The Young-Professional Sabbatical

Why is it that sabbaticals and/or visiting fellowships are solely reserved for older and more seasoned professionals?

This is a rhetorical question, of course. I understand the value of research, fellowships, and the general, make-us-proud-and-look-good-and-you’ll-benefit-too, thing happening. I have a lot of former faculty members who are taking sabbaticals this year, and it has me thinking a lot about this concept. Most of their journey is to write and do research (or vacation a bit, or do said-professional tasks while vacationing, or not), and also find knew knowledge across the globe. It’s great, and in the end, we all benefit from their discovery (of self, and of knowledge).

In various disciplines, it appears that the older one is, and with more tenure (not to be confused with academic, “tenure”), the more opportunities one has to spread their wings a bit. Freedom. When you’re a new or young professional, these freedoms are limited to begging to attend a one-week conference, or using personal time-off to develop and grow and learn.

But what if, within the first five years as a professional, individuals were allowed 2-3 months (or even 2-3 weeks) to go and do something impacting within another functional area?

Bold, I know. But this is the internship concept, right? Why reserve internships solely for those individuals who are still studying? If we can all get to a place where lifelong learning is accepted and executed, what would be stopping us from allowing young professionals to spread their wings in a facilitated and boomerang-like manner?

“Because there is still a job to be done, Michael,” you might assert.

And, “Because an individual’s development takes a backseat to organizational objectives,” you might further argue.

Listen, I get it. I do. These are sentiments I have heard in previous jobs and/or through colleagues and friends at various institutions (in various functional areas). And more than my own understanding of the easily articulated rebuttal to this dream-sequence, we can all agree that there really is a job still to be done. First priority. But this “getaway” is not as dramatic as it initially comes off, and I would further suggest that, “That Professional,” ruins it for us all.

Yes, “That Professional.” Social media in all forms reveals to us the inner-workings of those few souls who are part of 32 different tasks forces, committees, boards, and associations, all outside of their actual job. All in the name of, “learning,” of course. And to those professionals, I say, “SIMMA DOWN, NOW.” You’re ruining it for the rest of us.

But then I am forced to pause, because I know it’s not their fault. Education is a field where asking people for more and more is just part of the daily operation. Furthermore, we raise most graduate students this way – go, get experience, pursue ten practicum opportunities, write papers at 2:00AM while working most days from 7:30AM-11:00PM. It happens, and I would argue most are better because of that exposure. All in the name of, “learning,” right?

But what about the countries around the globe who pause for months at a time in honor of, “holiday?” What about gap years (which, don’t get me started on my belief in and support for individuals pursuing this option)? These are virtually untouched by young professionals in the United States, and instead, summers are sold solely to those current students who want to advance their professional foundations. And to add, any area with confusing transferability then fights to assist all those who elect to engage. Learning.

Again, “…there is still a job to be done, Michael.” And again, I get it.

I hear many professionals advocate through good and bad, “Do your 1-2 years and then move on to the next job. But is this fair? I have even advised young professionals and peers to think this way, and at times, will stop myself when really evaluating their current situation or status. What if the current gig is a great one for that individual, or what if 6 months is all they care to give or have interest in giving? What if they need perspective? How are they gaining perspective? How are they learning, developing, growing? If going to conferences teaches me anything, it reminds me that some professionals really suck (like the idiot advisor who crashed one of my workshops last spring, among many other examples), and that not every young professional has a supportive or engaging supervisor who cares about their best interests.

Of course, the, “sabbatical or fellowship opportunity,” quest for veteran educators is well-researched and supported, however this post is about finding similar moments for all those up-and-coming educators who are eager and excited to pave their path.

Let’s be unconventional for a moment.

To the supervisees… My charge today is to pause on your current “now.” Reach out to your supervisor. Engage a conversation about learning new tricks and seeing new sites. Dream up other tools for your kit, and draft a one or two month plan which will allow you to be truly drenched in, “learning.” The least your supervisor can do is say no, and at that point, you’ve lost nothing. Hell, show them this post, and ask for their thoughts – if they think this is insane, agree and make some snide remark about how bogus I am. If they’re down, have a plan, a dream-session, a moment to think, feel, and believe, “what if.” Gather new skills and frame those needs in a way that benefits the students and communities you are serving. Everybody can win here.

To the supervisors… Find a way to help make this happen for your employees. Try a summer pause for your people, a winter exchange with another department, campus, or organization (or whatever variation exists for those in whatever field or area of employment), or some way to professionally develop those serving under you. If anything, carve a, “go do whatever, learn, see, inquire, dream,” opportunity. Remember, you don’t know it all, and sometimes others can help your people be a better person for you and for your community. And finally, make sure you are modeling the way. Be learning, seeing, doing, engaging, and let your people see that this, too, should be a value of theirs while working for/with you.

When it comes to someone’s personal and professional development, meet them where they are. Their process is their process. A new month is ahead, and exists as an opportunity to start planning and scheming and growing. So, grow. We’re only all better if we’re all becoming better.




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