The door’s open, but the ride, it ain’t free.

When I committed to taking my sabbatical this year, one thing became clear: it was going to cost me.  There were the obvious financial costs of the things I wanted to do – a month in France may not be a round-the-world adventure, but it still wasn’t cheap.

Then there are the less tangible costs, like time away from my husband and missed events with family and friends.  (And I’m going to miss the New Kids on the Block when they come through Boston.  Horrors.)

As my pre-sabbatical days wind down (4 left!) I’m also thinking about the professional costs.  In some ways it’s hardest to quantify these, and that’s what makes them the most anxiety-producing.  I suspect that fear of losing professional ground is what prevents many people from considering a sabbatical or significant leave.  Hell, I think it prevents a lot of people from taking a vacation.  Our sense of value and self-worth is so closely tied to our work that we believe that our workplace cannot possibly function without us.  Without our constant presence and attention, everything will fall apart. And just think of the mess we’ll have to deal with when we get back from that hypothetical vacation.

But if we dig a little deeper, we will probably discover that the real fear is that without our constant presence and attention, things might actually be ok.  In fact, there’s a chance things could be better. Our proximity to our own work doesn’t allow us to see how we might be holding things (or other people) back.  It’s easy to do your work the way you’ve always done it, especially if you’ve been in a job for a long time.  But in doing so, you lose out on opportunities for growth and change.  And since my colleagues are taking on so much to allow me to have my sabbatical, don’t I owe them the chance to flex and to innovate and to find better ways to work?

Easy words to say.  The true test will be when I get back to work and instinctively try to undo or re-do things that weren’t done my way (just ask my husband after he attempts to fold the laundry…).  I hope that thinking about it now will help me be better prepared.  When I return to work, I want to hear about what my team has accomplished in my absence, and celebrate their achievements without feeling a need to unravel all the good things they’ve done.

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