2018 was a bad health year. In 2019, I was healthy and tried all kinds of new things. It was my Year Of Yes. At first, it was a lot of fun! Then I took on too many extroverted activities and started getting sick again.
For 2020, I’ve decided to take my health seriously. I’m retiring from substitute teaching, taking a break from most volunteer work, and will focus on slow living and writing for the year because…
1- I Want to Start a Sabbatical Trend
I’m incredibly lucky. Most people don’t have the choice to take a sabbatical year, even if they need it. Out of all the things I could do with my good fortune (travel, switching careers) this one appeals to me because I think the world would be a better place if everyone had the option to take sabbaticals.
We are a culture that values being busy. There’s a lot of stigma associated with taking breaks. Taking the year off to live slowly and write sounds pretentious and lazy.
Many people don’t retire until they’re almost 70, which means a lot of people work for almost 50 years. To make the most of five decades of working, you need to take a few breaks to recharge and reevaluate. I’m starting the trend because I can.
I want sabbatical years to be a trend that extends to everyone. When the iPhone was first released in 2007, the only people with smartphones were the affluent. Now almost everyone has a smartphone. I want to make taking sabbaticals as popular as having a smartphone.
2- I’m Taking My Health & Energy Budget Seriously
Responsible spending means looking at how much money you have coming in, then creating a budget for yourself so you don’t spend more money than you have. Like money, everyone has their own energy budget.
I over-drafted on my energy budget for 2019, and probably for many more years before that. I am an introvert. It took me a long time to realize just how much of an introvert I am because I genuinely like being with people some of the time.
I also used to blame myself if I did a job and was exhausted afterwards. I’d believe it was because I didn’t do it right. I used to think there was a way I could “work smarter, not harder”. Now I realize there is no “smart” way for me to be around a group of people for an extended amount of time and not come away feeling exhausted, especially with my health situation. That’s my reality and I’m accepting it in 2020.
Now I take the messages my body sends me seriously. Teaching is an extroverted job. The climate change presentations and workshops I did last year were extroverted activities. I believed in the work I did and liked all the people I worked with, so I thought I could squeeze them into my life without any problems.
What I learned is that being extroverted is costly for me. I started having thyroid problems again. I started getting intense hip pain. I tried ice packs and blood tests to figure what was going on. The blood tests came back normal-ish and the ice packs worked some of the time. But I felt awful most of the time.
Then my last climate change workshop ended and I decided to take the next month off from all subbing, workshops, presentations, meetings, emails, etc. Within four weeks my hip stopped hurting. My thyroid was better.
Turns out I need HUGE amounts of solitude.
After 30 years of over-drafting on my energy reserves, it was time to listen to my body.
3 – I’m Giving My Writing The Time and Space It Needs
I have always wanted to write but never gave myself permission to write anything beyond journal entries as a kid. As an adult, I expanded my permission to writing stories I thought were publishable. I wrote them ever so slowly, striving to be as perfect as I could. I never wrote stories just because I liked them. Some voice inside my head would attack me the minute I wrote for fun or stopped striving to be perfect.
Doing things for others was my priority. I was a special education teacher, a family daycare provider, a stay-at-home parent, and a substitute teacher. These were activities I got easy praise for. Even when I finally went to grad school to get my MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults I continued to be a part-time substitute teacher, despite not needing the money, because it was too scary to just focus on writing.
After grad school I added blog intern, then volunteer climate change presenter to my plate. I always needed to do activities that were helping others so I had a distraction from my writing.
None of these jobs was for the money either, because my partner has a job that makes way more money than I could ever make. Yes, totally and completely lucky! (Though being the person who does all the unpaid labor in the relationship has some real costs that I could write an entire essay about).
I wish I were the kind of person who could do a bunch of activities, then come back home and write as a way of decompressing. That’s not the way I work. My writing is forged out of hours and hours of solitude. The worlds I want to write about are complicated and require a ton of research.
For 2020, I’ve decided it doesn’t matter if my stories ever get published. What matters is that I give myself the time and space to write whatever I want.
This year, I’m writing some stories that are probably publishable and some that are just for me. I’m giving myself the time to research my complex ideas about the future, and create the worlds I wish to see.
Creating time and space to just enjoy my writing is my gift to myself for 2020.
4 – I’m Committing Myself to One Planet Living
I write stories that take place in the future. I love to imagine how the world might look post-patriarchy, post-capitalism. What would that look like for a kid? For a teen? For adults? The future is my happy place.
In reality, we can only live in the present and our planet has some big problems right now. I got interested in environmental issues because of my stories about the future. I wanted to learn who had a plan to reverse global warming and Paul Hawken’s Project Drawdown was the detailed pragmatic plan that answered my question.
I still want to be a part of reversing global warming, even if I’m not doing Project Drawdown presentations and workshops. But I need to help in a way that doesn’t zap my energy for writing. So I’ve decided to use my sabbatical year to live like we only have one precious planet.
I took a vow to stop flying. Now I take the train or bus when I travel. I rarely drive, and walk or take public transportation pretty much everywhere.
The beauty of taking a year off means I have the time to travel slowly.
I now write Monday through Friday. Saturday afternoons are for outings to museums, parks, or anything that feeds me. Sundays are for walking to my Unitarian Universalist church and for preparing for my upcoming week.
Living slowly means I have time to be a tourist in my own city. So far, I’ve been to the National Cathedral, the National Portrait Gallery, the National Gallery of Art, and the Jane Goodall exhibit at the National Geographic Association. I fill my writer’s notebook with a few words about each place I visit.
Living slowly means I can have adventures in a sustainable way and support the arts community in my own backyard. I go to one live performance a month—dance performances, music concerts, plays, etc. So far I’ve seen the musical Newsies at Arena stage and the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater at the Kennedy Center. I go by myself and take everything in. It’s amazing how nourishing art can be for my health and happiness.
I’m also taking the time to shop local, compost, limit my plastic waste, and use more renewable energy. Taking a slow living sabbatical means I can have a full life while still maintaining our only planet.
The 2021 Planning I’m Not Doing
I don’t know what I’m doing in 2021. I don’t plan to substitute teach again. I could always be a tutor or a nanny or find another job, if I wanted. Finding a new career won’t be a part of my 2020 though. This sabbatical is all about writing, taking care of my health, creating a low footprint, and filling my spirit. It’s about being using my good fortunate in a way that makes me happy, because that’s what I wish for everyone to be able to do in the future.