The Life Sabbatical

By Minji

"I read books on it, couldn’t stop talking about it…and finally, after yet another extremely frustrating day at work and seeing my sister thoroughly enjoying her sabbatical as a full-time professor, on one beautiful Autumn Friday afternoon, I pulled the plug and found myself with nothing to do."

Almost two years ago now, so even a year before starting SeoulofSkin, I embarked on my so-called “Life Sabbatical.” I quit my day job for the first time with no plans to start another – actually, more accurately, no plans whatsoever except to give myself at least a year of full rest and relaxation.

I had been fantasizing about doing this for a long time prior.  I found myself exhausted, irritated and burnt out and drawn to this concept of an extended mid-life pause.

I read books and articles on it (some of which claimed that six months of rest could rejuvenate your life for the next decade!), couldn’t stop talking about it with friends…and finally, after yet another extremely frustrating day at work and also seeing my younger sister thoroughly enjoying her sabbatical (as a full-time professor, she actually got hers from work!), on one beautiful Autumn Friday afternoon in sunny LA, I pulled the plug and found myself with nothing to do.

If felt great…scary…then exciting…depressing...and eventually hopeful.  I went through the full range of emotional ups and downs one might expect a workaholic, type-A, 42-year-old who had known nothing but career for 20+ years might be expected to have without her precious work to obsess about. 

In retrospect, one of the smartest things I committed to doing during this time was keeping a journal.  Regardless of whether I was having a horrible day or a particularly pleasant one, I knew this time would provide me with valuable life lessons to remember.  Below are some excerpts from this journal (which, of course, I dedicated to Moo):

Day 13 (of Sabbatical)
Dear Moo,
“…generally I feel good.  To be clear, I feel “good” – good with a lowercase “g,” not amazing, but not bad either and definitely on the good side.  Went to get a pair of pants altered today and noticed that my stomach has already gotten smaller – and I haven’t even been trying to lose weight.  If anything, I’ve now had more time to be pickier with what I eat…so am only eating stuff that’s delicious, and not just because I need to stuff my face.  I used to snack so much at work – I was always hungry and exhausted…and I rarely snack these days and almost never feel tired.”
Day 23
Dear Moo,
…my key insight today is “authenticity.” If I make choices that help live into my values and bring out my most authentic self, then I’m making the right choices – there is nothing to fix, judge or compare.  I’m always wondering if I’m making the right choice, the smart choice, a choice I won’t regret…this time has been an opportunity to realize that those worries shouldn’t be the focus.  Instead I should ask, “is this helping to bring about my most authentic self” …and you know what, without question, this time of pause is helping with this.  Smart is good, but not everything …. I owe it to myself to nurture the other parts of me.
Day 29
Dear Moo,
…I just realized – one of my frustrations is that I feel like I’m giving up, and not embracing the beast in me, if that makes sense.  I am fierce and capable and I want to feel like I’m utilizing the strengths that I have… with the recent focus on life-balance…I hate to say it, but I sometimes feel like a declawed cat.
Day 42
Oh Moo,
It’s raining and so gloomy today…being alone at home on a day like this is good and bad.  Good because it would be dreadful to have to leave the house and drive in this rain.  Bad because it puts me in a weird sort of mood…a bit sad and depressed. Thank god I have you – sorry, that I said I was alone! 
Okay, just realized I have a glass of the good chardonnay left over – perfect time to drink it! There is true beauty in being able to have a drink before 10am in bed :p.  It’s not always the best idea, but on a day like this, it can even be magical...
Day 140 (last entry)
Dear Moo,
Wow, it’s been a long time since I’ve written to you.  I totally zoned out in Seoul and didn’t really have much to write about.  Even back home, it’s been pretty stable. I’m realizing I definitely know what I want now and I’m also in a happy comfortable place.  Of course, life is never a straight-line progression so I’m confident one day I’ll be thrown into mental chaos again, but today feels solid.
I love my freedom and am increasingly appreciating the simplicity of life.  I’m also realizing that I need to genuinely appreciate who I am, without getting caught up in ego, before I can ask anyone to do that as well.  Whatever I do next, will be because I love it, not because I like it, or it sounds reasonable.  I’m in a place where I’m ready to bet on myself and take control of my own destiny.  No rush, one step at a time.  I feel like great things are right around the corner…!

A few months of this last entry, I put together a concrete plan for SeoulofSkin with a few amazing friends who share my vision and skincare values, and haven’t looked back.  Regardless of whether we succeed or fail based on outside standards, I already know that my life sabbatical was worth the time as it’s put me on a trajectory of living into my values and dedicating my time to something I authentically feel passionate about – skincare and overall health.

I still have my bad days and ups and downs but I no longer feel constantly exhausted, irritated and burnt out.  The dizzy spells I used to have once in a while are gone and my compulsive snacking is a thing of the past.

I’m cognizant that not everyone is in a position where they can take a full year of rest, but to the extent you can take even a month or so and have been dreaming about a pause but feel too scared to take the plunge, hopefully my story inspires you to start the journey. You deserve it!