Discover more from The Time Is Now
Taking Time to find My Life’s Work
Five Quiet Years
I am 32 years old.
Ten years ago, at 22, I started my first job at Twitch.
I quit it after five years, and began a sabbatical.
I’ve been on this sabbatical for five years.
And now I’m here.
You can subscribe so my writing lands in your inbox!
It’s a strange CV, I have to say. I also enjoy it very much. I suppose it makes me an expert at video games, livestreaming, making friends and community governance (what I did at Twitch), and also resting, noodling, doing nothing, introspection, creativity, philosophizing and doing more of nothing (what I did on my sabbatical).
At this point in time, my sabbatical is coming to an end, both fiscally and spiritually. I’ve departed into my twenties with my career in tech & video games, and I’ve finished them as a young man of leisure and spirit. From the lonely mountain of contemplation I return to the city, for my supplies are low, I yearn for the company of people and I want to share what I’ve learned — preferably in exchange for some eggs and fresh bread.
So what better thing to do than to offer the secret knowledge of non-working to my fellow humans in the wealthy west? Together with Tim I’m currently in the process of founding a contemplative cultural consultancy named “Das Sabbatical”, with which we will advise companies on how to integrate sabbaticals into their career programs.
And in this context I would like to offer up some reasons for why I think sabbaticals are important, and how a sabbatical might go.
Time isn’t Money, but Money is Time
I started my sabbatical after realizing that my job wasn’t giving me much life force (other than extra money) anymore, and that I had enough money to live for a considerable time.
I was always enamored with the meme / question of “if you had all the money in the world, what would you do?”. In 2016 I felt like I had all the money in the world, or at least money for two years. Combined with the little freelance work I’ve done during my sabbatical, it now ended up being enough for five years.
The first step I had to take was to work through my conditioning and limiting beliefs. I had clear blockers holding me in place, telling me that it’s wasteful to part with such a high-paying, luxurious job that I wished for so much as an adolescent. Also wondering if it was ok to not work caused me to ruminate deeply.
It took me about two years of continuing work while intensely contemplating, to finally begin making conscious choices towards quitting my job. I even gave it a shot to move cities (from London to Berlin) to see if I’d feel better doing the same work from a city that I actually wanted to be in.
But no, I was full and my relationship with this work had run its course. My soul was knocking on my door relentlessly, and it wanted something, and I didn’t know what, so I needed to listen, and for that I needed space and time and quiescence.
I want to acknowledge that the beginning and the end of my sabbatical are significantly powered by money. Stepping away from work was possible because I had luckily received, diligently worked and prudently saved more money than I knew what to do with. Knowing “how to money” is a separate topic about which smarter people than me have written and spoken extensively.
The piece of wisdom I can offer is: Use your money to buy yourself time. The saying goes “time is money”, but it’s a bit dusty. Get with the times and realize that Money Is Time and you will understand why your own time is the best stock you can invest in.
The Joys and Pains of Solitude
I was excited and I knew I was doing the right thing, but I was also departing into a deep unknown. I felt like it was totally countercultural. Nobody was even writing about this, it felt like. Maybe I was just too much on my own path and I wasn’t looking for anything or anyone to connect with either, that happens to me. But still, I felt very much like a renegade. In a new city, without a job, without many connections, and also not with many intentions to make these connections. I was socially exhausted and really wanted to be by myself.
Honestly, it wasn’t some sort of magic pill, in which I rid myself of my job and I was suddenly Free, prancing joyfully across meadows (I did that later). No, I was actually quite unhappy, confronted with an empty, lifeless apartment, no clue how to make a nice home, and again, few open doors to go to, in a big, beautiful, sometimes harsh Berlin.
And I wasn’t really looking for some random connection here or open door there to feel a bit better, even though I might have been a bit harsh on myself, and could’ve allowed myself that. But at the time, this is 2019, the big word in my head was PURPOSE, and I was looking for it. And I knew I had to look and look earnestly. I heard the call. At the same time, over the years until now, 2023, I learned to be very very very patient. Because I wasn’t just looking for my keys that I had absentmindedly put into an inopportune place — I was looking for new paradigms, and a new way of living: My Life’s Work.
The stance I took here is a meditative one: By letting usual thoughts (opportunities) pass you by, you’re making space and filtering for higher quality thoughts (offers) that you cannot refuse.
Thank you for reading : )
At this point you might say, “Whoa there Tiger, I’m just looking for a little sabbatical, three months or so, to have some proper R&R before I get back to work. No need for this existentialism.” I understand and I’ll get to that — also, I recommend a little bit of existentialism to go along with a sabbatical, because you have a real chance at leveling up, in a sense. Anyway, you can have it however you want, I wanted to dive as deep as possible, so that’s what I did, and that’s what I will do in this piece.
What a sabbatical really, truly offers, is an opportunity to transform. Your job and your position there have a firm grip on your identity. It relies on you considering yourself a “business development manager” or a “CEO”. These are mostly made-up identities that have very little to do with who you are, as a being. If you’re lucky, your work identity matches you very well. If you’re not so lucky, it has a chokehold on you that hurts you significantly, and leaves you no wiggle room.
However, I don’t want to overlook that for many people, work identity is their primary identity. The usual bio is “Founder/CEO, Husband, Dad”, in varying orders. So, understandably, the freedom from job and title throws you into deep uncertainty, and as all freedoms go, is equally freeing as it is challenging.
Who are you? — Simon. — And what do you do? — Oh, this and that, here and there, not much of anything.
A conversation I had a few times too many. At the beginning it feels fun and cheeky, later I started feeling a bit uncomfortable with it, and then I started feeling uncomfortable for my vis-a-vis, because not offering people your business information, especially in a business context, leaves them completely stranded.
Identity is a fickle thing — it is one of the core conversations we have as humans. Identity conversations dominate online space. Most people are consciously or subconsciously trying to build, dismantle, change or preserve their identity and that of others. Identity is money, identity is power. Wars are being fought over identity. Yet, you can’t touch it, and all it takes is stripping a few layers off — for example layers of clothes, let’s say of an emperor — or layers of reality, let’s say with a consciousness enhancing substance — and you will see whatever identity you’re attached to, run through your grasping hand like the fine stones we call sand.
So, the sabbatical offers one of two things, identity wise, depending on how deep you want to go:
A palatable excuse for “changing course” for a while. “I’m a business development manager, and I am on sabbatical for 12 months.” You retain your work identity, but you have time to fuck around and adjust how you experience life.
A portal to identity dissolution and rebuilding. “I was a partnerships manager, but I’m doing nothing for a while to see what happens.” You hand in your work identity and you remain curious as to what you’ll be when you come back.
You need an identity to act in the world, but you need way less identity than you think to be alive, so don’t worry about losing yourself. I would even recommend losing yourself for a little while: Every layer you shed opens you up to true, deep, long lasting transformation, and especially as many of us haven’t processed our childhoods and adolescences, we need the opportunity for high quality transformation as much as possible, so that we may stay truly ALIVE. Afterwards your identity will automatically reconstruct with new paradigms integrated.
Ah, yes, nature. The great beauty of the world. Coupled with the grand illusion that it is something separate from us humans. No clue who the hell came up with that. But obviously, we are natural beings. And the most obviously recognizable thing about nature is cycles, or seasons. And so, despite our long lanky stature (possibly speaking for myself here), human life is best lived round.
A cyclical motion plotted on a graph becomes a curve. One iteration of a curve has a peak, a valley, and the areas that take the curve up to the peak and down to the valley, respectively. Feel free to map this curve to a day, where the peak is noon and the valley is midnight. If you want to go small, observe a singular breath. If you want to go big, observe an entire human life. Somewhere between that, there is a year.
Spring is for developing ideas, Summer is for bringing them into the world, Autumn is for harvesting, Winter is for letting everything die that isn’t essential.
Our culture seems to be addicted to the high of summer, and the harvest of autumn. We want fruit fruit fruit, all year round.
Now, that is not sustainable. Running any system at length without break and maintenance causes overheating. Have you tried turning it on and off again? That is what winter is for. In winter, everything dies a little. It’s gruesome, but favorable.
If you shut down now, all your unsaved work will be lost. Continue? Yes please. All my important work is saved and I long for my 300 open tabs to be closed. I need a restart, a blank slate.
You get the point.
When you are not used to gardening or plant rearing, you’ll be surprised by how much life there is in a wintering plant. It is unbelievable, how green fresh life emerges from a trimmed, grey and (seemingly) dead stump in spring. It is so lush, and real wonder for the eyes and the soul. You’ll start seeing life differently.
And why is that unbelievable? Because we believe, maybe because we are told, that once something stops, it is dead, and does not return. Especially when that something is a career, or a business, or a project. Many of us carry fear in our hearts, and so we grasp on to what we have, for fear it will not return. I can say this, because I have carried this fear in my heart myself. And it took a lot of time and faith to get over this fear.
When you love something, there is a time to hold onto it. And there will also come a time to let it go. Only in letting go can we find renewal, rejuvenation, fresh perspectives, and if we’re lucky, a whole new life.
And I mean this quite literally. Knowing how to live well means knowing how to die well. The bon-vivant is not the one who stuffs himself full of experiences because he is afraid of dying. No, the true bon-vivant calmly follows her calling, and knows that she is in the right place at the right time, whatever the experience may be.
In doing so, embracing danger, risk, and even death voluntarily, turns living into an engaged and artful balancing act, where success is not the money we make or the titles we carry, but the thrill of living true to the calls of our souls.
The essential modes of life are being born, being fed, growing, moving, sleeping, and dying. We are not afforded endless summers and we do not live endless lives. We must factor in the cold of winter, and look death in the eye. We are being sold security, but it is a lie.
And as we truthfully embrace death, winter and letting go into our lives, we gain something unbelievable. We gain the ability to live many lives within the one life we are granted. And each new life contains the courage of leaving the previous ones behind, and so we experience the joy of development and healing, which is often done only through generations, in our own life, in our own being.
One way to do that comparatively risk-free, is to bring a voluntary winter, or death, into our career, with a sabbatical. It allows us to let something that is important to us fade away voluntarily, and experience the change that brings. As this is the way of nature, we can have faith that nature will provide for us — fiscally and spiritually — and the we will neither go broke, nor die, but that we will reemerge when it’s time, like a green shoot from a grey stump.
After getting all existential in the part about nature, I would like to return to the surface and the reality of life and offer reasons, why this is actually great career advice. I can hear some say, “how could nuking your career possibly be good advice??”, and I believe I can address that.
I believe in something I would call “Life’s Work”. Others may call it “Calling”, “Purpose”, “Ikigai”, etc. It is the way of living and working that suits you uniquely well. I like the term Life’s Work, because it brings living and working together. It is the work of your life and it also implies that this most important work can be done by “just living”. It coincides with the adage “know thyself”, which asks you to understand your own dispositions so that you may make good decisions in your life.
Your Life’s Work is the work your life asks of you. It is the noble following of your innermost impulse, combined with all the unique advantages and disadvantages you may have. It is taking your best abilities and applying them to what is in front of you. It can also mean changing your environment, to put something else in front of you, so you can apply your abilities better.
This is what a sabbatical is about. It means changing your environment at an opportune time. In consequence you will be afforded a new set of tasks, because you free up space for these tasks to call to you.
These tasks can call to you because they are innate to you. They are what I’m referring to when I’m using the word “soul” in previous paragraphs. We are all very familiar with our lungs calling us constantly to breathe and our stomachs calling us to eat. We know our eyes calling us to sleep. And what are our whole bodies calling us to? To move, to run, to stretch? A bit easier to ignore, depending on how trained you are. And what about your soul? Does it call to you? What does it want?
When I went into my sabbatical, I was wishing for more art and creativity in my life. That felt like my soul’s calling. I tried and trained listening to that voice, because it was very quiet, but it got loud enough for me to pay attention to it. As I ventured towards creativity and a certain way of living associated with it, I encountered obstacle after obstacle. They are too numerous to list here and now, but they asked significant attention and change from me, and I followed their call and adjusted.
I want to highlight something here, for the reader as much as for myself: My sabbatical was VERY soul oriented. It called me mostly to spiritual and faith based principle and development, and I followed that call. That’s why I’m here, trying to share on the level of principle. It’s very possible that someone else goes on sabbatical, decides to get into woodworking or another passion project and immediately does that. I was called to these things but never followed through with them, because I was more interested in observing my inner world, the feeling of change, the quality of being over doing.
Operating at this observational level is my Life’s Work as far as I can tell. I went through much frustration over how seemingly little I used my sabbatical time for activity in the physical world, until I realized that I was dialing in to the stream of what really mattered to me: my Life’s Work.
The key here is to let it happen: What you think your Life’s Work might be, might very well not be it. That’s why I advocate for taking much time and stillness to sink into your body, to filter your thoughts and impulses, until you feel and know what it is. And again: If you truly know right away, bless you, go for it.
As I’m seeing this piece come to a close, I’m pleased with the topics that have come up.
Time is a big one, I mostly think of time as the best thing to spend money on these days. “Buying yourself time” is a common expression, and is the ultimate gift, and the ultimate stock you can invest in.
Nature delivers all the reasons why we need to take breaks, as downtime, rest and regeneration appear everywhere in nature and are essential for sustainable growth and development. Thankfully we live in a time where we learn to prioritize nature and we must learn to understand ourselves as a natural being, like a plant, or an animal, or a child, that needs intense time, attention, care, and rest to continue its growth.
Identity has been my biggest struggle and it’s a struggle that is to be expected, so I’m happy to forewarn possible sabbatical goers about it. Stepping away from your main identity, or one of your main identities, has a destabilizing effect, akin to that of psychedelics. I believe that it is very generative, and I would recommend it to most people, but definitely in the appropriate dose(s). The benefit is that you will find yourself greater, more expansive, more able, more humble and more generous as you carefully (or not so carefully) strip your identity layers, and reconstruct new ones. Allowing your identity to renew also means admitting that you might be holding on to misconceptions about yourself and the world, and by opening those blinds you’re letting fresh light into your house, which will guide you towards more truth in your life.
Life’s Work is often used retrospectively: Your life’s work is what you accomplished in your life, looking back at it when you’re done with it. That is certainly a true way of understanding the term. But I see it differently. I wish to identify my Life’s Work ahead of time, as much as I can, so that my actions are well guided towards it. Possibly to a fault, I’d rather not act, if I’m not pretty sure that my actions lead towards that place of integrity and purpose. It seems to me that many people act on opportunity, which I certainly don’t knock, opportunity is very important and I wish much opportunity to all beings. For me, cultivating a feeling of abundance and faith enables me to be very selective about where I apply myself, and I believe that this precision is very generative. I like it a lot.
Solitude as I’ve described it seems ambivalent to me. On the one hand, solitude is important and I consider it a luxury and a necessity for creative prowess, as it is the sacred space in which you learn to understand yourself. Rilke describes the act of truly loving each other as “guarding each other’s solitude”. I think that is beautiful. On the other hand, in retrospect I think you don’t have to be as alone as I was during the early years of my sabbatical. My life got a lot better when I found others on the same path, that some call the “pathless path”.
In this piece I’m gesturing at these principles. I have much more to share and I intend to. I’d also like to help individuals and groups to have successful sabbatical experiences. I want to help with personalized coaching and conversation. If you’d like to talk sabbaticals with me, please email me:
simon [at] dassabbatical [dot] com
Our goal with Das Sabbatical is to renew our culture in the areas of rest and regeneration. We need to integrate winter and spring, death and rejuvenation, into our careers. And this specifically not just for upper echelon leaders and employees, who can negotiate time off for themselves, but systemically integrated for all employees. This way, many more people can bring their careers closer to their Lives’ Work.
When people bring their unique gifts into the world, it will benefit all beings, and there will be more joy everywhere.
These magical seeds of living and working well are in us. Let’s give them time to bloom.
Thank you, talk to you soon.