What I Did on My Summer Vacation: Woodward Financial Advisors’ First Sabbatical

As many Woodward Financial Advisors clients know, I recently took a 4-week sabbatical, serving as the “test case” for our new policy of granting additional time off to employees who have been with the firm for 5 years (and every 5 years thereafter). It was a fantastic experience.

The concept of the sabbatical goes all the way back to biblical times; the word itself comes from the Latin, Greek and Hebrew words equivalent to “Sabbath.” Given our proximity to UNC-Chapel Hill, Duke and NC State, we’re well aware of the use of sabbaticals in the academic community, where these extended breaks from teaching and service are often used to allow for the completion of some project or other professional or personal development.

The corporate world is catching on, albeit slowly. A recent report indicated that only 5% of U.S. companies offer paid sabbatical programs, but that number jumps to 25% when looking at top employers (in terms of best companies to work for). Employees coming back from sabbaticals often describe themselves as being recharged, refreshed, and reinvigorated upon their return back to work.[1]

During my sabbatical, my wife and I took our two kids to California, where both of our families live. With pockets of family members spread out in Northern and Southern California, we’ve never really had a chance to visit everyone on our periodic trips out west. This time, however, we were able to spend a nice amount of time with everyone.

On top of the trips to museums, playgrounds, and zoos, two particular highlights stand out. The first was on Father’s Day. I grew up as a die-hard fan of the Los Angeles Dodgers; in fact, my first career aspiration was to be the Dodger’s starting first baseman.[2] I’ve successfully transferred my fandom to my kids, despite living all the way in North Carolina. On Father’s Day, I got to surprise the kids with their first visit to Dodger Stadium. The Dodgers lost to the Arizona Diamondbacks, but we got some pretty special memories.

First Dodger game!

First Dodger Game

9 innings is a long time!

9 innings is a long time!

 

The second highlight was when my wife and I got to take both kids to the campus of UC Berkeley – were we met – and show them the dilapidated apartments where we lived. The kids were probably happier with the Cal shirts we bought them, but it was a special experience to walk on the campus for the first time in over 10 years.

Sather Gate w_Family

UC Berkeley: Sather Gate

 

We returned home after two wonderful weeks, where I got to spend the remainder of the time reading (I read 5 books in 4 weeks, none of them having to do with financial planning!), playing with my children, going to the pool, and, thanks to a very generous client, learning how to play the ukulele. I was able to be at home when my kids woke up each morning instead of being at the gym, as I normally exercise early in the day when I’m working. I almost forgot how to tie a necktie. Most importantly, I was able to let go of all the various things that run through a financial planner’s mind and be present with my family, not just in body but entirely in spirit.

It’s taken a couple of days to reacclimatize to the office, though I think I’m pretty close to being up to speed at this point. I feel incredibly lucky to work at such a forward-thinking place that truly values the work/life balance and well-being of their employees. And while I’m excited to catch up with clients, I can’t help but look ahead to my next sabbatical: only 1,825 days, but who’s counting?

 

[1] For people interested in sabbaticals, including how to approach an employer about instituting a sabbatical program, I highly recommend Reboot Your Life: Energize your Career & Life by Taking a Break by Catherine Allen, Nancy Bearg, Rita Foly and Jaye Smith.

[2] It didn’t quite pan out. Neither did my second dream job of being a UPS delivery driver.

About Ben Birken

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