A few years ago, my company implemented a really cool benefit, the 40-Hour Sabbatical. Every year, every full-time employee gets a week off — paid — to pursue some form of personal enrichment. What you do is up to you, but you can't treat it as just another vacation. You have to do something of significance; something that contributes to your personal development in some way, shape or form.
Last year, I decided to be alone.
I grew up in a loud house full of loud family and loud friends. Today, as a wife, mother, creative director and proud ENFP, I am surrounded by people every hour of the day. And I like my life that way, comfy and chaotic. But I wanted to challenge myself and being someplace quiet and alone was the ultimate test. So I booked a single Jetblue seat and took off for Denver, where a one-room mountain cabin and a yoga retreat in the Rockies were waiting. Here's what happened afterward.
I became a better listener.
Amidst life's cozy chaos, I had grown accustomed to tending to many things at once. I check e-mails while sitting in a meeting. Talk to my team about one project while thinking about another. Scan my social media feed while pushing the swing at the playground. Meditation helped me hone my powers of focus. Instead of priding myself on killer multitasking, I learned to listen and pay attention to one thing at a time, which made every interaction better for everyone involved.
I got my own brain back.
Between news, blogs, Buzzfeed and all the e-newsletters that jam up my inbox, I pretty much consume media nonstop. While I was learning lots of great stuff, I was also spending lots of time, as one article put it, "swimming in the stream of other peoples thoughts," which is not a good recipe for creativity or originality. When you spend too much time absorbing the ideas of others, it can be difficult to separate your ideas from everyone else's. Giving myself some time away from the chatter helped me hear my own thoughts again. Turns out there was some interesting stuff in there.
I grew more willing to try new things.
I'm not a fire-making kind of girl. I never made it past the Brownies, and I generally let my husband take the lead in all things outdoors. That wasn't an option in my little mountain cabin. As my host patiently explained what kindling was, I pictured myself slowly freezing to death at the foot of the wood burning stove. When I finally saw the logs start to smolder, I felt a surge of confidence. Now I remember that little victory anytime I have to learn about a new industry, technology or media platform (which is every few weeks in my field).
After so many years on the job, I'm still learning every day. One bit of kindling at a time.
Diane Levine is the Associate Creative Director of the award-winning branding and marketing agency Think Creative. She specializes in writing, branding, marketing and inspiring people to believe in their own awesomeness so they can find more joy at work and in life (she writes more on those topics on her personal blog, Operation Goosebumps). She is a mom of two, a wife of one, and a collector of many pairs of high heels.
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