What Are You Going to Do With Your Sabbatical Leave?
May 03, 2022 Whitney Clifford
My first day at Inkhouse was in July 2011: I was single, happily living alone in a Somerville attic apartment and figuring out what I wanted to do in my career.
Inkhouse had maybe 10 employees at that time. I had interviewed for a non-existent position. “Just come and meet the founders and you’ll figure it out,” said the convincing friend who referred me. No pressure. In our first correspondence after meeting each other Beth wrote, “We try to help everyone have balanced lives outside of work, and I believe that it's the only way for them to be effective at work. There are times when things get crazy, but they always balance out.” I sent the email to my mom with the preface, “From my soon-to-be boss” and she enthusiastically responded in typical mother form, “She gets it – and you – finally!”
Until meeting Beth and the Inkhouse team, I had a history of working around the clock, usually under bizarre and unhealthy circumstances. I once consoled a grown man sobbing in a conference room. I was all of 22 years-old and he was an established 45 year-old millionaire scared of the man that I had been much-too-quickly promoted to assist. Then, I was initiated into the anxiety attack club. Spoiler alert: it’s NOT worth the price of admission; I was sexually harassed more often than not, had grown men scream in my face on a weekly basis and was startled awake at all hours of the night by dings that needed immediate attention. But I was smart and tough and had done well in this “prestigious” position so I let it go on for way too long. Even when trying out different industries and positions throughout the years, things always got crazy but they rarely balanced out.
I was initially hired at Inkhouse for scheduling and special projects. And over the years my role shifted as the business grew and my interests and needs changed – from managing business development efforts, events, marketing, internal comms to content development. My resume should read: “Nails pitches while finding the perfect mid-century conference room table and editing your blog post.”
And over the years my personal life also evolved – new apartment, new baby, marriage, a geographical move and another child.
I celebrated 10 years at Inkhouse last summer and was gifted six weeks of sabbatical leave. I was the first person to take advantage of our newly created benefit and my colleagues and friends implored with a hopeful look in their eyes, “WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO WITH YOUR TIME? Will you travel? Write? I’M SO JEALOUS.” They were living vicariously through me and the pressure was on to do something awesome. So, I stayed home with my two-year-old teething daughter; this was the season of life I was in.
On my first day of leave I dropped my oldest daughter off at school and took my youngest down the road to walk along the Cape Cod Canal – a walk we had done countless times before. Strolling along, watching the ducks and other sea birds duck below the waves to catch fish, I was struck by the alarming amount of times I reached for my phone. “Mama, where he go? No dings. “Ohhh, mama he dove!” No dings.
In the 41 days that followed I picked up my oldest daughter every day from Kindergarten and we visited new playgrounds instead of hustling home. I spent precious one-on-one time with my youngest. I was more in the moment, more aware of taking in what used to be the most rushed part of the day – the time between school/work and bedtime. I reintroduced myself to quiet and doing one thing at a time – watching a bird come to our new feeder; doing a farm animal puzzle for the 70th time. I forced myself to lay on the couch and watch a whole hour of TV without breaks. One glorious day I napped. I took a road trip with my sister to Provincetown – we visited a favorite art gallery and ate by the water – the sun jumping off the harbor, making us squint as we ate mozzarella sticks and laughed about stupid sister stuff. I went for a 6-mile walk with my best friend – free. I designed an addition for our house – putting thought into each detail that I had dreamed of since we had bought our fixer-upper years prior but hadn’t had the mental space or time to devote to it.
I had a long, carefully curated list in Apple notes of what I wanted to accomplish in my 6-week leave – I don’t think I got through a third of them. It wasn’t actually what I needed. After years and years of living by my to-do items I had forgotten about my list.
I returned to work after Thanksgiving break. My colleagues had covered for me. I wasn’t well-rested and I didn’t have beautiful photos of new adventures. But I was happy to be back and get to work. Back to a job that had seamlessly become part of my life – through all the changes – finally.