How to Take a Creative Sabbatical Without Quitting Your FT Job

Paris was always my backup plan. The idea of quitting everything and moving to Paris to write felt like more of a “when” than an “if.”

Then, one day, I found myself with a career I like at a company I love and no plans to leave. My writer’s residency in the City of Lights was in danger of becoming “that thing I told my children I’d wished I had done when I was young.” I felt it slipping through my fingers.

You’ve probably heard the expression “perfect is the enemy of good.” This applies to dreams too. I wanted to have the perfect idea for a book, so I’d never started one. I had always pictured my solo sojourn in Paris as an adventure several months long, so I didn’t think I could do it and keep my job. Finally, I decided that writing for one real-life month in Paris was far better than a fantasy of doing it for a year. I was right.

Whether you’ve always dreamed of painting in Prague or photographing South America, here’s how to give up on the perfect dream and made a really good thing a reality:

1. Figure out your finances.

Maybe you’re a saver and you’ve got a chunk of change you’ve been waiting for a rainy day to use. If not, you’ll need to figure out how long it will take you to save enough for you to feel comfortable traveling for an extended period of time. Consider how much you want to spend on accommodations on your sabbatical and price out airbnbs, hostels and hotels in your destination. Consider subletting or Airbnbing your own place if your lease allows. If you’re a salary employee, look at how much PTO and remote work time you have available and how much time you’d need to request unpaid.

2. Make a realistic timeline.

Take into account when the busiest time of year is for your company and when people usually take their vacations. If your heart is set on a specific city like Paris, do some research into when the best months to visit are. Personally, I prefer to travel during the off-season because it’s cheaper and less crowded but if you’re going to a place where off-season means torrential downpours every day, then that may not be the best strategy.

3. Talk to your boss.

Present your boss with a plan proposing when and for how long you would like to take a sabbatical. Get personal with them about how important this is to you. Creatives have a soft spot for dreamers and no boss wants to permanently lose a valuable employee to a painting studio in Prague.

Make it clear that you’re going to come back. Be prepared that she or he might be resistant initially or require some compromise. Let them know your flexibility in terms of duration, timing and ability to work remotely and tell them they can take some time to think about it. I came to my boss asking for the month of September. We compromised on three weeks over the span of August and September.

I decided that writing for one real-life month in Paris was far better than a fantasy of doing it for a year. I was right.

4. Do some research.

Start reading books and watching movies about the city that you’re going to stay in. Dig deeper into your role models’ stories for inspiration. If you’re a writer, pick up a copy of “A Writer’s Paris” by Eric Maisel. It will help you with the planning and encourage you to get excited about chasing a dream that will feel scary and silly more than a few times before it’s through.

I also recommend downloading the Elizabeth Gilbert episode of the podcast On Being and the Cheryl Strayed episode of The Tim Ferriss Show. They will both help you remind you that creating is both magical and really hard work. For everyone.

5. Book the flight.

You’ve been looking at them for months anyway. Even if you haven’t done the research or found accommodations or learned the language, just book it — even if you’re not sure you’re the type of person who can go on a creative sabbatical alone. Once you book the flight, you are officially that person.

Have you ever taken a creative sabbatical? Where would you want to take one?

Images via Sam Lewis

Colleen is a bookstore junkie and Wes Anderson fan girl living in Los Angeles. She works as a Senior Account Executive at Soda Pop PR and is constantly planning her next trip. She is trying to coax more of her writing off the pages of her journal and out into the wild.

15 COMMENTS
  • Danielle November 20, 2017

    I’ve been with my company for 10 years and now have 21 days of vacation that I can use, my plan is to take my sabbatical in Italy next year or the year after. I don’t know Italian and have no place to stay yet or a ticket, but it will happen!

    • Colleen Dunn November 21, 2017

      You go girl! I studied abroad in Italy for four months without knowing any Italian. It’s doable! Especially in Florence.

  • Jen October 25, 2017

    I’m curious what kind of suggestions you’d have for when an employer says no? I’ve never had this happen, but I’m curious what you’d suggest for someone if that were to happen.

    I actually took a two month sabbatical from work a few years ago, and it was in my top five best decisions ever made. Getting away can really mean everything.

    • Colleen Dunn October 27, 2017

      My suggestion would be to take advantage of any vacation days (too many go unused each year!) and long holiday weekends.

  • Ellen P. October 25, 2017

    Thanks for this…. including the book and podcast references. Much appreciated! ?

  • Melanie October 23, 2017

    Thank you so much for this! I want to take a sabbatical, and specifically a retreat of some kind. Perhaps creative or maybe one in which we do some learning and self-reflecting. Do you have any suggestions?

    • Colleen Dunn October 24, 2017

      I suggest getting out of your daily routine and going somewhere that you find inspiring (Paris, the beach, etc.) alone. Even if it’s just for a weekend! I also find solo road trips to be a great opportunity for self-reflection. Good luck!

    • Leah October 28, 2017

      Hopefully Darling will offer their retreats and dinners again soon. I’ve been hoping for a Darling Dinner to pop up in Washington, DC and I’m definitely saving up for one of their retreats.

  • Shelby October 23, 2017

    This is so exciting! I’m currently planning a trip to Bali just so I can explore and write. Definitely needed the encouragement 🙂
    The Fernweh Wolf / Travel & Lifestyle Blog
    xx

    • Colleen Dunn October 23, 2017

      So happy it helped Shelby. Have such a wonderful time in Bali, it is at the top of my list to visit!

  • json converter October 23, 2017

    Great article! Useful advice!

  • Kathleen S October 22, 2017

    This article is a welcomed confirmation from universe for me. I arrived at this idea myself a few months ago. However, my sabbatical is taking no further than my living room. I plan to take a month to write and create. It still requires financial planning and talking with my boss. So, don’t wait to plan a destination based sabbatical – for me, it’s a shift in mental space and making time for what I love to do.

    • Colleen Dunn October 23, 2017

      Love this Kathleen! I completely agree about the shift of mental space. Good luck with your sabbatical, I am sure you are going to create beautiful things.

  • Awww man, how I’d love to do this. It really is impossible where I am right now though, it’s explicitly stated by my employer. Maybe one day…

    Charmaine Ng | Architecture & Lifestyle Blog
    http://charmainenyw.com

    • Colleen Dunn October 23, 2017

      Don’t give up on the dream! I love what Kathleen says above about the shift in mental space. Travel helps me personally so I’m planning to try and recreate my Paris experience on a micro scale by taking solo weekend trips to nearby cities specifically to create. No time off required. 🙂

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