VIEWPOINT: Make the most of your sabbatical

October 15, 2007

I took a career sabbatical and bought a one-way ticket to Italy. Sabbaticals are mostly once-in-alifetime events with fixed expiration dates. My head, programmed to the world of deadlines, argued, "Pick a return date. Let's stick to a plan!" My heart, weary of that world, and yearning for the blurred edges of Mediterranean time, pleaded, "Looks like there might be some wiggle room. Let's just get on the plane."

Tuscany is my ancestral homeland, but I had never spent more than two weeks at a time in its "la dolce vita" embrace.

I brought with me my grandmother's journals, written in the 1960s, when she went back to the Old Country. I left the computer behind, opting for a spiral notebook.

Other than friends, who were happy to be invited for a week to the villa I rented in the Florentine hills, I was alone. I was spent from 20 years of career climbing and wanted to know what the next act was. I had no trouble articulating what I no longer wanted to do, but the answer to what I desired seemed out of my reach. I liked the idea of being cloistered, of spending time doing nothing until answers surfaced.

What would I do? So much of our power is defined by what we do, what titles we hold, what is on a resume. Where is the source of my power? Was it really contained within the various titles I have held, vice president of this or that? The list of accomplishments on my resume did not tell the story of who I am.

It was during those precious weeks alone, however, that I had to face some facts: Although outwardly successful, there had been times I knew I had failed to use my voice, failed to use my power.

I began writing a book in Italy about my family. The insights I had into their immigrant courage and grace became a window into my own life and its possibilities, something I hadn't expected. There were many "aha" moments.

I went back to New York two weeks after 9/11. I did not return to the corporate career. A few months later, I formed my own company, integrating the things I loved about business and releasing things that were no longer necessary.

I believe that women, in particular, need to be willing to take some risk on their own behalf, to define power on their own terms. But the way back to ourselves demands that we first create some space. Traveling alone opens up a world that is otherwise hidden. There is no reflection of "you" in another person's eyes or opinion when you're alone. When contemplating life change, others, however wellmeaning, oftentimes reflect their fear "right back at'cha." This happened to me when I returned to New York. "Well, you wrote a book, how wonderful, and had some time off, what do you mean you aren't going back to your job?"

I had moments of scaring myself. I saw that what I was doing made people uncomfortable. Eventually, it was clear my new path was the one that told my story, the one that said, "This is who I am as well as what I do," a genuine, powerful decision.

I also know that had I chosen to return to the corporate world, my rediscovered sense of self and power would have enabled me to create a satisfying experience.

So, in the end, it's not that we can't go back or go on, or that we must radically change our lives to find meaning. Finding your authentic voice and source of power can mean there is only one choice or that you have more than you thought possible.

Take the sabbatical. Go someplace exotic or someplace familiar. Go for months or go for a week. But go alone. Spend time with yourself. See what happens.



Faenzi is vice president of business development for Rowland Design, a motivational speaker and the author of the novel, "The Stonecutter's Aria". She may be contacted at vitabella@apertoarts.com.
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