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  • Sabbatical #3: Everything is a Lego Brick

Sabbatical #3: Everything is a Lego Brick

Plus: How to use your trip to build a strong marriage

Welcome to the third issue of Sabbatical — an exploration of the future of work, modern life, and travel. Sent every month-ish. (Submit your Sabbatical story for a future issue here.) 

See last month’s issue here. Since then, 11 totally chill people have signed up. Sabbatical is so close to 100 subscribers! If you dig these issues, please forward to any travel-loving, career-pondering friends!

Today's Itinerary

The Note: Everything is a Lego Brick

Several factors make sabbaticals more possible than ever. Sure, we have remote work and widespread broadband connections. But there’s also a cultural component — an acceptance of the modular nature of our working lives. Consider:

The upside of this is a modular career, one where you can assemble a “portfolio” of jobs, freelance gigs, or contracts to assemble the life and workload you want. That leads to control and flexibility — a career that can better bend to your needs and interests.

Of course, there are downsides, which we’ll address in other issues. But the modular career is like Legos in more ways than one.

Sure it’s more work to build something brick by brick with no guide. But once it’s complete, it’s uniquely you — and a little more satisfying than making something according to the instructions.

📍The Recommendation: El Nido to Coron, Philippines 🇵🇭 

Introducing The Recommendation, a section for travel suggestions assembled from people who’ve been around the world.

Our interview subject today embarked on a year-long trip that spanned 17 countries. One of the highlights was this boat trip across the Philippines

“It was five days/four nights and we sailed from El Nido to Coron, spending the days on the boat, snorkeling, playing volleyball, and sleeping in tents on different islands.”

To book this recommendation, visit https://www.taophilippines.com/. Tell them Janice and Sabbatical sent you.

After getting married, Janice and her husband left their jobs (a recruiter at a fast-paced startup and a physical therapist in the army, respectively) to figure out what the next chapter of their life would be. We explore how to use the time to ask your spouse the deep questions that underpin a great marriage + her perspective as a recruiter on resume gaps.

Janice in Guatemala. 🇬🇹 

Why did you drop everything and take a sabbatical?

I was at a hypergrowth startup and it was the best thing that ever happened to my career. I learned so much in a very short amount of time. I loved the pace and the people, but after three-and-a-half years I got to a great point to take a break. I realized I wasn’t ready to jump back into something, I needed a breather.

My husband and I were both up for very big promotions around the time we were considering taking the time off. Our lease in Tel Aviv was ending. The timing lined up. 

Sounds like you had to decide whether you need a break from the industry or that particular job. And it took going away to parse that.

During the trip, I had an open mind. I thought, “Maybe I'll switch careers, industries or not be in a startup” — just to keep it open-ended. But when I got back, I realized I loved what I do. I just need to find the next right place for it. 

How did you balance leaving money and prestige on the table that a promotion would have given you?

It was so hard to make that decision because these are our growth years. These are the years when we can dedicate everything to our careers. We have very few responsibilities. We don't have kids. Our expenses are very low. 

On the other hand, we knew that taking the career opportunities also meant that we would be delaying the trip by a year, or even a few years. Who knew if we would ever actually do it. So it came down to, “If not now, when?” 

So we put our stuff in storage, packed two backpacks, and booked a one-way ticket to Vietnam!

Leaving for the trip

Now that you’re back, has your relationship with work changed?

I cannot wait to get back to work. I am so excited. I'm rejuvenated for what it is that I want to do, and I want to throw myself in 100%. I love my work ethic. I worked very hard. But I worked too long, too many hours. And I want to focus on the “too long” part. My goal is to incorporate that balance, and I think I can find that company.

I imagine during COVID when all these companies were hiring a million people, it had to be hard work to fill those seats in your role as a recruiter.

It was exciting. Our company was in hypergrowth. During COVID I was working so much, taking breaks for meals, but straight back to work in the evenings. And I loved it, but it just is not sustainable.

Let’s talk about the finances of your sabbatical. How did you make it work?

We budgeted in prep for the trip to make sure we saved enough so that we didn't feel limited financially. But we also set expectations that weren't going to stay in luxury places. We also chose Southeast Asia, which we knew was much less expensive. 

We decided not to work while traveling, so we dipped into our savings and we took a couple of risks on the investment front while we were traveling and it ended up working out for us. 

We had just gotten married a few months before we started the trip. We knew that we were going to use the bulk of the gifts we received to travel. So we kind of knew that there was some maybe, I don't know if you can say “unearned money” that would help us enjoy.

Jana and her husband in Malaysia 🇲🇾 

The expected thing to do is put it toward a house or car or furniture. You chose this

Yes. Again it was a hard decision because it went against the “traditional” path but we just were willing to accept the consequences of that financial decision and budgeted to decrease the burden on the way back. While we were planning out our trip we also budgeted to make sure that we had a cushion of three months when we returned. 

What was your process like for figuring out what was next?

At the end of each day, we would do voice notes where we would leave the phone recording and talk to each other about our day.

One day, we’ll listen back to them, but the process was so helpful.

What were those conversations like?

We talked about everything that happened throughout the day but also asked a lot of really big questions because we had time to answer them. We would give our gut reaction, we would reflect on what each other said, and then we would circle back to that question. 

What are our shared values? What is our vision for the future? What's important? 

We also started talking to other people to ask those big questions — often to absolute strangers. We met this chef in Cambodia who already had two kids who were about 12 and 14 years old. He established his career as a chef and teacher and we asked him those big questions. We had the chance to get to know a woman who was 26 and an entrepreneur in a super small town in Vietnam. 

We had the chance to ask people from different cultures our big questions as well as ask fellow travelers. Traveling in the style that we did, where we took a decent amount of time in each place, we really got to connect with so many people as well as so many places. It was cool to be in an environment where you can jump into those conversations as we engaged with the world.

Can you share an example of one of those questions?

Our family is spread around the world. So one of our questions is always, “Where do we live?” We value family so much. We also love the careers we established in Tel Aviv.  We value our time together. How can we balance all of it? That was the biggest question.

What’s your advice for people considering a trip like this?

When I talk to friends, the biggest question they have is the financial element. At first, we monitored every single expense that we had. We wrote it down. And then we got a sense for cost. We had an app that helped us manage it, TravelSpend, we knew more or less how much we were spending each month. 

Also, it’s important to set your expectations. It's not amazing, awesome fun every single day. Sometimes you're tired and you just want a break, and you just want to sit down and you want to unpack. But at the same time, you're like, “Wait, but I'm in Indonesia, and I'm never going to be here again at this time or this place.” Know that it's okay to take some of the things from your old life and slow down. It’s ok to “miss out” on some things. You don't need to become a new person when you're traveling

Anything more tactical that you find yourself sharing?

Don't ever pay for a hotel before you see the room! Always book free cancellations. Make sure that you have your apps and you're getting your points. We had the Chase Sapphire card, which helped us a lot with budgeting because we were able to use a lot of points. In Asia, we were working with booking in Agoda and Booking.com so we got tons of points and deals. Do a quick Google of your activity on YouTube or travel influencers for discount codes

One of the biggest things that I learned during the trip is that someone has done this before and you don't need to reinvent the wheel. It's okay to follow someone else's path, but also to make it your own. I think what's important is kind of like to leave breadcrumbs for the next person who comes after you and to help make the path a little nicer, a little smoother. I don't like telling people too much about certain places because I want to leave it for them to experience it and have it but guidance from someone who has done is helped us avoid a lot of mistakes. We got a lot of guidance that helped us to have very good experiences. I want to pass it along. 

That was another lesson I learned - I don’t need to know everything ahead of time, it’s ok to make mistakes but most importantly you should ask for help! People are so willing to help but you have to be open to ask.

Yeah, if you’re traveling somewhere and you know the beats, what are you doing?

No shade from me there. There were times, I'll be super honest with you, when we were judging people's travel choices. And, you know what? Sometimes we said “Let’s try what they are doing. Let's challenge our assumptions. Let's follow the path step by step and see why people are doing that.” 

Is there a time when that surprised you?

In Japan, a lot of the things that you do are on a set path. It's very much like, “Go here, walk five steps, go to the next thing, make sure to go to this exhibit.” And we were very anti, we wanted to to do it our way. 

And we went and we realized, this was a highly curated experience, let’s lean into it and we ended up loving it. It was awesome to let go in that sense. 

You are a recruiter, how do people in your position look at breaks like this?

Now that I'm interviewing and on the other side, I actually haven’t felt any concerns. Maybe because more people are doing it. Maybe it's become more accepted? I see taking a sabbatical as such a huge advantage and it seems a lot of people in the industry are also seeing it in a better light. 

It was a huge concern on my mind. I wondered “Is anyone going to hire me? Are they going to look down on me?” I'm not finding that materialized.

And it didn’t. After this interview, Janice started a new position in January.

1 - The source of this is a fractional work marketplace — which may skew the results a tad higher. Even so, I thought the 50-60 to 1 was notable.