Life is just a roller coaster isn't it? It's the one year anniversary of starting my creative sabbatical -- cue the confetti poppers! It's been one year of spending time (and financially supporting myself) outside of the traditional full-time job and of letting curiosity shape my life. It's been one year of absolutely no "normal" and no consistency in my life, and of treating life as "time on" rather than "time off".
When I wrote in February, I said I felt I was reconnecting with "the human side of me: the creator, contributor, and chaser of curiosities". Looking back at the past year, I definitely feel that to be true. Even through the lowlights (below), I feel like I have ownership over my life and whether or not I accomplish a life goal is entirely in my hands. I also wrote that I was overall feeling clarity, as if I was on the precipice of a breakthrough. Well, it definitely takes a lot more work than I'd realized to truly redesign life, especially when the systems are set up for you to go with the grain. And yet, I feel so happy to be trying!
I was hoping to share at more frequent intervals during this time haha, but I suppose sometimes zooming out and reflecting en mass can be a bit easier, and definitely insight-bearing. I wanted to share somethings I've learned (and highlights and lowlights) and the ways they might help you in designing the life that feels best for you. For those who are already on sabbatical journeys, I hope they are a reminder for you to bring the learnings of your sabbatical into your next chapter and make changes to the status quo. Also, I sprinkled photos throughout since this one is dense!
Sunset outside Joshua Tree, in our teeny-tiny 100% off-the-grid Airbnb. (April, 2019)
9 'Aha' moments and what I learned:
- Community is so important! I'm lucky to have been surrounded by amazing humans who share similar values on life and purpose throughout this adventure. Until I moved to San Francisco three years ago, I hadn't realized that I'd been in communities out of convenience rather than out of full alignment for much of my adult life. Being forced to 'start over' in a new city meant I had to think critically about who I was at my core and then find community in which I could be my full self, maximize my growth, and more fully explore and share my gifts. Having a soul-aligned community of all backgrounds and ages was part of why I felt I could take this leap. It has helped me ground amidst change, get feedback, and have a constant flow of inspiration and learning. That community has extended far beyond my friends, too. There are dozens of 'professional' online communities I joined (like Womens Catalysts Community, Freelancing Females, and Solopreneurs). So, find your soul community. They say you're the average of the five people you spend the most time with: find the people that bring out the best versions of you!
- Discomfort and boredom are incredible catalysts for creativity. My little brother reminded me of that last month. I think most of us would agree that we generally find ourselves too comfortable and too busy - a dangerous combination that hooks us in the status quo. In my uncomfortable boredom, I rediscovered that I really enjoy singing and signed up for free classes at a local city college. I also rediscovered my love for creating and for bringing things into existence - ranging from events, to community gatherings, laser cut art, and starting new companies! More on this under 'highlights' below.
- Being intentional about your "time on" will help make it last. I've met a number of people over the past two years who took a similar leap of faith to redesign their lives. They often ended up returning to a full-time role - sometimes, it was because they realized that's what they wanted all along; sometimes, it was because they got bored, stir crazy, panicked, didn't know what to do besides travel, or ran out of runway. Rather than scare me, it reinforced to me that I needed to have a "why" and a plan for this time. What helped me make it to month 13 of this 'creative sabbatical':
(A) Call it what it is. Make sure you're honest with yourself about what you need (a vacation? A remote day each week? A job change? A complete life redesign?)
(B) Build a timeline. Different needs will call for timelines. For example, my sabbatical had three chapters (reset, play, and build for financial sustainability) and each was given its own designated space, time, and goals.
(C) Knowing A and B, be financially intentional with your time on. A three-month break to travel between jobs will require a different budget than a 12-month sabbatical, and the latter doesn't need to deplete all your savings. Which leads me to…
- The best way to make money is to not spend it. Joe always says he wants to make sure that growth in his career and salary doesn't lead to a proportional increase in his cost of living. We're all a bit guilty of that, so sometimes that means taking inventory and deciding to cut back for a time. My first chapter was all about nourishing myself, so I knew it would be important to limit my spend - which I did in two ways. First, I had a budget, where I set generous guidelines on spending (e.g., # times per week to cook versus eat out, walk versus uber, yoga at home versus in a studio). Second, I found ways to exchange my time instead of money for things I'd normally pay for (e.g., volunteering at conferences, events, and classes I wanted to attend). Some friends chose to claim unemployment benefits during this time, which is great if you're eligible. By chapter 2, I knew that I'd want to stop digging into savings, so I'd have to start playing with different forms of income. That said, I wouldn't be on a budget forever, as there were downsides to this, which I reflected on under 'What I would do differently' below.
- 'Work' can meaningfully improve lives, but not necessarily the way it exists today. Current 5-day workweeks are constructs of the industrial revolution and should not be taken as a given; isn't it crazy that humans historically worked far less than we do now? Things are changing yet again. Some people just really love their jobs - and that option is and maybe will always be available to them! But many more need things to change, and the unpredictability of the gig economy may not be for them. The workplace actually presents an awesome opportunity to learn new skills, celebrate teamwork, and work as a community toward something bigger. I don't think the future will be completely devoid of companies or offices, so the question becomes: how might we take the best of the workplace and use it to empower individuals to live more fully? I believe part-time work is part of the answer. I've been interviewing different employers that have made that shift toward part-time and I'm learning that a lot of times, change came because someone asked for it. The key is choice, and finding an employer where your ability to choose matters. My mom always says, if you don't ask you'll never get what you want. I'm compiling those interviews into a podcast and then book called Part-Time Wild (message me if you want to chat about it or know potential sponsors and collaborators!)
Dalai Lama wisdom. When asked what surprised him most about humanity, he answered:
"Man! Because he sacrifices his health in order to make money. Then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health. And then he is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present; the result being that he does not live in the present or the future; he lives as if he is never going to die, and then dies having never really lived.”
- Managing unstructured time is SO different from managing structured time. When there are no deadlines or clear deliverables and only your own interests and personal goals driving your time, the way that you create structure for yourself is totally different from what may have worked in an office environment; to-do lists and discipline can take away fun. I created a tool for myself that helped keep this 'life work' both fun AND constantly progressing forward, but there are many others :)
- Develop a practical hard skill and you'll never go hungry. Having a tangible and always-in-demand hard skill makes going independent a lot easier. For example, my uncle is a real estate broker, with 10 years as a barber under his belt, which he can always lean on if he needs work. When I was at Deloitte, one of my mentors called this having a 'cash-cow': you'd have the work that you wanted to do, and the work you could easily get staffed on when the pickings were slim. In my case, it's designing and developing websites - a skill I picked up at age 13 that my parents said would be useless (ha!). For others, it may be teaching yoga, writing/editing, or photography. This hard skill helped me find fun work during the 'in-between' periods when I was still figuring things out, or when consulting or startup stuff were lighter. Several of you wrote me asking how to market these skills and land a project - it's a longer conversation, but one thing I found really powerful is: manifestation. I learned from my friend Jackie to put it out in the universe as an affirmative 'I am doing __' or 'I am a __', rather than 'I would like to do __' or 'I'm trying to __'. You'll be surprised what serendipitous opportunities you attract just through your own manifestation - I certainly was.
- Educate yourself (and your kids and your employees) on financial literacy ASAP. It's so important to make sure women and minorities are properly financially educated! I found the 401K/HSA process so overwhelming when I was at Deloitte (I'm a Questioner), as a result, I wasn't receiving either of those benefits for a year. Fast forward a few years, I find myself in that position again with tax and incorporation stuff. Stuff I wish I'd learned sooner!
- And finally, the big punchline a lot of you emailed about: passive income alleviates a lot of financial pressure -- but it does take time to build. There are a lot of ways to become financially sufficient in this world (yes, all legal), and many of them can be done with minimal upkeep on the side. Many believe that:
(A) passive income is limited to real estate - and thus is capital intensive and inaccessible,
(B) it's as effortless as Tim Ferriss sets it out to be, and
(C) what works for one person will work for them too.
In reality, there's a whole slew of options, it takes WORK to set up and to maintain, and the key is to find something that doesn't feel like work to you. As I've been exploring, I've bucketed dozens of different passive income ideas into: sharing knowledge, sharing assets, providing access, providing tools, and outsourcing/automation. I've committed to writing more about the income sources I've played with and ways to make financial independence socioeconomically accessible. It's too much to share in this update so it'll be in a separate one (if you're this list you'll get an email when it's live).
There's a great concept in Mark Manson's Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck:
Whatever you do in life will be a struggle, so you need to find the struggle that’s right for you.
If the goat didn't get your attention I thought the llama might. We got to spend a night at a llama sanctuary for Joe's birthday and another at a goat/goose farm when my little brother was visiting! (August and March, 2019)
Highlights and favorite moments
- I got to explore a ton of new hands-on crafts and activities. I picked up wood laser cutting, candlemaking, and bread-baking (challah, baguettes, bagels, pizza, you name it), among other things. Speaking of challah, I became an Airbnb Experiences host and was featured in a documentary! I also started volunteering at a community tea house in San Francisco called the Center SF, realizing how important being in a position of service is to me. I had the flexibility to take yoga classes in the middle of the day, remake my favorite (labor-intensive) Bukharian and Russian dishes from home, meet other incredible people with flexible work-lives at cafes across the city, and swim in the freezing Pacific on the one day it hit 95 degrees in San Francisco! (I'd have been so bummed to have been stuck in an office for that one!!) None of these were planned, and they were all things I got to do only because I made the space for it.
- I got to spend really meaningful quality time with my family, including hosting my mom, my 10-year-old brother, and then my sister, all separately, here in San Francisco! I got to enjoy fresh-picked berries from my mom's garden, eat my favorite foods with Grandma, and faceswap with my 18-year-old brother. I got to speak with my aunt more in the last five months than in the last 10 years, bonding over challah baking and our joint Airbnb Homes venture. Same for my uncle! I helped him revive his struggling 35-year-old furniture business! We thought: we have wifi, coffee, and comfy furniture... what if we repurposed the showroom into a co-working space, where you can buy the very couch you're sitting on? NY1 News came to our re-launch (EN / ES) and it was also covered by Patch, We <3 Astoria, and Croissant Co-Working!
- I published my first article and was a guest on a podcast! Both small first steps toward my goal of making my past research at Princeton and Deloitte more accessible to the people who can actually make a difference in the workplace. Within the first 24 hours, the article got featured on Medium's homepage and then snatched up by Medium's largest active publication! That was cool.
- I met some really incredible humans. You know that feeling when you meet someone and hours later you feel as though you've known eachother forever? I've been so lucky to have had more than a few of those people walk into my life this past year.
- I got to adventure when I wanted. I escaped the world on a short RV trip for my birthday (where I experienced my first earthquake!); adventured with Joe for two months across Southwest US, Oslo, Barcelona, and NYC; not to mention the unbelievable trek in Patagonia from my last post. But I also realized that I didn't have to go far to adventure, and very much enjoyed being grounded in one place! A lot of my adventures took place right here in San Francisco.
- I served my first customer for my startup! What started as a side project (minimizing waste around kids' birthdays) became a real thing, and it's been fun bootstrapping it and living up to my commitment to environmental preservation. If you know of any kids ages 8-14 with upcoming birthdays, or any female/minority founder or small biz grants, let me know!
- I had a lot of fun experimenting with income, too. My goal was to experiment with a lifestyle outside of full-time and freelance; but I definitely needed to turn to freelance in parallel to support myself. Since I don't mind inconsistently or being my own boss, I enjoyed it, but probably only because I didn't rely on it to be my sole income source! I worked on eight freelance projects - 50% of which were the work I wanted to do (consulting startups) and 50% of which were my 'cash cow' (design). I also earned as a GLG/Clarity expert, a paid speaker on the topics of diversity and inclusion and innovation, a participant in research interviews, a host on Airbnb Experiences and Homes, and more. I also failed at earning with a few experiments. I learned that our time-value fluctuates at different times in our lives and how that doesn't discredit 'knowing your worth'. There were times I prioritized fun income sources and other times where I prioritized lucrative ones. I'll write about these, and the passive income ideas, more fully in another post (you'll get an email if you're on this list).
Anyone who's been here can probably guess where this is: welcome to Zion! We slept in our rental car that night... (April, 2019)
Lowlights and awkward moments
- I didn't take good enough care of my mental and physical health, ironically. I left full-time employment resolved to shed burn out and live my best life. I realize now that health is a really complicated equation. More than simply doing the things that make you happy, it's also about remembering to feed ALL of your energy needs, whether physical, emotional, psychological, spiritual, nutritional,... I wasn't aware of a number of things that were negatively impacting my mental health. Guidelines would have helped keep my mental health strong, and to a point I raise a bit later, sometimes feeding all of your energy sources means prioritizing spending on yourself.
- Old habits die hard. As another old adage goes: easy to get an A, hard to keep it. Change requires constant effort - this is true of business, relationships, growth, morning routines, etc. I'd gotten so comfortable that I eventually fell back into default behavior, losing all the good habits I worked to build. That meant that eventually, even curiosity and motivation fled me!
- I do miss working with a team. I'm an extrovert and love being around amazing people. Through my consulting gigs, I've enjoyed having my clients as teammates, but there were times I'd end up putting a lot of pressure on my romantic partner to give the feedback that an actual team usually provides. I don't think I want to jump back into a full-time job but perhaps the part-time life is calling me.
- My biggest lowlight: My relationship fell apart. Ever the optimist, I thought everything could be worked on if there was love. It turns out that in the process of loving one another, we forgot to love ourselves. We still care about one another very much and I'm trying to figure out the whole 'get my heart back together, find a place to live, remain best friends / in one another's lives' situation. I'm mainly hurting though at the moment. But I'm so, so grateful to have other glowing hearts to lean on - y'all know who you are.
My friend Kate said something to me the other night that I want to leave with you all:
"At a certain point, if you allow it, the pain becomes a gift - a doorway really into the deepest clarity of what you truly need for personal fulfillment."
Hanging with the Flinstones at Joshua Tree. (April, 2019)
What would I do differently?
- Read more fiction!! There's no better creative escape.
- Accountability buddies. I would have asked three friends and/or mentors to hold me accountable and check in with me once a quarter. It's easy to feel like you have to do it all yourself, so it's good to have people who care about you and your success reach out to you periodically too.
- Guidelines & boundaries. I had set a lot of guidelines around how I spend my money, and intentionally left open how to spend my time. And yet, to my point in my first update, ritual is really important and perhaps I should have set some guidelines around time later on in my sabbatical. Self-led/self-employed life can also mean days blurring together and motivation or clarity around 'the goal' slowly fading. I would have set guidelines that were either values-based (like asking myself, 'does this make me happy?') or centered on actively avoid pitfalls (like not working out of bed two days in a row, or attending an event with strangers once every two weeks).
- Spend on myself! Yes,
contradicting complementing my aha moment #4. Turns out, I'm actually very affected by money and have a lot of scarcity feelings around it. Saving is valuable, but an abundance mindset is equally so. When I started my sabbatical, my spending guidelines were really helpful for chapter 1, but I realize now that we also need to give ourselves permission to spend on things that are important to our happiness and health. I found myself too "cheap" to want to pay for coffee and lunch every day to work from a cafe, consistent gym or therapy routine, or take spontaneous weekend trips with my boyfriend. What I should have done sooner was re-assess when my freelance work brought substantial income, and make sure I was channeling abundance around me.
- Keep therapy a consistent part of my routine. I think I would have kept up therapy after my HSA (health savings account) ran out and invested in myself. It had helped me get over a lot of sadness/depression after I left Deloitte and around my relationship, and once those feelings had "passed" I decided I didn't need it anymore. For anyone who needs affordable and remote therapy, Betterhelp was great, with no-questions-asked 40%-off financial aid.
- Gone off birth control sooner. Let's talk about women's health! Yes, men, you especially! We all know birth control affects hormones, but it also affects energy levels and mood. For some people, it may mean anxiety and depression, for others it may mean generally numbing highs and lows alike. I went off birth control about a week ago and within 2 days I felt like a completely different person - lighter, more energetic, more optimistic! There needs to be a revolution in the female health space - what innovative companies do you know who are working on this now?
I'm not sure what to call the life I’m currently living; 'sabbatical' does give the impression of 'taking time for me', and perhaps after reading all this you'd agree that it's a great container for all these different activities. However, 'sabbatical' also gives the impression that it's temporary, that it's a 'break', and that I'm not working. I've been asked a lot about my time "off", and these conversations have made me realize that most people see living fully is a secondary priority to work, something you do when you're not working.
These conversations have reaffirmed to me that I want the rest of my life to feel like a creative sabbatical, although what that means will certainly change over time, and perhaps the label for it will too (see 'What's been on my mind' below). What I know will be consistent is that I want to be human on my "on time", and treat work as the thing that I do when I want to take a break from living :) Or perhaps, eventually, integrate the two more meaningfully.
Below are some key themes of part one of my sabbatical and some questions.
I'd love to engage with you on any of the questions that resonate with you. I've also included some suggestions off of my reading list. Finally, if I can support your own creative journeys in any way, let me know how.
With love and thanks,