David is a Management Consultant at Accenture. He is the founder of Aquaite, a natural lifestyle brand that takes inspiration from life on the water. He is also part of the construction team on the most sustainable private island development in the Caribbean. Here, he talks about his decision to take a sabbatical, how it enabled him to set up a new business, and land a placement in his dream job.
“Taking a sabbatical is a big step.”
“Why would you take a sabbatical now – you’ve only just started work! If you stay for 2 more years, you will be promoted again”
“A year long holiday – that will look great on your CV…”
“Do it – it will be the best decision you’ll ever make”
I only listened to one of these bits of advice before heading off on a sabbatical at the beginning of this year. Luckily, that’s the one that has proven to be true. I decided to write this blog post to try and encourage more people to take a ‘risk’ – especially if your company offers a sabbatical as an option.
To give you a bit of background, I grew up on the water. I used to compete on the UK and European windsurfing tour, and my older brother, Robby, is a world-champion, professional windsurfer. I spent months of the year in the sea, on lakes, and travelling around the world competing in a sport that I loved. So a life as a Management Consultant travelling to the least glamorous parts of the country were a bit of a shock. I worked hard at Accenture, getting promoted into a very small and very competitive part of the company that I really enjoyed. Getting promoted in the top group at Accenture meant that I qualified to take a ‘Leave of Absence’ – or sabbatical – from the company for up to a year.
I have always wanted to try something entrepreneurial to test some of these skills I was learning at my job. I think most people will also agree that they sometimes wonder what it would be like to try a different career whilst still young. So, this seemed like a great opportunity. I decided to take a sabbatical from Accenture, unpaid, for a year. My plan? 1) Do something entrepreneurial, 2) Get experience in something I love 3) Hope for the best.
Here’s how it went:
1) Do Something Entrepreneurial – Aquaite | A Natural Lifestyle
As I said in my introduction, my passion in life is Watersports. While at work, I would always talk to my colleagues about my weekend adventures to the coast to surf, SUP or windsurf, and I used to get the same responses: “I didn’t know you could do that in England”, “How do you learn?”, “What made you get into those sports?”. Every time I told people how easy it was to actually get out of the city and spend weekends by the water, it felt great to know they were inspired to give it a go. This led me to start a blog to share inspirational stories, pictures and videos that shared this sense of adventure, freedom, and fun.
This blog was the foundation of Aquaite (pronounced ack.wait – www.aquaite.com) – a brand that makes luxury products from natural and sustainable materials, and stands to inspire people to live a natural lifestyle. We currently make iPhone and iPad cases from natural walnut and bamboo. These solid wood cases are very much a statement against the plastic, leather or rubber you typically see the status quo using. We have had so many great comments from people who love the natural aspects of these covers – people who all share the same passion for the natural environment and the sports and activities associated with it.
Within the year, we launched the brand, sold out of our initial orders, designed a new case for the iPhone 5, and shipped to 4 countries around the world. We were approached by a very like-minded import partner in Europe who distributes the brand in Austria, Switzerland and Germany, and are now looking to start a small range of clothing from organic cotton or bamboo fibre. Check out our Facebook page (www.facebook.com/TheNaturalLifestyle, or on our mailing list on www.aquaite.com to follow our progress). If you have any ideas or inspiration to share, it would be great to hear from you – I have met some truly inspirational people that way – so don’t be shy!
It is still early days, but I hope to continue the sales and growth from wherever I am in the world.
Which brings me to…
2) Get experience in something I love – Building one of the world’s most sustainable private islands
My second passion in life is architecture and design. The biggest reason for taking the sabbatical was to try and experience a career in this field. So, far before taking my year off I must have sent a thousand emails to prospective companies looking for work in this area. This opened a number of doors, and I ended up meeting and being interviewed by some truly inspirational people. However, on the back of a recession based on the housing market crash, it soon became clear that the UK wasn’t going to be an option. At this point, I can’t stress enough that you go through some serious highs and lows when you are trying to work in a completely new field – especially when you want it so badly! While you might take a battering by being told ‘no’, the golden rule (cliché I know) is never give up.
It wasn’t until I was a month into my sabbatical (quickly running out of money) that I went for an interview for a once in a lifetime opportunity – to work on the development of the most sustainable private island in the Caribbean. Unfortunately, I can’t say for which company or where because of confidentiality clauses, but you can imagine what an exciting and inspirational project it is.
I still smile when I think that had I not have taken my sabbatical, this opportunity would have never opened up to me –it was a risk that has really paid off.
3) Hope for the best
There’s nothing much more to it. Once you decide to take time off, it’s up to you – and luck – to make the most of your time off.
I can only hope that even a small part of the excitement and adventure that I have experienced during this year will come across in this post. Go for it. And please, get in touch with me via the contact form on Aquaite.com if you want to hear any more.
If you got bored of me blabbing on, here is a brief summary of a sabbatical based on my experience…
Points to think about before you take a sabbatical:
1) Save, save, save. None of this has been possible without cutting back on going out and sidelining as high a % of your salary as possible to savings before your pay hits your bank account
2) Have a plan, but don’t let the ‘un-known’ scare you. I had no guarantee that I would land a job – I just spent months and months trying to meet as many people as possible who may be able to help. In the end it was putting myself out there that helped.
3) Don’t be proud. To work in a new area, you are going to have to start at the very bottom. It’s never nice to feel you are taking a step backwards, but if it will help you towards something you want, bite your tongue and work twice as hard!
Why stay at your current job:
1) Money. Simple as that. Don’t feel bad about it – you need money to get going, and no one else is going to give it to you
2) Skills. Accenture was, and is, a fantastic place to start as a graduate. I would recommend it to anybody. It is so easy to forget that when you are working very hard for a big company, but when you work for somewhere smaller, these skills will really show.
3) People. The people you meet with the great variety of skills and contacts will open up a world of (otherwise very expensive) advice to help you
Why take a risk:
1) You never know what’s going to happen. And that’s exciting. The people you meet, the experiences you have. It is only a year of your life, and something to do when you have as few responsibilities as possible.
2) You learn. Not skills, not MBAs, but real life. Knowing that your salary will stop is a big motivator to make things work. The thrill of throwing two month’s budget at a new idea, knowing that if it doesn’t work out, you will have to go back to work 8 months earlier than planned certainly makes you think!
3) Life is too short not to. I hate to get a bit dark, but I had the very sad experience of losing a number of friends before they had even reached their twenties. This has made me determined never to waste a day. Nat, Jack, Andy, Tosto, John – this year is dedicated to you.
Inspirational books I recommend to fire you up:
1) A Book About Innocent, and some things we learned along the way – Innocent
2) Making Ideas Happen – Scott Belsky
3) Richard Branson’s Autobiographies and business books – All of them
And please get in touch via firstname.lastname@example.org if you want any more. Good luck!