Family Adventures
Connie  |  Sep 24, 2018

A post from John on Why he wanted to take the 1-Year Sabbatical from Work.  


In August 2016, I took a 1-year sabbatical from a Global Marketing role with Mondelez to go on a travel and learning adventure with my wife and our two young boys. We put our careers on pause, and we took Jack aged 9, and Vincent aged 6, out of school. We packed all our belongings into a 20m2 storage room, handed back the keys to our rented home, and purchased a round the world airline ticket. Since then, we travelled through Western Canada, California, Hawaii, New Zealand, Australia, Hong Kong, Vietnam and Cambodia. We recently returned to Switzerland, our home for the past 7 years.

In the spirit of sharing, I wanted to write one or two articles about the experience. As Simon (Sinek) says, “start with the why” so this first article explains why we decided to go on the road: Why did I pack in a very good job? Why would we forego an income for a year and cut into savings for something indulgent such as travel. Why would we interrupt our boys schooling, for a year of unstructured living in tents, campervans and AirBnBs. And, why would we press the reset button on a very stable life in Switzerland? Upon reflection, these were our reasons:

1. Time Together

Firstly, we wanted to carve out a substantial chunk of time, where we could free ourselves up and spend real time together as a family. A year where we could unfasten ourselves from the daily routine that is work, school and all the other commitments that fill each day, week in, week out. A year where we could invest and strengthen the bonds between our boys and us, and see what really makes them tick. A year of outdoor adventure, without alarm clocks, exploring some of the world`s most amazing places without the rushed feel of a 2 week vacation and peak season masses of crowds that go with it.

2. Wanderlust

My wife and I have always loved travel and believe that living in and exploring new cultures and lands broadens the mind and teaches you things that you cannot learn if you stay at home. We wanted a year of alternative education for our boys, exposing them to new cultures and places at a very informative age. To teach them new skills and habits that will help them throughout life.

3. Career Reflection Point

Another key why was my career stage. I have worked for 15 years in the FMCG industry. I`ve worked across many countries and had many different jobs in Marketing and R&D, but I was always with the same company – Mondelez (formerly Kraft Foods). I am very grateful for the opportunities I`ve had and the amazing teams I`ve worked with. I wouldn`t change a thing. However, at this mid-career milestone, I felt the timing was right to hit the pause button. To reflect if I want to continue on the same path for the next 15, or if I want to try something new while I`m still (relatively) young and have less to risk than later down the road.

4. Timing

Another “why” was a “why not”? When you are trying to plan an unpaid year off work and taking your kids out of school, the timing will never be right. There will always be a fear or concern that makes it easier to postpone. However, in our case, the timing was as good as it was ever going to get and we knew that it was now or never scenario. The age of our boys means that we are still hip to hang with, yet still of an age to remember most of the trip, and use lessons learned back in their real lives.

5. Financial Planning

A career break to travel for 1 year is a first world luxury. We know we are extremely fortunate. So many people can only dream of doing something like this because they work hard just to scrape by. We are very grateful that we were able to put enough aside over the past years. It also helped that we lived over the half of the year in either tents or campervans and the other half in cheap, cheerful or free (thank you friends) lodging that helped keep the costs down. The biggest cost of the travel is actually the opportunity cost of having no income for at least a year. The fact that I took an unpaid sabbatical from Mondelez added in a safety net and a probable job upon return. However, as it turned out, things changed while I was away. There was restructuring of my Global team in Zurich. My safety net morphed into a parachute when I was offered a redundancy package from the company. It’s not exactly a golden parachute, but it’s enough to provide an income buffer until I find my new gig. I`m happier to return to a completely fresh start, so overall, it worked out well for me.

6. Life is short

My last why is bit of a cliché, I know, but life is short. In the blink of an eye, we had been 7 years in Switzerland, and it seemed that our kids were growing up at a rapid pace. Perhaps this chapter of our life was too stable versus previous chapters and we felt like we needed a jolt from the status quo. Down the road, we didn`t want to have any regrets. Mark Twain eloquently sums up how we felt “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

So that was the why. Stay tuned for part two where I`ll share some small and some bigger things that I learned on this one year adventure with my family. Thanks for reading my first article.  If you liked it, please feel free to share or make a comment. If anyone is thinking of their own career break or family adventure, I`d be happy to help with advice.

Thank you – John Kelly

#sabbatical #careerbreak #worklifebalance #startwiththewhy

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