BLOG: In Support of Sabbaticals by Janis Reischmann (October 2023)
There are a number of studies that explore the value of sabbaticals in the nonprofit sector. The Durfee Foundation is perhaps best known for its advocacy for this tool in the sector. Our Board was convinced it was worth it for us to try out a sabbatical and that I could be the test case, especially as it might help the Foundation and me prepare for my planned transition from my role as executive director. We know that sabbaticals can provide renewal and reflection for the individual taking the leave. We also know that an additional benefit can be identifying organizational areas of strength or opportunity which can be expanded upon.
I was given approval to take a sabbatical in February 2020; and then, COVID. I finally did take the approved sabbatical this year in late April. My loosely formed idea was that I would go on “A Hundred Mile Journey,” walking and talking with people I admire and with whom I wanted to reflect. My plan of walking 100 miles was quickly sidelined when I tweaked my knee early in the first week. Plans were adapted. As I hobbled along on a hike complaining with each step, my friend commented that I was demonstrating adaptive leadership and resiliency. Ha! But, that was when it first struck me how generous people were in responding to my invitation to help me reflect. They nudged me to find my purpose; they helped me explore what native plant I might be and why; they shared haiku on a topic that I said I was interested in; they offered insights they had realized years earlier when traveling in another country; they lifted up things they thought might be gifts, if better honed and developed; and lastly, they called me out when I was being especially difficult and negative. What gifts I was given.
I made my goal of 100 miles on my last day of leave, despite the early set back. I am certain I was buoyed by the acts of generosity that were so universally offered. In reflecting on the journey I took, it struck me that my mindset had shifted subtly. Simple acts felt like remarkable opportunities to learn. I didn’t intend for this shift to happen. I didn’t read about or meditate on being more open, but as I reflected on the time I had spent on my 100-mile journey, I realized that I had stumbled into a more open and curious mindset. I later shared with my co-workers that I think I shifted from more of a fixed mindset to a learning mindset. Something I hope to replicate as I make this next transition in my life.
Both to experience such acts of generosity and to find a subtle shift in thinking, made my sabbatical impactful. I am convinced others should have a similar opportunity. I hope you will give yourself a chance to consider the idea. I also would urge our nonprofit leaders and boards to expand the availability of sabbaticals across the sector. Our Board recently adopted a policy that encourages any member of the Foundation’s staff with seven years of tenure, to consider taking a sabbatical for renewal and reflection. I look forward to hearing your thoughts as you contemplate a policy for sabbaticals or plan for your own.