Staff Reflections on Sabbatical

Staff Reflections on Sabbatical

Reflections from Elisabeth Hyleck, Director of Learning and Partnerships,

In July of 2022, I celebrated my 15th Anniversary at Maryland Philanthropy Network. To mark the occasion, I was given a one-month paid sabbatical to be taken within a year. I’ve been asked if I was given an assignment – something to accomplish during my sabbatical. I’m grateful that the answer is no, the gift came with no strings attached. That said, now that I’ve returned, I feel compelled to share some reflections from my time away.

First of all, I’ve been asked by colleagues if we have a policy around sabbaticals, because they are curious about implementing them within their organizations. MPN does not, but this was a foray into institutionalizing the practice. I will advocate for it to become policy with our future president and CEO. I know at least one of our colleague organizations, Philanthropy Massachusetts, provides staff a 3-month sabbatical after 7 years of employment. As lovely as one month was, it was just enough time to detach and refresh. I imagine even longer would be generative.

Next, I was able to check out with very little worry because I have such supportive teammates. Literally, when I thanked my colleagues for taking on responsibilities in my absence, Shanetta simply responded, “We are a team.” Our collaborative style and cross-training facilitate us stepping in for one another on a regular basis. I think this is key. It was great to return without any crises to manage or major issues that fell through the cracks, which speaks well to this strong team. Further, I believe my absence allowed other MPN staff to pick up their leadership, filling roles and tasks that I normally would have done.

Before I went on sabbatical, I listened to the audiobook of Rest is Resistance: A Manifesto by Tricia Hersey. It asserts, in a gentle, yet urgent voice that we deserve rest and don’t need to earn it, that we can step away from “grind culture” and the need to be productive, and that rest is a liberatory, restorative, and sacred act. This helped me truly go on sabbatical guilt-free and take this gift of rest. I strongly recommend you read or listen to this book and think about the role of rest in your life.

For those who are curious about what I did during my sabbatical, I’ll share the highlight was a family trip to France (Provence, Marseille, and Paris) and Belgium (Ghent and Brussels). While it’s been said many times before, travelling is remarkable for experiencing different perspectives, language, culture, and history. I practiced my French and found it to be not as rusty as I feared. We enjoyed our all-electric rental car, not needing to pause for gas or hunt for a charging station once. We reinforced “framily” connections with my Belgian exchange sister, our teens and husbands meeting one another for the first time. We saw art in museums in France, on the streets of Brussels, and, once back home at The Culture exhibition at the Baltimore Museum of Art and 1776 at the Kennedy Center.

I read Saving Time by Jenny Odell, which among other things, reinforced Tricia Hersey’s ideas of leisure for the sake of leisure, not in order to be more productive. I also read Now is Not the Time to Panic by Kevin Wilson, The Magic Tampon Machine and Other Stories by Sarah Berger, and various guidebooks to France. I listened to Nostalgie French Radio, a birthday playlist compiled by my sister, Hip Hop classics, and Rick Steves Audioguides. I took to heart the French cultural norm of relaxing over long meals and consumed delicious French cheeses and crêpes, Belgian waffles and home brew, pastis, and espressos.

Though this special time has passed, I have touchpoints that I can turn to when I need to be reminded to break from work and to explore new terrain. I encourage you to find time to rest in every day, to take your vacation time, and help make sabbaticals more regular in our sector.


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