Matthew Trinetti works as a consultant for IBM. In May 2012, he negotiated a seven month sabbatical to live and travel around Europe on his own terms. Here he suggests keeping the door open with you current employer and negotiating a temporary escape. Follow the tales of his journey at GiveLiveExplore.com.
Most of the stories we hear from escapees begin with “So I quit my job and…” We tend to associate an escape with the dramatic quitting of a job.
If you have Office Space-like fantasies about kicking down your cubicle walls, smashing your printer with a baseball bat, and nonchalantly declaring to your manager you’re no longer coming into the office, then you probably should quit. But please have a coworker film it.
But is this the only way?
I’m proof that there’s an alternative, and it comes in the form of a temporary escape known as a sabbatical or leave of absence.
Like many Escapees, I had dreams of traveling around the world. But as my career as an IBM consultant grew, the timing never seemed perfect. Four years later, I was still working and still dreaming. And then on January 17, 2012 everything changed. While sitting in an uninspiring client meeting, I received a call that my friend Shannon died unexpectedly in a car accident while driving home from work the night before.
As I mourned and celebrated her life, I reflected upon my own mortality, my potential regrets, and unrealized dreams. Suddenly, that dream of world travel seemed a lot more urgent. The next week, I booked a oneway ticket to Iceland, departing in 6 months.
I had every intention to quit my job. But one day a foreign and less dramatic thought entered my head: What if I just asked for time off?
Less sexy than quitting? Absolutely. A smarter alternative? Perhaps.
If you haven’t explored the idea of a temporary escape, I’d encourage you to consider it. Here’s the framework I used to negotiate my sabbatical:
1. Do great work.
This is a prerequisite before even thinking about asking for a sabbatical. You must be an asset to your employer. If you’re not doing great work, asking for time off may give your employer an excuse to let you go. Document your accomplishments and keep them handy.
2. Commit yourself.
You must mentally commit yourself to realizing your dream, whatever it may be. For my dream of slow-traveling through Europe, I decided to book a plane ticket months before I asked for a sabbatical. This made the trip real and less dream-like. Your risk tolerance may vary, but I highly suggest making your dream escape tangible in some way. It will boost your confidence when you start the conversation.
Part of committing yourself is addressing fears. If you’re already prepared to quit like I was, you’re in a much better mental state — you have nothing to lose! If not, ask yourself the question: what’s the worst that could happen? If you’re an asset to you’re employer, the worst is probably not as bad as you think.
3. Realize it’s not about you.
While your dreams and ambitions are very personal, the secret to negotiating a sabbatical is realizing it’s not about you. It’s about your company, your manager, and your team. Put yourself in the decision-maker’s shoes. Why should they honor your sabbatical request?
I spotted a window of opportunity as my current project was ending and my next project was unknown. In fact, future projects for our entire practice were unknown. The timing was perfect to make a business case for my sabbatical. I volunteered to take an unpaid leave and remove myself from overhead cost, thereby helping my manager, practice, and company maintain profitability. Although the timing may never be ideal, the key is thinking outside yourself.
4. Appeal to emotions.
If you’re worried your manager will look at you as if you grew three heads upon hearing your dreams to travel the world, remember one thing: behind every manager is a living, breathing, human being. Maybe even one with dreams and aspirations of their own. After giving the business case of my sabbatical, I concluded: “This sabbatical will give me an opportunity to do something I’ve always wanted to do — to realize my dream of traveling and living in Europe.”
After my sabbatical was approved, my manager admitted he was inspired, and even jealous. He dreamt of taking a trip like this when he was younger. He wished me well. It gave him satisfaction to know he was enabling dreams. Don’t underestimate the power of appealing to people’s emotions. Share your dreams and support may come from the most unlikely place.
You should NEVER feel guilty about wanting to live your life how you see fit. The days of indentured servitude have long passed. Smart employers know that happy employees make good employees. If you work for someone who believes otherwise, maybe those cubicle walls would look better on the ground.