The Business Transition Blog

The Goal – A Six Month Sabbatical

On June 1, 2007, I set a goal on paper:

[G]The Goal

Dawna and I have our personal, business and career affairs in order so that we can take six months off and travel around North America, taking a sabbatical and the time to enjoy things while I am still physically able.

Target Date: May 31, 2008

What are the benefits?

  • Forces me to get focused on what’s really important business-wise in the next year.
  • Forces me to get mentally prepared to deal with my illness as a reality that will hamper my physical activities in the future.
  • Forces me to put my health first and deal with it as proactively as possible.
  • Time to spend with Dawna, rekindling our relationship, doing things that we will both enjoy.
  • Time to reflect on life and decide how to proceed into the next stage.
  • Time to get caught up on reading and writing.
  • Opportunity to write a book.
  • Avoid the sense of regret I would have if I didn’t do it now and couldn’t later. (I have very few regrets in life and would like to keep it that way.)

What are the obstacles?

  • My businesses are not ready to operate without me.
  • Question of how clients, affiliates, and staff will react.
  • A major program we are working on is not running yet. Needs me as a champion to get it off the ground and to develop.
  • Financial – don’t know what it will cost or how we’ll finance it.
  • Need answers to a number of questions:

    Gross Morne National Park, Newfoundland

    • What do we do with the house?
    • What do we do with the cottage?
    • What do we do with the pets?
    • Where do we want to travel?
    • What are the best times to travel?
    • What means of transportation/accommodation will we use?
    • Can we do an international home exchange?
    • Can I increase my physical stamina? How?
    • Can I get my businesses to run without me? If so, how? Who will do it?
    • Should I sell the business? Bring in a partner?
    • What do I do if after taking six months off I decide I don’t want to come back to the life I am currently leading – especially working so hard on my business?
    • What do I do if I set up my business to run without me, or sell it, only to miss it so much that I regret doing that?
    • Who can I call on to help me make these decisions in an objective, dispassionate way?
    • Should we sell our cars?
    • How do I maintain my energy, enthusiasm, and motivation to drive the business while planning a sabbatical for a year from now?

What are the solutions?

  • Get my businesses in shape.
    • Discuss plans with my managers – get buy-in.
    • Put remaining procedures and processes in place.
    • Identify gaps and begin to fix them.
    • Increase sales and set aside some cash for my expenses.
    • Mentor and coach my VP to position him to act in my place.
  • Begin to talk about my plans with clients and affiliates so they are supportive and understanding.
  • Write articles on what I’m doing to make it seem more normal and get others interested in taking sabbaticals as well.
  • Check out costs and anticipated expenses for the time we are away and set up a bank account for putting money away.
  • Make a decision on the major program. Go or no go? If I have to choose, the sabbatical will win.
  • Start discussions with Dawna to determine where she would like to go.
  • Contact various tourist bureaus across NA to have them send us their promotional packages.
  • Check out RVs to see what it will cost and what we should expect to pay so we can negotiate the best deal.
  • Get physiotherapy to establish exercises to strengthen muscles I can use to be more comfortable.
  • Offer the cottage to close friends and family who will take good care of it. Set up a schedule on a first-come first-served basis.
  • Get someone to rent our home for six months.
  • Get Dawna to speak to her boss.
  • Identify people around North America whom I can interview for research on the book.

From this list, I went on to develop specific action steps that are too numerous to detail.

Dawna was cautiously happy about taking time off but needed to get permission from her employer. Because of my history as an entrepreneur, she wasn’t totally convinced I was committed to leaving my businesses behind and would in fact follow through on the date we had set. As a result, she put off asking her manager for the time off until the last minute in case I changed my mind. As it turned out, even though she was the first in her organization to ever ask for a sabbatical, her employer was quite supportive.

With that hurdle cleared, we continued to work away on our list of solutions and the multiple action items that flowed from that list. Everything seemed to fall into place. When I made the announcement at a general staff meeting that I was leaving for six months, they applauded! Now, I could have taken that two ways but I chose to believe that they were happy for me and were prepared to help out. To our surprise, everyone we shared our plans with was supportive and encouraging. No one tried to dissuade us.

We ended up starting our sabbatical ahead of our original target date. On March 6, 2008, we left our home and headed south. And we have no regrets. It was wonderful on many levels. It did strengthen our marriage and our relationship. It did give me time to think, plan, and reflect on my life and where I was going next. It was an incredible trip and we saw places we had only dreamed of in the past. Along the way, I met many fascinating people who had sold their businesses and openly shared their stories with me. I did find out where the cracks were in my businesses and I’m currently in the process of fixing them as I prepare my own companies for transition.

I could tell you much more about my sabbatical (and if you’re really interested and want to see pictures send me an email). But the main message I want to share is that it is possible, that it is something you should do when you are physically able, and that it is a powerful test to see if your business is ready for sale.