Sabbatical Adventures, Part 1.

This post is about the first half of my sabbatical – what I have done and what I have learnt or achieved.

Unashamedly I am going to admit to the first month being (I am on a three-month sabbatical from my role as CEO of the Encephalitis Society) somewhat hedonistic. Not having to be up in the small hours to travel, and even when I am in the offices I am usually there before most other members of the team.  It is not unusual for me to start work at home at 06.00 – I work best in the morning you see!  I usually have dogs in my life (although not at the moment) and so I finish earlier than most in order to catch the last rays of the day walking with them.  Then it’s not unusual for me to do a bit more I the evening.  So the novelty of not having to rise at a certain time was luxury.

I did what all the books on taking a break from work tell you to do and I went away immediately, on my own, landing in Gibraltar on the 1st August!  Big fan of monkeys and I had always wanted to visit Gibraltar since I was a teenager so it made sense to me.  If felt safe there too, being just a small island.  I met the monkeys, walked the botanic gardens, visited a small animal sanctuary and visited the Great Siege Tunnels.  I was also fortunate enough to be there when they had live gigs happening for free in the evenings at Casemates Square and so I enjoyed one of my favourite past times – listening to some good music.  In fact my favourite was a local band to Gibraltar called Jetstream.  They also play the UK and if you get a chance they are worth checking out.

When I came back a week later I did some of those things around the house that never get done – the boring, but oh so satisfying stuff, like sorting out cupboards, bundling stuff off to the charity shops and so on.  I also did a lot of cooking as I love to try out new recipes.  Through a friend of ours I also got to see the band Texas in concert which was a real throwback to my days in the 80’s, and I also volunteered for the latest innovation in my home town, the Marathon du Malton which was a foodie spin on completing a 10K!  I proceeded on to London and met up with a chum to go and see Hamilton.  I was very excited about having got tickets and although innovative and clever I am sorry to say I left a little disappointed.   For me it lacked some light and shade – the music continued throughout in the same vein and it turns out that rapping can inhibit clarity in speech so at times the story was hard to follow.  I would also have liked to have seen more fusion in the dance – bringing together the traditional musical with modern day dance fitting the theme of the show such as hip-hop.  There is one group I love who do this splendidly, in their case mixing folk and hip-hop – check out the Demon Barbers if you ever get a chance!

From London I headed down to Tylney Hall Hotel for a Spa Break which was really lovely – the grounds were spectacular and being on my own the staff made a fuss of me as it was my birthday.  In normal circumstances it might appear a random place to go and why would I want to be on my own on my birthday?  However there was a reason…I was attending a memorial on the Sunday of a young man aged 17 who had died of encephalitis – it was the 10-year anniversary and having supported his parents through undoubtedly the worst time of their life, I had promised to attend despite being officially on sabbatical from the day-job.  It was so lovely to see all his friends, all now grown and in their mid-to late 20’s still wanting to come back and honour his memory with his family – I was honoured and humbled to be there.

Returning home I got to grips with a lot of ‘life-admin’.  I reviewed and assessed our pension-planning.  I had a massive clear-out of old paperwork and files from the year-dot.  I submitted an application to the Guide Dogs for the Blind to re-home one or two of their dogs that don’t make the grade.  This follows the passing of my much moved chum

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#EarlTheDog

#EarlThe Dog who passed on 22nd June 2017 and for whom my heart still breaks.  I updated all those things that never get updated like LinkedIn, my research profile on ResearchGate, my CV (if my employers are reading this – its not because I’m leaving, its because I need up to date CVs for our research work!!), my twitter feed and of course, I set up this blog!  I pored a lot over whether to keep my Instagram – I barely used it and I admit to being tired of seeing various aspects of people’s bodies and apparently ‘oh-so-perfect’ lives being thrust in my face.  Lets face it we all know social media is a heavily edited version of reality, right?  In the end I decided I just use-it or lose-it.  So I have upped my game with it and am posting more than before because there were some people whose lives I genuinely did want to keep up-to-date with and moving away from Instagram would have meant that was not possible.

I submitted a synopsis to my publishers for a follow-up book to a book I wrote in 2016 called Life After Encephalitis and this is currently out for peer-review.  A further book they wanted me to write because apparently I am ‘uniquely placed to do so’ came back from peer-review with resounding reviews.  One reviewer even said they had read the synopsis and said to themselves – ‘damn, I wish I had thought of this’.  So since no-one else has thought of it and they have now formally commissioned me, we are keeping the subject matter under wraps – so watch this space!

During these first few weeks of the sabbatical I also spent some time thinking about who I am.  When you become an ‘expert’ in something – in my case, encephalitis – your own identity gets blurred and in some cases lost.  I had forgotten who Ava was and if I am honest I had fallen out of love with my personal self.  So I decided to reassess my values for this latter part of my life – what were the values that were going to be important to me going forward?  What follows are the top-six (in no particular order) by which I intend to assess my future plans and decisions:

  • Acceptance – to be open to, and accepting of myself, life, others, etc.
  • Adventure – to be adventurous; to actively seek, create, or explore novel or stimulating experiences.
  • Fitness – to maintain or improve my fitness; to look after my physical and mental health and wellbeing.
  • Self-development – to keep growing, advancing or improving in knowledge, skills, character, or life experience.
  • Kindness – to be kind, compassionate, considerate, nurturing, or caring, toward myself and others.
  • Mindfulness – to be conscious of, open to, and curious about my here and now experience.

I guess you will be able to judge for yourself how I am going with these as this blog develops and do please leave me any comments telling me about the values that are important to you, and why.  The good news is this sabbatical time has enabled me to reconnect a bit more with myself and to learn to love myself a little again – its a work in progress however I suspect!

Then I started a project that will undoubtedly be the biggest contributor to my health, well-being and work-life balance when I return to work…I began to disentangle my work world from my personal world.  This involved buying an iMac for home and beginning the epic task of transferring all my personal files (documents, videos, photos, music) off my laptop and various old laptop hard-drives to my home computer.  it might not sound a big deal but it is, and it is going to take longer than my sabbatical to sort however it will mean that when I return to work I can delete all my personal stuff and keep the laptop solely for work use.  Therefore I won’t need to open it on days off and be drawn back in to work things I didn’t get finished during the week.  I have also decided to no longer have my work email come in on my iPad when I return to work as this is something I often use in the evenings and when you see those little email notifications I become distracted and drawn back into my work world.  Of course, if one of those emails happens to be a curve ball (as is so often a case for a CEO) then a good mood can so quickly turn and as my poor, long-suffering husband could attest to, I can go from 0-60 on the Rant-richter scale very quickly, often ruining both our evenings! So I will have a computer and an iPad solely for personal use.  My phone, will, of course, continue to receive work emails, calls, social media, etc.

So where am I now – rapidly running out of sabbatical and wondering how on earth I am going to do everything else I had planned!  However in recognition of my new value of Acceptance I will try not to beat myself up and keep taking small steps towards all that I wanted to achieve, both during the sabbatical and when I return to work.

There will be a further blog about the second half of the sabbatical and no doubt other blogs in the interim.

Thanks for reading and do please leave any comments!

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