Why I refused to take a sabbatical and quit instead

Published December 7, 2016   Posted in How to Retire

When I told my boss that I am quitting in December to travel, his first question was: “Is this permanent?” His question lead us neatly into a short discussion of taking a sabbatical instead of quitting outright. Perhaps a sane person would have accepted the sabbatical. I, however, did not.  🙂

Pinterest: Why I refused to take a sabbaticalAt most companies, a sabbatical (or a leave of absence) means that you get to keep your job and return when your sabbatical is over. However, you’ll spend your sabbatical time unpaid by the company. Either side can terminate the agreement, as well, at any time.

For me, this would amount to a fallback. If, for whatever reason, this whole early retirement from full-time work thing doesn’t work out in a year, I could return to my high-paying job as if nothing had happened. It seems like a win-win situation.

Why not take the sabbatical fallback?

I quickly dismissed the sabbatical option for several reasons:

I have no interest in returning to this line of work. When dissatisfaction with your job is the primary motivating factor of financial freedom, the last thing you want to do is return to that job – even if things go south. This job represents what I am escaping from. I find very little satisfaction from working in Information Technology full-time. Why, then, would I ever want to return to it? If things don’t turn out as I had expected them to, perhaps that would be the time to choose another career route.

Here is the real truth: I made the mistake of making my hobby my career. I was the nerd teaching himself web development and writing software as a teenager. I genuinely liked it, and I still do. What I don’t like, however, is doing this work for a company. It can be a very stressful business, and companies tend to demand a lot out of their IT staff. IT careers, while high-paying, can drain the life out of you. I want this stuff to be my hobby, not my job.

I do not want that decision hanging over my head. I know myself. As the end of my sabbatical gets closer and closer, I will naturally think about it more and more. That decision will be a distraction from what I am doing at the time. I do not want to think about whether or not I want to return. Instead, I’d rather pass the time doing things that I enjoy. I am already putting those pieces together for my post-retirement life in IT.

If you hate public speaking, this decision is that presentation that you have to give in two months. If you abhor the dentist, this is that appointment on your calendar in six months. If you can’t stand having your in-laws over for Christmas…okay, you get the idea. This is that nagging thought in the back of your mind that gnaws at your brain every once in a while, buried not-so-deeply into the gooyness of your subconscious. It never retreats until it’s over.

I do not want to give myself an “out”. I want this decision to be final. Okay, I know that it’s not “truly” final (almost anything can be undone), but I don’t want it to be easy. If things get tough, I want that extra push to remain flexible and get through. I never want to say “Well, I can always just go back to my old job for another year”. That’s too easy.

When I officially quit on December 23rd, I want to be done. Like, DONE done. Finito. I want that day to mark the beginning of the transition from full-time worker-bee in corporate America to a financially independent member of society doing whatever the hell I enjoy. No further relationship with my former company. I want to believe that the door is closed and will never re-open again.

I guess it’s a form of closure. I am slamming the book shut on the accumulation phase of my life that required working a job to build wealth. Now, it’s the next phase that includes maintaining wealth through passive income and work that I happen to enjoy doing. In a way, it’s the risk of no fallback that is what will keep me focused and motivated.

I want to close this door and open up the next rather than “keep a foot in the door” from my previous life.

Why take a sabbatical in the first place?

Relax on your sabbatical!

A sabbatical can be a wonderful thing. This time off allows us the opportunity to devote our focus and energy to things that we enjoy – things that our full-time jobs had previously screwed up for us.

Like hiking the entire Appalachian Mountains, for example. Or spending more time with your family when they need you the most (or you them). Sabbaticals also give us the time to learn a new skill or trade, build amazing things and uncover the true purpose in our lives.

They can also force us to relax with a free mind, waking up everyday completely open to new possibilities.

Sabbaticals can be wonderful things, but not when your true purpose is early retirement.

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32 responses to “Why I refused to take a sabbatical and quit instead”

  1. Felicity says:

    Makes sense 😀

    I kind of like my job, so for me, I’m thinking of a short sabbatical and returning to part time work to make time for hobbies that are currently being somewhat neglected. Who knows what the future will hold, though! The freedom and possibilities are the best part of financial independence.

    • Steve says:

      Thanks Felicity, and I agree – the freedom and possibilities are by far the best part. It’s the freedom to spend your time doing…well, whatever makes you happy. 🙂

  2. I think you made the right choice. If you don’t like your job and that’s the reason you’ve been shooting for financial independence, then cut loose as soon as you reach FI. For me, I know I would be tempted to accumulate just 1 more year of money at a high paying job. Who knows how long that would go on for. Having a clean break forces you to transition into your new life of retirement and make it work.

    • Steve says:

      Exactly! A clean break. Done. Accumulation phase finished and “doing whatever I like” phase beginning. No going back unless things go seriously, super duper, wrong.

  3. I’m so glad you wrote this post. I think about this often. I don’t really get sabbaticals, but we can take a year off and be rehired by the district. It’s too much of a gamble for me, though. I could end up in a different school teaching a different grade level and a different subject. I’m not sure having a year off is worth all those unknowns!

    I’m also so inspired by how boldly you’re going into the next chapter. It makes sense that you want to clearly distinguish between the two. I can’t wait to keep reading along! Congrats!

    • Steve says:

      Thanks for reading, Penny. And yeah, I can totally see where you’d have a difficult time accepting a sabbatical with those circumstances. If you like where you are and what you’re doing, it sure does seem risky to change things up like that. Phew!

  4. I think I would have made the same decision. There is significant research on how reversible decisions make us less happy, so in addition to having it hanging over your head, you also would take less joy in the fact that you quit. I like the idea of having to make a fresh decision if I were to decide to go back to work rather than having an automatic fallback choice.

    • Steve says:

      Thanks Matt. Yup, that’s where I’m at – it would result in less joy over the first year of early retirement, and there’s probably a 99% chance that I would go back anyway…so why beat around the bush? Clean break! 🙂

  5. Josh says:

    I’m glad you were able to follow through on your decision. I left my previous job a little over a year ago because it was stressful and the pay wasn’t worth sticking it out another 10 or 15 years to retire early. My boss had a little sit down with me as well, it was still the most difficult decision even though it took a year of planning and patience to finally find an opportunity to make a career change.

  6. I like your approach and how consequently you are going through with it.

    Even though I think this is awesome, I had to give myself the permission to call it sabbatical even though the end result is the same: I will quit since my company does not offer more than 3 months off. Thinking about it as a sabbatical with a 1 year plan and permission to delay indefinitely worked for me to get through the decision process.

  7. I commend you for doing what’s best for you, not what feels like the conventional thing to do.

    It really sucks when your hobby becomes your career. That’s how I fell into marketing and it’s easy to get burnt out when you do what you love in an environment that doesn’t work for you.

    Congrats on the early retirement! I look forward to reading all about your frugal adventures. 🙂

    We’re still in the getting-out-of-debt phase, so retirement won’t happen for us for about another ten years or so if everything works out.

  8. Knowing thyself. This is smart. By removing the option in the future, you are saving yourself from yourself. I talk about this all the time. We are (unintentionally) our own worst enemy. Don’t want to eat junk food? Don’t allow junk food in the house. Want to save more money? Don’t give yourself the ability to spend it. We can’t rely on our willpower time and time again to make the right decisions. It’s too taxing. Make the decision from a position of strength and then burn the bridges down.
    Biglaw Investor recently posted…Tax Gain Harvesting: An Introduction

  9. I think you made the right decision. I wouldn’t want the decision hanging over my head either and to think about it nonstop.

    When we left our day jobs, we had a lot of people tell us that we should just take a sabbatical or a vacation – glad we didn’t listen, haha!

  10. TJ says:

    Hard to argue with your logic. If you’re financially at a point where you can retire early, why not sever that safety net? Especially if you hate the industry…..

    My fear is that if I pursued one of my hobbies for profit in early retirement, that it would no longer be fun and start to feel like work.

    It will be interesting to see how that all shakes out, and for that reason I expect to go back to a normal job somewhat related to my skills so far after I get some well needed travel out of my system.

  11. Basil says:

    This post makes so much sense. The nagging feeling of having put off something, of having to make a decision again, which you shove back into the depths of your mind over and over… Far better to quit and celebrate than to fear it, even if you do end up having to change course later on.

    Also…December 23rd!! You’re so close! You’ll never be able to beat this Christmas.

  12. Mrs. BITA says:

    I started off this post thinking “why not have a fall back option if one is being offered? Seems like a no brainer”. Your analogy to public speaking made me think though, and I believe you have a valid point there.

    Also you know what? If they are willing to offer you a sabbatical, they will be willing to rehire you if that is what you wanted down the line.

  13. Ssssh….don’t tell anybody, but I put “sabbatical” down on my resume even though I never intend to go back to typical w2 work.

  14. Mrs. PIE says:

    It sounds like it was a pretty easy decision for you. Maybe mulled it over for a little while to test out the idea? Those kinds of decisions are the best, they make themselves and you can be certain you’ve done the right thing. Wow, Dec 23rd?! That’s soooo sooooon!

    • Steve says:

      Yup, it was pretty easy for me. Honestly, I didn’t even mull it over because there was just no way I wanted that decision hanging over my head. Never an option, so it was pretty easy to say no to. 🙂

  15. Good points about why you might not want to choose the sabbatical! If you’re not planning to return and don’t want to keep the fallback option, it makes much more sense to just retire. After all the purpose of a sabbatical would be to hold your place at that job-if you don’t want that job anymore, why take it?

    • Steve says:

      Exactly, Liz – it’s to hold a position that I have no intention of returning to…even if I DO need to go back to work. Sabbatical just doesn’t make a lot of sense for me. 🙂

  16. Really a blog decision.I would have considered a short sabbatical.

    Well, at the end it is about priorities. Isn’t it??

    Hope you are enjoying you days….

  17. Down to the final weeks! A sabbatical would’ve been pointless. Once you taste that freedom, you’ll never want to go back. It’s been four months for me and although I’m starting to do a little bit of freelance work, there’s no way in hell I could go back to the full-time grind!

    • Steve says:

      Ha! Thanks DTG – totally agree, a pointless endeavor for me. And nothing wrong with freelance work…so long as it’s something that you enjoy doing. Hell no to the full-time grind!

  18. weenie says:

    As sabbaticals are rarely offered, I would have taken it.

    However, given your reasons not to, you’ve made the right call – well done. I’m just trying to imagine the expression on your boss’ face when you said ‘no’!

    • Steve says:

      Hey Weenie – I’m not sure that he was all that surprised, but I’m not sure. I’m sure he figured that a sabbatical was the right call because, well, I’m so young and you never know what’s going to happen in the future. Yeah, I disagreed. 😉

  19. Andrew says:

    Glad it was an easy decision for you! I know of people who have taken sabbaticals and they’ve generally spoken positively about it. Personally, I don’t know if it would be for me if I was on the verge of financial freedom haha.

    Enjoy you freedom now! It’s always very inspiring to hear your story, Steve!

    • Steve says:

      Thanks Andrew! Yeah, nothing wrong with sabbaticals at all – it just wasn’t for me in my situation. If I had another X number of working years left before I was able to quit full-time work, then I might have entertained a sabbatical. But, it just doesn’t make a lot of sense for me at the moment – aside from having a fallback. Eh!

  20. EL says:

    I can only see 1 benefit from taking a sabbatical. If you can accrue another year of benefit time, and they lay you off with a severance, that extra year of service paid you back. LOL. I doubt they will do that, but you never know some of the perks of these companies.

    • Steve says:

      Some companies do things very, very differently – and that can be both good or bad depending on the policy. If it works out well that way, then yeah – I might try to take sabbaticals every year! 😉

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