Aimless Unemployment: Allowing Yourself to Step Away Without a Goal

“A sabbatical is more than a vacation, it’s a sacred human ritual for what you want to do differently in life — even if for just a little while” (thesabbaticalproject.org).

The Backstory

Perhaps you’ve heard the news that educators are tired. Well, I recently quit my job of 20 years. When I start to panic about what I’ve done, I tell myself that it’s good to hang up the work badge and office keys from time to time. The only pressing question is: How does one unemploy?

I am determined to treat my unemployment as a gift and use this time wisely. A “wise use of time” for most means tackling big projects, networking, hustling for the next job lead. For me, I’m adhering to the notion that the key to self-discovery is to be intentionally aimless, demotivated, untethered. Every so often, I think it’s wise — at judicious junctures of our lives — to surrender to fate and see if the universe can take us where we need to go. This is very hard for me, but I think I can do it.

In my unemployed state — I’m technically under-employed since I do have some small random gigs — I’m motivated to be unmotivated for a few months. I picture myself all alone and pensive in a remote log cabin or perched in a fire lookout tower scanning the horizon. In reality, I’m just in my home office on a Quasi Sabbatical of Sorts.

Sooner rather than later, I need to make more money to keep the finances afloat and my spouse at bay. But for the time being, I vow to not stress about money and to trust that the stars will point me where I need to go. My only goal is to sit back and relax and see what inspires me, see what makes me tick.

Before I divulge my self-discovery plan, there is solid data on taking a hiatus from the Rat Race that is worth reviewing.

The Research on Pressing Pause

I am happy to report that there is plenty of research to support what I’ve so rashly done. Twenty percent of employees said they are very likely to quit their job in the next 12 months, based on a 2022 survey conducted by PwC across 44 countries, the Global Workforce Hopes and Fears Survey. Not only are people from all walks of life resigning en masse across the globe, but they are not necessarily jumping right back into the workforce.

In fact, the number of workers taking an extended break has tripled in the past four years, reports Lo (2022) in the Fast Company article called “The Great Resignation Has Morphed Into the Great Sabbatical.” The author says that, whether due to external circumstances or internal dissatisfaction, many people — herself included — decided to take a break rather than resign. “Instead of quitting one job to immediately embark on another, a growing number of American workers are choosing to take time off to do nothing at all — at least for a little while.”

Why would people do something so drastic? Quitting is one thing, but choosing to stay unemployed is another thing entirely. The book “Reboot Your Life: Energize Your Career and Life by Taking a Break” by Allen et al. (2011) says it all in the title. The premise is that we deserve the gift of time to envision what we want out of life and to prioritize how and where we want to be.

There’s clearly a benefit to pausing to ruminate on one’s life. Returning to work after their break, employees report “feeling refreshed and rejuvenated — a feeling that is likely to have a ripple effect on their job and their co-workers when they return,” according to the New York Times article “Instead of Leaving a Job, Why Not Take a Pause?” (O’Meara, 2017).

In a study published in the Harvard Business Review (Burkus, 2017), professors who took a sabbatical had “a decline in stress and an increase in psychological resources and overall well-being” compared to the comparison group that didn’t take a break. The added benefit is that “those positive changes often remained long after the sabbatical takers returned to work. This suggests that not only do the rested employees benefit from time away — the organization benefits as well.”

Not everyone can afford to take an unpaid sabbatical, but the good news is that not everyone needs to quit in order to reflect on how their career is going. In the article “Work Life Balance is a Cycle, Not an Achievement” (Lupu & Ruiz-Castro, 2021), the authors make a case for employees periodically stepping back and reflecting on their situation. Their research concludes that “for people to make real changes in their lives, they must continuously remember to pause, connect with their emotions, rethink their priorities, evaluate alternatives, and implement changes — throughout their personal and professional lives.”

Taking the Plunge

I’ve already evaluated and reevaluated my work situation for several years and, for me, the decision to jump ship feels right. (Did I mention that we educators are tired?) The next step is putting my principle to practice. Maybe you’ll join me.

Are you burnt out, at your wit’s end, or dissatisfied with the fast pace and mindless motions of your life? Are you simply curious about exploring a different path for your future? Are you already unemployed or underemployed? Then I invite you to take a deep dive with me into an untethered, demotivated, and agenda-less state of mind. Welcome to my parameter-less unpaid sabbatical.

My next blog will be How to Unemploy: A 5-Part Plan to Get to Know Thyself.

Note: A licensed career or life coach will have much more reliable information and a better structured plan than me! Don’t take my word for gospel; I’m just sharing my two cents.

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Citations

2022. Global Workforce Hopes and Fears Survey. PwC. https://www.pwc.com/gx/en/issues/workforce/hopes-and-fears-2022.html

Allen, C., Bearg, N., Foley, R., & Smith, J. (2011). Reboot Your Life: Energize Your Career and Life by Taking a Break. Beaufort Books.

Burkus, D. (2017). Research Shows that Organizations Benefit When Employees Take Sabbaticals. The Harvard Business Review.

https://hbr.org/2017/08/research-shows-that-organizations-benefit-when-employees-take-sabbaticals

Lo, D. (2022). The great resignation has morphed into the great sabbatical. Fast Company. https://www.fastcompany.com/90715900/great-resignation-sabbatical-gap-year

Lupu, I. & Ruiz-Castro, M. (2021). Work-life balance is a cycle, not an achievement. Harvard Business Review. https://hbr.org/2021/01/work-life-balance-is-a-cycle-not-an-achievement

O’Meara, R. (2017). Instead of Leaving a Job, Why Not Take a Pause? The New York Times.

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/27/jobs/career-pause-sabbaticals-unpaid-leaves.html

The Sabbatical Project. https://thesabbaticalproject.org/

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Megan Taylor Stephens

Megan Taylor Stephens

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Die-hard Oregonian, mom to two teens, speech-language pathologist, lover of languages, cultures, and the human condition, and aspiring writer