How taking a sabbatical made me a better employee (and person)

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Last spring I had a crazy idea. I wanted to take an extended period of time away from my everyday life and see the world. Why? Partially because I wanted to, well, see the world. But also because I thought it would make me a better person—both personally and professionally.

Since there was nothing in the d.trio employee handbook to cover this, I formulated a plan I thought might work and met with the agency partners to humbly request a 10-week leave. To my delight, they were on board and willing to make it work. Just as importantly, I talked to my coworkers who would have to cover for me while I was gone, and they gave their blessing too.

And so it began. Starting in late December, I traveled for nine weeks through four different countries in Central America. I started in Mexico over the holidays with some friends and family. From there, I headed off on my own to start the real adventure.

I spent my first three weeks in Guatemala attending Spanish school for four hours a day. I stayed with a local family of seven who spoke virtually no English and we all shared two small and extremely rustic bathrooms. It was there I learned, among many things, that hot water flowing in a steady stream from a showerhead is a luxury most Guatemalans never experience.

My second week of school was a little more comfortable and a little less intense, allowing me time to explore the town, do some yoga, practice meditation, interact with people from all over the world, and engage in some wonderfully odd cultural activities.

In Belize I practiced my socializing skills when I joined an eclectic group of fellow travelers for a group tour. The caving expedition challenged me both physically and mentally, the Mayan ruins brought on deep introspection, and snorkeling the world’s second-largest reef gave me an even greater appreciation for the connectivity of all ecosystems

In Costa Rica, I learned the hard way the importance of wearing insect repellent in the jungle. During this time, it also became clear to me that even a strong, independent person isn’t always as strong as she wants to be and gets lonely for her people back home—and that spending an extended period of time with those whose native language is different than hers can be quite challenging.

But, of course, the benefits of this once-in-a-lifetime experience far outweighed the challenges. I’ve become more appreciative of the people in my life and the opportunities I’ve been given. I’ve become more grateful for the material things I used to take for granted. I’ve gained greater empathy for those who have emigrated from other countries. I’ve grown more confident in myself and more comfortable approaching strangers. I’ve embraced meditation as a way of healing both emotional and physical pain. And I’ve just generally become more accepting of myself and the world around me.

I’m extremely thankful to have been given this opportunity and I highly recommend that anyone who has ever dreamed of doing something similar to go for it. You’ll grow in ways you’ve never imagined and you’ll return to your life and your job with a renewed outlook and a heightened sense of appreciation.

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Author Danette Knickmeier

Danette is an account executive at d.trio.

More posts by Danette Knickmeier

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