My one-month sabbatical

May 18, 2023
My one-month sabbatical

Find Your Superpower newsletter 014

Read time: 6 minutes

Topics covered: Mental health, deep rest, sabbatical, entrepreneurship


Some of you may be aware that I was on sabbatical leave in the month of April.

After five years of entrepreneurship and running a high-contact-sport media business through a pandemic, here’s what I did NOT do for an entire month:

  • no HR meetings
  • no Zoom client calls
  • no face-to-face meetings
  • nearly zero email correspondence

Instead, I traveled with my family to Malaysia and solo to South Korea, and participated in a wide variety of social activities and sports that I would have typically declined due to work and family commitments.

This was probably the best decision I could have made for myself in 2023. While this plan sounds clean and simple as I describe it above, it was much harder to achieve in reality. It took me at least six months to plan, and today I would like to share with you how I did it.


T-6 months: the mindset

Around six months prior, I realized that aside from annual December holidays – my company closes for ~1.5 weeks around Christmas – I had not taken an extended break since the beginning of the pandemic.

And how could I? I started the pandemic with around 6-8 pax and I had tripled my team size, sales contract size and client portfolio over the next three years.

In October last year, 25 of us flew to Langkawi, Malaysia for our annual 3D2N company annual retreat, and looking at all these new faces, I thought to myself how many more colleagues I had compared to the pre-pandemic era.

To switch off for an entire month was not a tenable proposition, simply because the volume and complexity of my company’s workflow had increased exponentially. We were onboarding new clients regularly and they needed my careful attention.

But now that the idea was incepted in my head, it took root and refused to go away. I asked myself, what would I do? Backpack around the world? Go for a meditation retreat?

To explain this further, without the correct mindset, it is hard to get the best out of any sabbatical. I’m not against taking an entire month off to just eat, drink and make merry (in fact, that’s exactly what I did), but if I was going to inconvenience my entire company, it was important that I establish a bigger picture of what I was trying to achieve here.

To be fair to everyone, it was only responsible of me to make the best out of this month. After some intensive journaling and self-awareness, here is what I came up with:

  • I needed time off to review and savor the growth my company had experienced over the past three years
  • I needed time off to think about where I wanted to take the company
  • I needed time off to reconnect with myself spiritually, to see if what I have built is still relevant to my life goals

Now that I had framed those questions with greater clarity, I knew that a month off would give me ample time to answer them.


T-3 months: the logistics and operations

Around January, I floated the idea to some of my team leaders: there are six team leaders in my company, and they are all amazing individuals with a heart of gold and a fierce determination.

I decided to practice radical candor, in that I would explain the full reasoning behind this sabbatical. Without mollycoddling them, I told them point blank: I am feeling very tired right now. I need a break. 

I wasn’t sure what to expect, but they were 100% supportive of my plans. The more we spoke, the more I felt reassured. Their emotional support gave me wings to fly. I launched into full planning mode, as I am oft known to do:

  • I reviewed all of our SOPs to make sure all teams were well organized
  • I ran team leader meetings to ensure that the team leaders were well aligned in any contingency
  • I overcommunicated my plans to the entire company so that when I was away they would feel safe and secure

On hindsight, all of this was only possible because I had six strong team leaders, a 100% remote work setup, a complete suite of SaaS tech tools in place for asynchronous communication, and a well-oiled team that pulses on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis together.

Also key to this was my explicit endorsement of my team leaders’ decision-making in my absence to do “what is right” as opposed to “what Juliana would do”. As the saying goes, don’t wait for permission, ask for forgiveness later.


T-0 months: the execution

And off to the races I went. During the month of April, I traveled, I met old friends and classmates I had not seen in decades (?!) and I focused on my physical and mental health. I even became a radio host for a day - I joined my friend Glenn van Zutphen on radio for 2h on April Fool’s Day.

During that month, I felt joy – joy not because I was on leave, as the absence of work in itself doesn’t spark joy. I felt joy because I knew that I had built something that was self-sustaining and purring away. I felt like a proud mama watching her child grow up.

And the month proved extremely fruitful for my company too:

  • Some colleagues took the opportunity to take their own extended breaks
  • We won a big tender which is a massive gamechanger for the company
  • My team leaders are now more confident about making major decisions by themselves


T+1 month: the verdict

It is incredible how far I have come in my entrepreneurship journey, from the DIY days of doing everything myself to spending a month out of the business altogether. Seeing the success of my month-long experiment, I have decided to turn this into an annual event.

For those of you thinking of doing the same but aren’t able to take an entire month off, I believe that around 10-14 days of deep rest will allow you to achieve a similar effect as mine.

Frankly speaking, entrepreneurship is a very complex and personal journey. It can get pretty lonely, and I discussed this recently with fellow entrepreneur Marc Nicholson in a podcast episode, “The Honest Truths about Entrepreneurship”.

Taking some time off is not a luxury. It is not a want, but a need. It is a business strategy and a way of achieving long-term sustainability.

As my mom likes to say, 以退为进. Sometimes, taking a step back is the best way to move forward.

Thanks for reading issue 014 of my weekly Find Your Superpower newsletter.

See you next week.


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