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On Sabbaticals and Whims

Wherein we optimise for nothing.

foxwizard
foxwizard
6 min read

What-ho and hello! I’m back. Maybe.

It’s April Fool’s Day; a time of new beginnings. In this epistle, I sidestep the glorious and exquisitely sublime agony of writing to present to thee a video response to a letter I received way back in the yesteryear. This letter itself is quite relevant to many of us, I imagine.

// What’s this letter thing? Last year, via my daylight museletter, I wrote a post: foxwizard seeks muse. I received... a lot of letters. Which I then avoided for a few months. Here’s me now, tentatively returning. //


Dear Dr Fox,

I have the (quite shocking) honour of turning 50 next year and I find myself in a life transition, children nearly grown, career feeling blah, etc. - I have the urge to go off on a "life sabbatical" for a spell in 2022 to pause, reset my priorities for the next part of my life adventure, and move away from the caregiver archetype that has dominated all of my adult life. New goals and dreams are required now.

How do I gather all of the ideas and resources and so on together to make the most of this time? What are good strategies to conjure a new set of compass points to navigate mid-life? And is it a straight-out outlandish whimsy to even take time out of the workforce at this time and at this point? **(My current work contract ends on Christmas Eve, so it isn't entirely my choice!) A dubious and confounding perspective will be gratefully received!

Kind regards,
Wild Goose

Wherein I drop a forever-free code to The Ritual of Becoming

Dearest Wild Goose,

Firstly, thanks for writing. I hope this doesn’t reach you too late. Also, importantly; I really like geese. Particularly wild geese. There was a game made of a goose gone wild called “[Untitled Goose Game]”. I never actually played it but I appreciated what it was trying to do. And I really feel like the notion of ‘wildness’ (and wilderness) is an important beacon to keep in mind as we contemplate our transition from a more, uh, ‘domesticated’ role into new and emergent chapters.

I am personally not ready for wildness yet, though I would like to hope that by the time I turn 50 that, perhaps, I would be ready to shift in that direction. At the same time, I distrust the emphasis we seem to place on whole, round numbers. I partially blame the birthday cards that used to line the shelves of news agencies. That hokey hallmark ageist boomer humour that comes from overly emphasising the milestone of ‘50’. “Whelp: it’s all downhill from now, hoho!” Except no: it’s not. If anything, now’s the time to sublime; to sublimate our ‘selves’ into a higher order of being-ness. Or something like that.

This metric obsession similarly plagues the enterprise world, which is why I would encourage a more qualitative, reflective and contemplative practice. To view life through the lens of unfurling chapters more so than the total number of conscious orbits one has made around the sun.

If we were to ascribe numerical significance, I might encourage us to approach this in terms of prime numbers. There are 26 prime numbers between one and one hundred—1, 2, 3, 5, 7, 11, 13, 17, 19, 23, 29, 31, 37, 41, 43, 47, 53, 59, 61, 67, 71, 73, 79, 83, 89, 97... each of these could be significant milestones—in which 53 might be the next for you—but here I am, fabricating meaning where it mightn’t exist. Might point here is really; we can shape the meanings we make of things. There are no clear boundaries—nor distinctions—but for those of which we make.

And so—if it serves you—why not! Let’s make 50 a thing. I probably would, too—despite what I just said above. (I have told myself I might remove my beard and completely change my identity at 50; but I am bluffing about the beard bit. Mayhaps I will be a fully white zenko by then. Let’s see.)

Now, as to the other matters of your letter, allow me to dispense some dubious, confounding and quite wholly unqualified perspective, as so graciously requested.

On taking a sabbatical

Firstly: your instincts about a sabbatical appeal to me. But of course it’s easy for me to say this—I rarely take my own advice, and liking the notion of a sabbatical and actually taking the steps to do it are two very distinct things.

And before we get carried away, let’s not kid ourselves: taking a sabbatical is something only the few privileged amongst us can do. I wish it were otherwise. By the same token, our rampant capitalist regime means that many of us with the means to take a sabbatical cannot (or do not), because the cycle of ceaseless desire and wanting keeps us trapped within sufferable stagnation. It takes great resources and/or wisdom and good fortune (supportive circumstances) to take a sabbatical.

The etymology of sabbatical is quite intriguing: from the 1590s, “recurring in sevens or on every seventh”. And conventionally it’s a year’s absence granted to a university professor (every seven years). So prime. The whole thing stems from ‘sabbath’, which we have come to know as a day of rest. Or, in the context of a sabbatical: a year of rest.

Thus, when I read “New goals and dreams are required now. How do I gather all of the ideas and resources and so on together to make the most of this time?” it raises an Frown of Consternation from your wizard. Chiefly, I worry for any of us who might seek to somehow ‘optimise’ a sabbatical. It’s paradoxical, of course—I’d also want to make the most of a sabbatical, given the relative ‘cost’ of taking an extended break from work.

But a true sabbatical resists optimisation. It’s the gift to ourselves (and thus, with reverence, the world) that allows us the time and space to think, learn, reflect, create, play and/or just otherwise ‘be/become’ in a manner that allows for our own autopoetic emergence. This may seem a little wishy-washy, I know. I am flapping my pseudo-intellectual jazz-hands as I say this. And yet still: we need to preserve a kind of... generative ambiguity to any sabbatical.

We might do our best to create the conditions for optimal flourishing—but we can’t predetermine what this will be. Thus for a sabbatical, I’d say: no goals or dreams are required. In fact: they may be antithetical to the sabbatical itself. To pre-fabricate, architect or otherwise ‘plan’ a sabbatical would be to render the emergent magic of it inept. It was simply become an aesthetic to an otherwise perpetuation of our current trajectory.

But of course, you never said ‘plan’—I am throwing that in for those who may be reading this. To set your compass—ah! This is an apt metaphor. I am a fan of constellations—beacons of relevance, and the space betwixt to which we might explore.

And so, our approach might be as thus. When taking a sabbatical you might first want to allow yourself time to expunge. Via negativa, we shed or otherwise remove that which detracts or distracts from the deeper task at hand. Rekindling a practice of daily journaling, removing clutter, retiring projects, reconciling relationships—all of these things might serve to provide the lightness and alacrity that behooves an apt sabbatical. Then, you can go about the very difficult task of Doing Nothing for a while, so as to see what might emerge. Mayhaps you read. Mayhaps you allow yourself the rare luxury of true boredom. Whatever it is: you rest, and by doing so, lay the foundations for the cultivation of emergence.  

(I talk of this and much more in The Ritual of Becoming, which in my humble opinion, would be an apt companion for any sabbatical and much of the questions you ask. Anyone can now access this for free, at anytime, forever, via the magical ‘alloneword’ that is letsgetmythical).

At one point in the video, Snorri o’Tau—our chihuahua extraordinaire—makes his presence known, which was a good prompt for me to wrap up. After I concluded the video it turns out he had discovered his own reflection for the first time, and was barking at the projection of himself. I could probably weave some sort of analogy out of this, but I shan’t.

In any event; thank you for the question and letter. It prompted me to reflect on the myriad ironies of my own proclaimed expertise, to my edification and delight. I hope it is timely and of some use to you.

The books I mentioned in the video are How to Do Nothing by Jenny Odell and The Art of Frugal Hedonism by Annie Raser-Rowland and Adam Grubb.

~~~

If you would like to write me a letter, I may respond! Eventually. Direct your pigeon to drjasonfox.com/letters

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foxwizard

A rogue philosopher.