been involved in enough early-stage startups over the years to know not to get too comfortable. Coaching was one of those things in the back of my mind. I had considered trying it a couple of years ago, but my audience was much smaller then and I didn’t think I had enough experience as a writer and creative yet.
At first, I wasn’t sure if now was the right time either. That is until I attended the Foster writer’s retreat in Mexico—which I wrote about previously here—where we dove into what felt true for us. I ultimately emerged from the retreat with this simple declarative phrase: “I’m a creative coach.”
Shortly after I returned home from the trip, I received the news that we were putting Invisible College on sabbatical. Fortunately, the timing was serendipitous.
My wife Allison is a registered dietitian. But for the better part of the last year, instead of working, she had been doing almost all of the caretaking of our four-year-old daughter Em who has severe cerebral palsy. We’re lucky, in a sense, that we live in California and qualify for In-Home Supportive Services (IHSS), which provides financial support for caretakers of disabled individuals like Em. IHSS gave us the flexibility for Allison to take a year off work while I worked full-time. A month or so before I received the news about my job, a few interesting opportunities came up for her. She was ready to get back into her work as a dietitian so she decided to pursue them. And by the time I stopped working, she had already started.
In addition to soft-launching my new coaching practice, I had also been talking with Foster about doing some part-time work with them. Ultimately, regardless of any work opportunities I had, Allison and I decided that it was my turn to take on the bulk of Em’s caretaking and any work-related things would be secondary to that.
I called it my sabbaticalish.
I wish I could say the transition has been smooth. I wish I could say it has felt like an actual sabbatical. I wish I could say that I gracefully embraced taking on more of the caretaking duties than I ever have before.
But it was jarring.
All kinds of emotions and learnings have emerged from this life shift. It didn’t help that Em got sick two weeks later, the same week I started with Foster, and then she had her Spring Break the following week. I suddenly found myself at home basically 24/7 with a daughter who was feeling miserable and couldn’t express how she felt because she’s nonverbal. Em’s caretaking and doing more around the house take up way more time than I expected them to. In hindsight, I should’ve known it. Her school is a 35-minute drive away, she had an overnight stay for a test at the hospital on the calendar, and the laundry at home is endless. Allison works remotely from home and in those first few weeks I’d sometimes revert to old behaviors where I was busy on my computer while she took care of Em. Those times led to some tough, but necessary conversations.
I didn’t expect that not really needing to work all that much would affect me so profoundly.
Work is more tied to my identity than I realized. Not the work itself, but how it’s related to my role in my family. I took pride in providing for us. It wasn’t a macho, patriarchal thing for me. But it felt good that I could work so Allison was able to take the time off from work she needed, and we could still pay the bills and keep adding to our savings too.
My relationship with money changed drastically about seven years ago. Before then, it felt like money had control over me. I finally got fed up with never feeling like I was getting ahead of our finances. That’s when I found the tool You Need a Budget and it completely altered how I think about money management. It gave me a sense of control over our money. And now we have enough cushion where both of us could be out of work for quite a bit without much of an impact on our day-to-day lives.
When I envisioned taking time off work, I pictured having more time for creative work. More time to write my book. More time to write short stories. More time to start a podcast. I wanted to have an abundance mindset. But without many coaching clients at first and only part-time work at Foster, those memories of credit card debt reared their ugly head, and my scarcity mindset kicked in. And as a result, I said yes too often. Instead, I needed to allow myself to say no—not only to be more present with Em, but to give me more time to recover from burnout.
I’m lucky to be working with a group of incredibly understanding and emotionally intelligent human beings at Foster. I jumped in thinking I could hit the ground running and tackle a bunch of projects at once. And while I’m proud of the two posts I wrote for the Foster blog, I recently had to readjust my time commitment to the work I’m doing to help build our upcoming cohort-based experience, Season 3: The Artisan’s Way.
My time so far at Foster has made me realize how terrible I can be at asking for help sometimes. I was just getting started with them and yet I felt like I shouldn’t have to ask questions. Like I didn’t want to look dumb or impose on them too much. Meanwhile, I’ve known each and every one of them for years since we’ve all been writers in the Foster community together and I knew they would’ve been more than willing to help me with anything. It’s difficult to ask for help, but I’m working on doing so more often.
Most of all, I’m trying to be more forgiving and gracious with myself. Because big transitions like this can be unsettling.
In the meantime, when I do work, I’m leaning into what feels most alive for me. Writing this newsletter feels alive for me. Foster feels alive for me. Coaching feels alive for me. And maybe that’s enough for now.
Have you ever taken a sabbatical? If so, what was your experience like? If you haven’t, what would you do during your sabbatical?
If you enjoyed this piece, could you please let me know by giving the heart button below a tap?