The After Effects of a Creative Sabbatical, 1 Year Beyond

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In February and March 2020, I took a creative sabbatical for two months. It was a crossroad of circumstances as my husband had a work opportunity in Australia, and my work surprisingly accepted. I could already realise the benefits during the trip, but it was also one year later that I could see the path taken developed into something much more.

What we’ll cover:

A creative sabbatical is indeed a luxury. It means taking time off of work, finding the funds to do so and sometimes convincing others that it’s a logical idea. To be honest, without the opportunity presented, I probably would not have taken a creative sabbatical. Committing to two months off is usually not the first solution for issues within work or life.

My two months in Sydney gave me new-found confidence. Changing both environments and habits showed a different side of myself that would be otherwise hard to find in my day-to-day life. This was both in my career direction, how I interacted with others and expanding into a new field. When you are on the treadmill that is life, you can adjust the speed but it’s hard to see if you should be on a treadmill in the first place.

Redirected my career, find my community

Experience, whether digital, physical or brand is a growing field. Each year it’s changing and finding new solutions to both business/brand and audience complexities. When working agency-side as a strategist, I didn’t know what part of the experience industry I was in. It caused a bit of an identity crisis. Was I in branding? Is this a type of service design? Could you consider it user experience? Not knowing your field makes the job and community search more challenging.

While on sabbatical in Sydney, I could join all these communities to figure out which one was my fit. I went to meetups in design thinking, branding, UX, content design, customer experience and even data science. Quickly, I learned that data science was not the place for me, yet there was something in UX, branding and customer experience. When working, taking the time to join all of these meetings would have been difficult. On sabbatical, it could become a focus.

By figuring out my place in the experience spectrum, I could move forward. Since that trip, I did a certification in customer experience, started a course in UX/UI and changed jobs. It was easy to figure out what type of training was necessary to build off of my current work with a longer time to reflect. This also helped when writing the content for my new website.

Improved UX/UI understanding through coding

I designed and coded my first website in 2008, and on this trip I decided to do it once again. Since then the internet and developing norms changed, especially with websites becoming more user friendly and responsive to different devices. Though I understood HTML and CSS, it required learning and relearning. Some of you developers could build my website in a couple of days, tops. However, every feature, page or component took hours on my side to research, build and rebuild.

There is a debate amongst UX/UI designers around the value of learning how to code. In my case, it made me more confident while taking an intensive UX/UI course starting in October 2020. Through extensive research developing my own website, I already learned some of the common best practices within UX/UI. This included the value of creating reusable components or modular elements within a design, as well as how to speak with developers more effectively. Ultimately, this side project gave me more confidence when going into a new field.

Myself off of burnout

Looking back on my agency experience, I realised I was burnt out a number of times. This affected how I spoke with others and socialised after work, and was hard to understand as it was happening. I thought my burnt out state was my normal state. While in Sydney, I could see another side of myself - one that was not tired or exhausted. It gave me more assurance that I was indeed a social person.

Many of my past colleagues would describe me as a nice person, but also one who is excessively focused. Often I would put work before socialising. This behavior is a bit of a self-fulling prophecy and makes you question your ability to build meaningful relationships with others. While in Sydney, I was doing my own projects, but at a very different pace. This meant I had energy to socialise and go to meetups. Another side of myself started to show through, one who was easy-going, less anxious and more spontaneous.

With this knowledge I could make changes to my life, knowing how much my personality changed according to my work stress. My goal going into my new job was keeping tabs on my stress level to ensure I could develop enjoyable working relationships with others. This was an unexpected learning from my sabbatical and I felt like a new person.

There is so much we can learn while working. But there is also a ton we can learn while not working. Two months might not be realistic, but perhaps one month or even two weeks is more durable. Whichever it is, taking time to change your focus, find a side project and reconsider your habits can reveal a different you. Luckily, one year later I am still living with this new me.

Let’s summarise

  • A creative sabbatical is indeed a luxury, and can be tough to do
  • Changing both environments and habits showed a different side of myself
  • I could fine-tune my career by joining different communities
  • Taking the time to design and code my website brought confidence
  • Even a small sabbatical can help to reveal a different you