Written by: Amanda Toler Woodward
Primary source : Amanda Toler Woodward, August 11, 2015
Next week, my sabbatical officially ends. As you can imagine, I reenter the academic fray with mixed feelings and a bit of trepidation. I really, really enjoyed my sabbatical. I mean, I really enjoyed it. So much that around March or April, I started worrying about having to come back. But now I’m looking forward to seeing my colleagues and teaching and getting back into various projects and meetings . . . well, okay maybe not meetings. Although I expect reentry will be a bit bumpy and it remains to be seen how long this renewed feeling will last, but I’ve regained the “hooray school is starting” feeling that I’d lost the last couple of years.
So how did it go and why did it work? Here are a few thoughts.
I let go of work. I deleted work emails or filed them away for future reference without reading them. With a few exceptions, I didn’t have contact with anyone from work, at least not about work. I saw some people socially. I liked their pictures on Facebook. But I didn’t ask them about work and was blissfully ignorant of academic goings-on.
While much of my time was spent working at home, I spent seven weeks in May and June in Tampere, Finland. I really loved it there. I mean I really, really loved it. Yes, I missed my husband and my quadrupeds, but I was sad to leave. And then I was happy to be home. I’d say that’s probably the best of all possible worlds – to be happy in two different places and to miss each of them when you are away.
It was wonderful to be in Finland for an extended time. I was really able to explore Tampere. My Finnish did improve – an itty, bitty, bit. I was forced out of my regular grooves.
This was true for the whole sabbatical. I’m a routine-oriented person. When life is going fast and furious, that’s how I get things done. I get up at pretty much the same time everyday thanks to my quadruped alarm clocks, I feed the quads, make the coffee, have some breakfast, sit down to work. I write in the mornings. I do teaching and admin stuff in the afternoon. I go to the gym at roughly the same time every day. I make pancakes for breakfast on Sunday mornings and eat them while working the New York Times Sunday crossword puzzle. I’m in bed by 9:30 most nights. I read for a while and turn the light out at 10.
I stuck to many of these routines at first. It was hard to let go. But, gradually my grip loosened. I went sledding down the hill at the back of the house. (The neighbors saw the tracks and wondered if we’d had some kids visiting). I stayed up later, sometimes even later than my husband, which confused everyone. I made waffles instead of pancakes (how daring!) – sometimes even on a weekday! (gasp!) I started agility classes with my dog. I watched movies in the middle of the day (and felt very guilty about it – some things you just can’t change).
I also worked on a book and read and thought about elder care issues and pondered where to go next with my research. I started this blog and some other non-academic writing aimed at getting research out into the broader world. I read research in areas that I don’t normally look at and thought about the many different ways to approach similar questions and issues.
And I think it was this last bit that really helped me re-energize. Most of the time we are pressed to produce, produce, produce. Publish journal articles. Submit grant proposals. Find new collaborators. You start to work to a formula just to meet demand and in the process you lose some of the freedom and creativity that drew me to academia in the first place. Sabbatical helped me regain some of that and rediscover why I do what I do. Who knows how long that will last, but I will enjoy the benefits while I can. And, I’ll start planning my next sabbatical.
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