Sabbatical years have a long history; an employee’s renewed passion, sparks of creativity, and greater production have proved their success. However, they don’t seem to be as popular as they once were. Many have never even considered a sabbatical which often leads to burnout and resentment from exceptional employees. Here’s the story of Joseph, a Maximo Nivel participant who was forced on a sabbatical by his boss and family, and how that break changed his life and advanced an already thriving career.
The sales industry is a nightmare for some, and a dream for others. I’m of the latter type. I got involved in sales straight out of college and as a naturally competitive person, it was a perfect fit. I was excited to compete with members on my team, and even more enthusiastic to compete with myself. Every week, I made it a personal goal to beat my own sales quota, and every week I did.
It took hard work. I was in the office at 7:30 every morning, and some days I wouldn’t leave until 9 PM. Having international clients required me to work long hours but I needed to make sure I was maximizing on every opportunity. As I continued to advance in my career, I was able to close on more elite clients.
Twenty years later, in 2017, I was at the top of my game. My accounts included clients that made up almost 70% of our company’s profits and the pressure to maintain them was constant. Not to mention, I had a junior in college and a daughter ready to enroll in the fall. I could feel myself slipping, and my boss could see it.
One afternoon, my boss and I went out for a private meeting over lunch. After putting in our orders, he sat back in the leather dining seat as he crossed his arms over his chest. He looked at me and said, “You need a break.”
It wasn’t a question; it wasn’t a statement. It was a demand. I was shocked. He proceeded to tell me how proud of me he was. How he’d watched me blossom throughout the years and he knew how dedicated to my work I was. But he was sending me on a “career break.”
He reminded me how years ago he’d taken his own sabbatical. He was gone for a year, and I was the one who covered for him and continued to grow the company while he was gone. He was confident about a colleague on my team who could do the same for me. I’d never thought about it, and now I didn’t have to. He was demanding I take a break and do something for at least a month. He didn’t want to see me in the office.
I went home confused. I’d done nothing but work for 20 years of my life and I wasn’t sure what I’d do with an entire month off. Then my daughter connected the dots for me.
“Take a gap year,” she said. “That’s what I want to do before I enter the workforce.” As I wondered who exactly she thought would be paying for a year of her traveling, I started to consider it. A year abroad? Could I really do it?
With my family’s blessing, I opted for a 3-month sabbatical. My wife was extremely supportive. She’d seen the way I’d begun to grow weary and had kept quiet about her worries for me. But she was thrilled when I told her I’d decided to travel.
A Sabbatical with Intentions
I had a plan that would not only reinvigorate my spark for life, but also help to advance my already established career. We were considering international clients in Central and South America, so learning Spanish would definitely give me a leg up against the competition. This was my number one objective while on a sabbatical.
Secondly, I wanted to give back to the communities I’d visit. I had established a social responsibility program at our company that involved our sales reps doing 5 community service hours per month. In addition, every sales manager, director, and executive contributed 2.5% of their yearly earnings to a non-profit organization of their choosing on behalf of the company, and another 2.5% to a different organization in their own name. For me, being able to give back to charity was one of the most motivating factors for continuing to grow my career. The more money I made, the more money I could donate.
Why I Chose Maximo Nivel
First of all, I should say that as diligent as I am with my work, that’s where it ends. I don’t have the attention span for putting together itineraries or coordinating logistics. In fact, I had my daughter do the research on a company that could be a one-stop shop and she put me in contact with a Maximo Nivel representative.
Peru was a country my company was looking at closely, so I took advantage and chose this destination immediately. It would be beneficial to be in-country, get to know the culture, and learn their spoken Spanish. Maximo took care of my airport pick up, accommodations, study schedule, and volunteer placement.
I told the rep the kind of volunteer programs I’d gotten involved with before which included community outreach for the homeless, correctional re-entry services, shelters and soup kitchens, and disaster relief clean-up. With that experience in mind, we decided on a construction volunteer project and help in the financial department of an NGO.
I signed up for 4 hours of Spanish study per day; 2 hours for group and 2 hours of private courses. I was assured that this way I could take academic structured classes with the group, learn through activities and conversation with other learners, and still get the reinforcement and private attention I needed. It was the perfect combination.
How This Career Break Changed Me
My 12 weeks in Peru were nothing short of incredible. I learned much more than I expected to. Being immersed in Peruvian culture gave me insight into the daily lives of the locals. This included witnessing the opportunities and struggles people face in Cusco.
I witnessed the passion and dedication city workers had for their careers, but also their power to protest and revolt against a government that paid them less than ideal wages. I advanced my English language skills from a Basic level to High Intermediate and learned more vocabulary and expressions in my everyday interactions than I could have ever learned in the classroom. I practiced with the local foreman at my construction project who gave me even further insight into Peru’s political climate and learned about the financial struggles the NGO faced without any government support. This led me to do some research and use my company’s leverage to secure more funding for the organization, which I did not expect to do.
The idea of a sabbatical never crossed my mind before it was sort of subtly forced onto me. However, it didn’t take long for me to realize the advantages it could have on my career. Learning a new language is beneficial for any industry, and those with direct international business clientele would absolutely benefit. In addition, the time away from the daily grind and the opportunity to learn and experience something new rejuvenated my energy in a way I never would’ve imagined. I’m so grateful for the opportunity, and I can’t wait to return to Peru with my sales team.