7 Week Sabbatical: What I Learned (1 of 3)

What’s On My Mind

It was nothing like I planned yet better than expected.

I just got back from a seven-week sabbatical.

And I learned a ton.

Let’s go!


The Low Point: COVID

After training 8 months for the age 50+ ultimate frisbee world championships in Ireland and was so excited to play my heart out for our team.

We were seeded 4th in the world going in and prepared to do even better.

I was beyond excited.

​On day two of my sabbatical, Becky and I landed in Dublin, driving to Limerick for the 8-day tournament.

​Everything changed that first night.

COVID hit.

The symptoms set in. Fever. Congestion. Worse body aches than I can ever remember.

​We took antigen tests.

The positive line turned pure black in a few seconds. I’ve never seen anything like it. It practically screamed, “you’ve both got it, and bad!”

We spent nearly all the 12 days in isolation in our Air BnB, slowly recovering a little more each day, happy we’d had 3 shots to lessen the blow.

​I finally tested negative near the end of the tournament and effectively played one game. Not that I helped at all, but we held seed and got 4th in the world.

I’ve never felt better getting to go home.

The Recovery: Slowness

It took about 5 weeks to recover, about 3 more after we got back home.

I didn’t feel up to do all the things I had planned.

Everything slowed down.

​It reminded me of a book my friend Sara Snow told me about long ago, In Praise Of Slowness. It’s a game changer.

​The book talks about the value of slowness: cooking your own meals and doing your own work. The value of doing seemingly mundane things alongside those you care about.

I’d wake up every morning without a clear to do list, and leave each day without getting it done.

​I sorted through both physical and mental things, slowly organizing everything from the closet to my priorities.

One thing stood out.

I’m not sure about you, but the clearest I’ve ever felt about my life was my last couple of years of college and the first few years afterward.

College was amazing for me: good grades, fraternity president, Homecoming King.

​That momentum continued as Becky and I started dating and got married.

​It’s not that everything was perfect. I knew my new first job as a life insurance actuary in Ft. Wayne, Indiana, wasn’t a fit for me right after I started it.

But while I knew I wasn’t on the exact path I wanted, I was crystal clear on the life I wanted to live. I wanted to one day own my own business, have a strong family, and do something unique and valuable.

Back to those days of slowness.

I took a few days and sorted through 100s of things I have from that young age in my life: letters people wrote me, day planners, newspaper articles, notes I took, photos, awards, and more. I’ve kept it all in a big plastic tub.

That tub is a time machine. Looking through everything brought back my mindset from 30 years ago.

Then one thing hit me at my core.

The old FTDs.

Becky and I kept what we called the FTD for about 3 years, the Fun Times Diary.

We’d document kooky events, funny friends, and the little things that made us laugh.

It was sort of like our own 1990s Seinfeld Show.

Nothing mattered, yet everything mattered.

The #1 thing I learned…

We optimized for fun.

Everything we could control was about having a great time.

​Bringing people together, being the hub of a crazy social group.

​Growing as individuals and a couple.

Making ordinary events fun.

I realized something changed in the last 30 years.

​Maybe it was higher-stakes jobs, the self-imposed pressure of trying to be the perfect parent or growing a business.

Somewhere along the way, I switched gears.

And I doubled down in the pandemic.

I started optimizing for productivity.

Fun has still been in the picture, but it has played second fiddle to progress.

​In the last couple of years, productivity has ruled.

Don’t get me wrong, productivity is amazing. Time is the thing we can’t get more of.

But at the same time…

​If that’s the case, shouldn’t I be optimizing for enjoyment?

I left with some important takeaways.​

Our girls are out of the house and charting their own course. I’m proud of them.

We have more than what we need.

I love my family, community, and business.

​I’m going to make a slight shift.

I’m going to optimize for fun instead of productivity.

​To keep me on track, I’m bringing back the FTD, renaming and reconfiguring my 20-minute weekly journaling routine to focus on fun.

That’ll remind me.

(Aside: I realized even more strongly that my weekly 20-minute journaling routine is the most important thing I do each week! I’ve been at it for nearly 7 years. Teresa Amabile’s Progress Principle research on the topic is incredible. Her research shows that documenting progress daily or weekly correlates to joy and fulfillment, so I don’t need to tweak too much.)

​My main change: I’m going to start writing down the funny little moments and the progress.

The fulfilling moments. Funny sayings. Crazy situations.

I’m going to start being even more assertive in steering my time towards the things I love doing.

The last few years, this has been top of mind, but if I’m honest, it’s been more about productivity and progress than fulfillment and fun.

It’s time for me to dial up the Fun Times. And document them in the FTD.

​We only get one shot at this life.

It might as well be fun.


Ps. Two more installments are coming!

Next week I’ll tell you about the highlight of my sabbatical, teaching me that we can accomplish more than we think.

And in our third segment, I’ll show you how you can set up your own sabbatical. I and our team developed a system that worked great. I’ll tell all…

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