Things I miss about being at work

I’m on a six-month sabbatical from work. This seems like a strange thing to say as we rarely use the term ‘sabbatical’ in Australia unless you are an academic or other high-flying type.

Most people in Australia would say they are taking long service leave, or they are having a long break (known here as leave without pay). There are very generous leave provisions for public servants in Australia and I’m grateful for that and the many other benefits of living in this sunny and clean environment, but I don’t want to sound too smug.

I thought I’d better check whether sabbatical was the right word to use and found that Dr Google describes it as…

“A break from work” during which employees can pursue their interests, like traveling, writing, research, volunteering or other activities (or even rest). During that time, the employee is still employed at their organisation, but they don’t need to perform their normal job duties or report to work.*

So yes, I’m taking the opportunity to pursue my interests (writing and research) and getting plenty of rest, but I’m not currently doing any travelling unless you count going to Kmart to buy some new slippers.

Many people have asked me if I wanted to cancel my leave given the Covid situation, but to be honest, I was grateful not to have to think about work when the whole pandemic thing started. I was too busy panicking and trying to figure out if we would survive (so far so good) and I was finding it extremely difficult to concentrate, so I was glad when my holidays started.

But now that things have settled down a bit and restrictions are easing; I’m starting to feel guilty about my lack of writing progress and general inability to start working on any of my lofty goals (making a podcast, writing a book, starting a newsletter).

I’m struggling with not being at work.

As well as missing my co-workers (who are very nice), I miss the tasks coming into my inbox – please read this report, please write a briefing note, please review these survey questions. At work you don’t have decide how to spend your day, the work comes thick and fast. Sometimes it’s something you enjoy doing and sometimes it’s tedious, but there’s always lots of it. My favourite tasks are the ones which involve editing other people’s words to make sure they make sense. I think I would have loved to have been a book editor. Maybe in my next life…

Being at home with lots of time on your hands means that you have to be very deliberate about your choices. I think this is what is trendily known as being intentional. It strikes me that living an intentional life requires a lot of effort and is intellectually demanding. You have to choose between activities that help you make progress and those that are just using up the hours until you’re allowed to have a glass of wine or watch that new show on Netflix.

You have to avoid going down rabbit holes like reading reviews of every mattress-in-a-box that’s currently on the market and downloading sample chapters of every new bestseller that’s being released in May, many of which you have no desire to read.

It means actually reading the books you were planning to read when you had the time. Yes, that time is now folks, so get reading, but it also means taking the time to rest and reflect on what to do for the rest of your life which is very tiring, I can tell you.

If you are working from home or retired, on leave, or between jobs, I hope you are doing well. Maybe you are trying some new things or just trying to survive as best you can. Whatever your situation, stay safe.

*The concept of the sabbatical is based on the Biblical practice of shmita, which is related to agriculture. According to Leviticus 25, Jews in the Land of Israel must take a year-long break from working the fields every seven years. A “sabbatical” has come to mean an extended absence in the career of an individual to fulfill some goal, e.g., writing a book or travelling extensively for research.

12 thoughts on “Things I miss about being at work

  1. I loved work and like to fit as much into my day as possible and feel I have carried that through to retirement. Your post has made me realize why I push myself. As a Seventh-day Adventist I practice putting the 7th day aside for doing different activities. Ie corporate worship firstly, including discussion groups, after which I enjoy eating, walking, music, helping, serving etc. usually with family and friends. I look forward to that rest from work and normal activities all week therefore have a good work ethic during the other 6 days. I have been practicing this for 67 years this coming week, since I was 6 days old actually and recommended it. The reason is I believe the biblical, literal creation where God rested the 7th day and recommends we do the same. Being interested in permaculture also i have learned the benefit of resting the soil. Notice in Leviticus 25 God says you can eat anything that grows on its own. That seems to reinforce the permaculture practice of self seeded edible plants. Thanks Marg for stirring my mind.

    1. First of all let me say happy birthday! I was just thinking about you this morning and about how much energy you have and all the things that you do. As you say, you’ve always been like that so why would you be any different in retirement? I guess the people who are active and busy at work just continue to be active and busy when they are no longer doing paid work. I think I’m a lot lazier than you and admire your get up and go, but I’m also glad that you have a day off to rest and recuperate.

  2. I just started a year-long sabbatical! At my university we had the option of deferring it due to the pandemic. But I didn’t have any travel scheduled so I am continuing with the original plan. The pandemic has been a good trial run, since I was forced to work at home for the past two months. But this week is the first week where my time is pretty much open and up to me to decide how I spend it, so I identify with what you said about having to be intentional. But I also have no problem “easing into” this schedule! Lots of running, biking, and socially distant socializing on the agenda this week!

  3. Hi Maggie
    I retired 12 years ago and now I am too busy to miss work, it will happen for you. It’s fun to take a different route to “fulfilment “. Enjoy

    1. Not until September and who knows what will happen then. I imagine that a lot more people will be working from home by choice. I work for the government and we already have a flexible workplace agreement which means we can work from home on a regular basis.

  4. Have been working from home, and jobs have turned scarce since the pandemic so I’m kind of on a sabbatical as well, and I guess ‘intentional’ is the right word.

    Doing nothing takes so much more effort than having something to do, and it’s not as awesome as some people think!

    Things get better once you fill your day with meaningful tasks though (and thankfully writing is doable throughout most of the day). Am certainly learning what it is to live properly. Thanks for sharing Margaret!

    1. Thanks so much for commenting.
      One of my favourite words is ‘ennui’ which is the feeling of lethargy you get when you are bored or unmotivated. Although it’s a great word, it’s a state that I like to avoid if possible.
      I agree that writing is a good way to spend your time and it helps you to figure out what you really want to focus on.
      I like your post about the journey, not the destination by the way.

      1. I guess it’s all about time and what you do with it – whatever situation you’re in!!! I’m working from home everyday since COVID and while I’m busy which is good – it’s also feeling a bit monotonous – sitting down for hours going from one Skype meeting to the next and just stopping for short breaks and basically being confined to a room in my house. While I’m glad I have a job, there is a real blurring now between work and home and without the distraction of actually interacting with friends and colleagues which is the real joy in work – I feel like I’m slowly turning into a marshmallow and suffering from ‘stuck to your seat syndrome.’ I guess wherever you are and what ever you’re doing – variety is the spice of life and it will be good when this confinement ends and we can socialise with the people we really care about.

      2. I think a lot of meetings are quite boring and Zoom just accentuates that. This is usually because they are allowed to meander on without enough structure and no real progress is made. The informal interactions with colleagues tend to be more fun.
        Re being stuck inside – lots of people have suggested that you walk around the block (if you’re allowed to) at the beginning and end of your work day. It clears your head and breaks up the day.

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