So it has taken a while to get round to writing this update on my sabbatical. Where does the time go?
As Sabbatical, part 1 [see previous blog] came to a close I was running out of time and had also begun the massive challenge of disentangling my work and personal life – as I write this remains a work in progress. A lot of it done but much more work involved than initially thought and so the plan is to complete this over Easter when I have booked two weeks off. Nevertheless it was probably one of the singly most useful things I did whilst off that will contribute to my health and wellbeing in the long run.
It turned out that a lot of the latter part of my sabbatical has the themes of ‘awards’ running through it!
I was delighted to be invited to be a judge for some local awards that recognise good work in our local community – everything from new business to volunteers. So one evening in early September was dedicated to going through tons of entries and on the evening of the 6th October we celebrated all the winners and runners-up at a glittery black-tie dinner courtesy of one of my favourite local haunts, The Talbot Hotel, Malton.
Remaining on the theme of awards I also attended a further black-tie dinner and ceremony in London during September where I was up for ‘Charity Chief Executive’ in relation to my day-job and my good friend Rebecca Adlington, the quadruple medal Olympic swimmer and all time legend was also up for Celebrity Charity Champion (also in relation to my day job and the Encephalitis Society). The team at work very kindly let me out of sabbatical for the glitzy night in London. Neither of us won but it was great to be a finalist and I was the only woman in my category, and even managed to get myself ‘hot date’ for the evening – not bad for a middle-aged misanthrope – and thank you Freddy for stepping up!
Watching from afar I was also thrilled to see my Encephalitis Society team smash two industry awards for our digital work, bringing home trophies from the Charity Times awards for Fundraising Technology, and from the Digital Impact Awards for Best Use of Digital by a charity.
During this sabbatical I had invested heavily in my health and fitness. At the time of writing I have now been doing Pilates for 18 months and been back on a cross training regime for a year. I have lost 22lbs and am probably in better physical health than I have been since my 20s or 30s.
Then as you know I departed for Sri Lanka and there is a previous blog on this to read if you are interested in my merry jaunts around that beautiful country.
As those of you who know me or who have read other parts of this blog know, I lost my beautiful “Earl The Dog” in June 2017, and I still pine for him every day. Whilst in Sri Lanka we spotted a dog online that we liked the look of and upon arriving back in the UK we drove the two hours to where he was for a “meet and greet”! There would be a lot of work with him but he had a loving nature and although he suffered epilepsy we felt we could take him on and we collected him the following week having been fast-tracked through selection. The latter should have sounded my alarm bells and what followed was two weeks of absolute hell. I am only now able to write about it and plan my next blog to be about my experience of re-homing this poor chap and the cautionary tale of working with a rehoming centre who cared little beyond getting the dogs into a home – any home. As I say a tale for another time so please watch out for next blog post.
After the return from Sri Lanka it was really only one week until I returned to work. At this point I think it prudent to capture some of the vocational learnings I had as part of this sabbatical. Of course my primary aims were to rest, reinvigorate and re-motivate myself. I also wanted to get back on top of my health and wellbeing. At varying levels I achieved all these.
It was extremely useful to watch the charity from afar. Areas that needed work were much easier to identify when not in the thick of the day-to-day work – and there were two glaring realities that I knew would need focus when I returned. I also returned to work with renewed confidence. It was clear that before I departed I would sometimes avoid those difficult conversations because I was simply tired and couldn’t face them – understandable but not really what a chief executive should be doing.
Just before I finished my sabbatical I began some work on emotional resilience at various levels – this is a work in progress and one I hope to commit more time to this year – this will hold a busy chief exec in good stead going forward.
Perhaps one of the biggest surprises was the sabbatical enabled me to realise I was not as emotionally attached to the charity as I thought I was, nor as other people thought I was – this was a bit chicken and egg on reflection as I can’t work out whether I ever really was emotionally attached or whether I adopted behaviours because other people thought I was. This is not to say I am not highly motivated and passionate about what I do, I am, but I am not unhealthily caught up in it and this was both a surprise and a relief.
So sabbaticals are a funny thing – they need heaps of planning, and heaps of communication. For anyone thinking about taking one then some of these pointers might help:
- Communicate, communicate, communicate with your team before you go and make sure everyone puts their expectations on the table and that you talk them through thoroughly and agree middle-ground where necessary.
- Having said that have your sabbatical is your sabbatical and do not take a sabbatical that is not your vision – it won’t work out if you take it to meet other people’s expectations of what your sabbatical should be.
- Plan your return and what that looks like before you go!
- Get a balance between personal and professional development.
- Decide what your priorities and goals are whilst off and stick to them.
So there we have it – a renewed CEO post-sabbatical. How do I know it worked for me? In short, I am fitter, emotionally more well and robust, I am physically less tired at times when I would previously have been on my knees, I am more confident and I am very grateful to my team and my Board for allowing me this incredible opportunity. I just don’t think people can work all their lives without having more than two weeks off at a time – if you look at it like that then it just makes sense, right?
I might still have more issues than Vogue, but I don’t care!