Jennifer C Vigil

Create an inspiring sabbatical

How To Create The Inspiring Sabbatical You Deserve

Have you ever wanted to take a sabbatical to have time to focus on a passion project or to just have time to think about the direction you want to go next? Have you been working on a book and just haven’t felt like you have the time away from daily distractions to make the progress you want to? Or is there some other creative endeavor that has been calling to you? Or are you trying to figure out what your next act will be?

Most of us don’t have the luxury or the possibility to take months off from our jobs or our lives for a sabbatical. Heck, it seems something that only academics get to do, and even they don’t get them very often (generally once every 7 years).

However, creating that time and space to dedicate to a project, or to have space to think is essential for all of us…AND it is possible. While a typical academic sabbatical is a semester or a year, primarily 6 – 12 months, a sabbatical can be as short as a week and even a weekend retreat can wield some powerful creative magic. You can create frequent weekend retreats that can give you some of what a more extended sabbatical does.

Golden Gate Bridge

Don’t let the length of time or lack of vacation days be a deterrent. Creating the right environment and having boundaries around the time and space you set aside makes all the difference between a ho-hum break and life-changing WOW.

what’s in a name

Vacation, retreat, residency, sabbatical. What’s the difference? Does it matter what you call “it”?

There is a difference between all these but in general, it is subtle. Rest, relaxation and reconnecting with yourself are part of each of these. One of these things is not like the other,  however.

Vacation, retreat or sabbatical

Vacations are mostly for rest, relaxation, recreating and adventure (not everyone is seeking adventure on vacation but it can be a feature). So what about the other 3 terms? Technically, there are differences between a retreat, a residency, and a sabbatical but I want to move beyond the nitpicking of labels and details and get to the core of what they all 3 seek to achieve and how you can tweak out some of that magic.

what is a sabbatical

It is an opportunity to get out of your regular life and focus away from the noise, distractions, and daily obligations of work and family/ home.

It is a time to:

  • Rest and re-energize.
  • Reflect.
  • Find inspiration.
  • Slow yourself down and become spacious.
  • Get perspective.
  • Connect with like-minded explorers.
  • Move forward or find a new direction.
  • Start or complete a project.
  • Reconnect with yourself.

Ultimately, it is a gift of time. A present to yourself.

It can take place anywhere. It is best if you leave your current location so that you can completely break from your regular routines. If you can’t afford to leave, I have some tips below on how to make it work but I strongly encourage you to be creative and find a way to get out of your home and town. House/ apartment swaps are an option. House sitting for a friend or family member while they are away. Be creative.

why take a sabbatical

Taking a break from your regular routine is not a luxury but a necessity for our health, psyche, and our souls. It gives us perspective and distance on our lives which opens honest reflection on what is and isn’t currently working. It can reveal profound insights, spark transformative “aha moments,” and ignite your creative potential. New directions, new ideas, and a new you can emerge from taking a sabbatical.

What are some reasons to plan a retreat?

  • Avoid burn out.
  • Recharge your creative wellspring.
  • Reduce stress.
  • Gain greater clarity on your life, a project, what your next move will be, your career, your creative practice…
  • Start, finish or make progress on a project.
  • Create time and the environment to collaborate.
  • Time to focus on something you love
  • You are at a crossroads and not sure on the direction to go next (i.e. just finished college, thinking of returning to college, switching jobs, moved to a new town, divorce, empty nest, retiring, etc.)

Be intentional. Be honest with yourself. Do you actually just need a vacation or do you want something more…

Vacation vs retreat

An opportunity to explore possibilities. To reflect and find inspiration.

what to do on your sabbatical

This is your time. Your agenda. No judgment, no obligations. Start by making a list what you would do if you had no obligations, didn’t have to go to work or to answer to anyone. Set a timer and write for 5 minutes. Do you have a bucket list? If not take 5 minutes (set a timer again) and write down as many things that you can think of that you would like to do before you die. Nothing is too minor or outrageous. No critics allowed during this task. No matter how crazy, write it down. Don’t self-edit at this point. When doing both of these exercises, the key is to write as many items as you can in 5 min. Make it a game to see how many ideas you come up with. (Later see if you can make a list of 100 things to do before you die. It is hard to come up with items after the first 20.) If you get stuck when writing, think of one of your heroes or someone you admire for their adventurous spirit. What has she done that fascinated, inspired, or impressed you? Does a friend always seem to be taking a new class, learning a language, or embarking on some adventure? Use them as an inspiration.

Now compare the two lists. Are there any common themes? This is often a good place to start thinking about what you could do on your sabbatical. Maybe you already know. Perhaps you have a book you have been working on or some other creative project–art, music, film, an app, etc. (creativity isn’t limited to the arts BTW 😉 ). 

Here are some ideas of what you could do on your sabbatical

  • Travel. This could be a defining aspect of your adventure. Maybe you want to interview people in a different city or in 10 different cities, states or countries. Perhaps you want to photograph people or places during your sabbatical. Or people watch? Be creative in how travel could be the foundation of your sabbatical.
  • Learn–a language, a new skill, a new sport, a new art form, to meditate, to cook, etc. The possibilities for expanding yourself through learning are endless. Taking workshops has always been a fruitful endeavor. I don’t worry about creating masterpieces when I take a class, I just want time to explore and see what the medium can do. Then I take it back home and weave it into my studio practice. I get inspired by what others are doing and especially by my conversations with them. I have some fun questions that I like to ask people when we are just chilling that get at unique things people value and their aspirations. Connecting with others during your retreat can be an unexpected bonus to your adventure. Be open to it.
  • Explore–new ideas, new places, yourself, new cuisine, new music, new art media, new cultures…introspection counts too.
  • Volunteer–it can lead to a new career, new connections, inspiration, and a new passion. It is also a way to find like-minded passionate people who can be resources for you or potential collaborators in the future.
  • Try something from your bucket list or a passion that you have always wanted to explore. Keep that bucket list handy. It isn’t just for sabbaticals. It is a great way to get out of a rut.
  • Try many things in hopes of discovering a new direction or interest/ passion.

Now that you have some inspiring ideas about what you’d like to do with your sabbatical, it is time to decide on where.

picking a location

You may already have an image of the perfect location for your sabbatical. Don’t limit yourself to that image, however. It is important to make sure the location fits your activities, timeframe, and budget. You don’t want that image to be an anchor problem that keeps you from getting your sabbatical on your calendar and reservations made. Also, you don’t want to limit your options during your retreat. Being tucked up in a small mountain village may seem idyllic but may end up being stifling.

Make sure you have opportunities for solitude AND interaction. Depending on your project you may prefer more of one or the other. I think the right mix can result in beautiful moments of serendipity. If you do it right, you will have engineered serendipity into your sabbatical…

ƒEngineered serendipity

Make sure that you set boundaries around your retreat. Decide if and how people can reach you or even better let people know the interval that YOU will reach out to them. Keep the number of people that you talk or email to a minimum so you can stay focused on the work at hand.

This is an investment in you. Don’t let the routine and life you left at home seep into your sabbatical. This time is sacred and is a gift to yourself. Honor that gift by having clear, well defined, and well-publicized boundaries. Setting boundaries begins with the proper mindset.

how to get in the mindset

Preparation can make the difference between ho-hum break and life-changing WOW. 


  • Research your destination thoroughly. What resources are available–people, shops, activities, support services, etc. Make sure that your housing has everything you need like adequate wifi (just because it lists wifi doesn’t mean it works or consistently),
  • Clear your schedule and finish any uncompleted projects that will take up mental space during your sabbatical. If you can’t finish something or delegate it, get an extension for a couple of weeks to a month after you return. You shouldn’t spend your retreat working through your to-do list.
  • Set up “out of office” notifications on your email and voicemail and indicate when you will be available again. If you need to check in with the world while gone, indicate the frequency in which you will answer emails, etc. Let people know how to reach you in case of an emergency. Be firm with these boundaries, especially with yourself.
  • Write a proposal. Depending on what form your sabbatical takes (whether you applied for a program), you may not have had to formally describe your plan. I urge you to create a written plan even if it is just for you. Include:
    • What is your goal?
    • What is your mission/ purpose?
    • What do you hope to accomplish? This part can be as detailed as you wish. Allow for flexibility and serendipity.
    • What will success look like?
    • How will you evaluate your experience afterward?
  • Visualization. I am a big fan of visualization and its power to bring about change in our lives. What we see we create. What we focus on comes to life. Before you go to bed at night close your eyes and imagine yourself on your retreat. See yourself being creative, inspired, and accomplishing your goals. Imagine yourself meeting new people, trying new things and being open to the possibilities. Channel your inner child and ramp up your enthusiasm for the adventure to come.


  • Make a huge list of things to accomplish.
  • Bring too much. Keep your trip streamlined. Limit the number of projects you will work on, the number of supplies you bring (if you are an artist), and what you pack. You want to avoid decision paralysis. The more you have to work with the stronger the creative blocks are. You will find that you are more creative if there are constraints. Trust me. I know from experience. I always ended up bringing way too many supplies and don’t use them.
  • Wing it. Failing to plan is like going on a trip to the beach but failing to check the direction you are heading. You could end up there but more than likely you will end up in the middle of nowhere with no water in sight. Yes be flexible and schedule the time to allow serendipity to wield her magic.
  • Over schedule your time. Conversely, don’t over pack your schedule. Leave time to breathe, reflect, play, and daydream. Your creativity is located in your subconscious. Downtime is the best way to tease her out.
  • Plan on working. You may not be able to completely break from work, I get it. But I urge you to have clear boundaries around your time. Make your sabbatical work a priority. Do that first each day. Or make a commitment to spend only one day or a couple afternoons a week on work.


how to structure it

  • Critical to have a plan and schedule.
  • Plan daily activities. Create routines and habits. A retreat is a great time to try out new routines or tweak old ones that have grown stale. Try taking a morning walk before starting for the day. For more on daily rituals check out Miracle Mornings by Hal Elrod and Twyla Tharp’s The Creative HabitTharp’s book is perfect pre-retreat reading. She is a vocal advocate for routines as a means of consistently engaging your creativity.
  • Budget time and resources.
  • Get things in order for your responsibilities back home. There are articles out there that address the details of getting your finances, job, and responsibilities in order.
  • Creating the right environment and having boundaries around the time and space. Choose your living and working environment wisely. Know thyself. I challenge you to embrace solitude if you tend to be a chaos junkie. Try to work at least one day without music, noise or distraction. Tharp proposes a wonderful challenge around solitude.

where to start–what to do if you have limited time & money

Now that you have determined the what and the where you must decide how much time you can carve out of your schedule. Finances and vacation time may influence the length of your sabbatical. Be creative. Save up vacation time or see if you can take some unpaid leave. Consider doing a series of 3 or 4-day weekends. Break up your sabbatical conceptually and focus on one component a weekend. Sure, it isn’t ideal and several weeks would be better but it is an important start. Once you start reaping the benefits of retreats, you will find that you are more committed to make this a regular part of your annual schedule (or every other year plans).

If it is funding that is holding you back, there are options. Look at artist residencies. Some locations offer barter or in-kind trades. For example, La Muse retreat center up in the mountains near Carcassonne, France offers a discount for people willing to work at the center during their stay.

Creative ways to fund your sabbatical:

  • Crowdfunding campaign. You can offer unique thank you gifts for different levels of financial commitment. Be thoughtful about protecting your sabbatical time and don’t commit yourself to make thank you gifts during your stay or you may find all your time consumed with that task. Or limit the number of gifts that will be done during the trip.
  • House swapping. Often housing is the biggest cost. Home swap sites offer lower or no cost options for housing in countries around the world. I personally have not tried it but have friends who swear by it and have traveled all over the world using them. Since I often travel without my spouse, the direct swap isn’t really an option for me at this time.
  • House sitting. Offering to house sit for someone while they are gone can be a win-win. It often involves pet care as well but if you don’t mind you could get a free place to stay AND get paid to do it.
  • Ask friends and family. Do you know anyone with a spare room, a vacation home or guest house that you can stay at? Be clear about your project and goals–a personal sabbatical to focus on a project. You’d be surprised by how many people are intrigued by that and are interested in supporting you. Remember that you are looking for patrons. Think back to the Renaissance and the wealthy families that were patrons to some of the world’s greatest artists–Michelangelo, DaVinci, Botticelli, and Raphel just to name a few. Let people know that you are looking for a patron to help you find housing for your sabbatical. To sweeten the deal you could offer your services if you stay in someone’s home by cooking dinners, dog walking, helping with other things around the house. Make sure that you carve out your sacred work time and find a place where you can have solitude to work. It could be a great way to connect more with family or friends.
  • Brainstorm. What other ways could you fundraise for your sabbatical? Please share your ideas in the comments.

Let your creative juices flow and find unique solutions to the housing and funding component. Dedicate a 10-minute brainstorming session to all the possible ways you could fund a retreat if you had no money. Again, don’t judge or reject any idea even if you would never do it. Just get them all down on paper and use that as the starting point for coming up with your funding plan.


keeping the magic alive

How to keep it going once you get home. Before you leave your sabbatical, take an hour to reflect on your experience. Write down all the things that you learned during your experience. What worked? What didn’t? What parts of your schedule and routine were most useful to inspire you or to get you into your flow state? What do you wish you had done? What was most memorable and why? What was the most unexpected outcome or event?

Next, look at your answers and see what you can use in your daily routine at home. Did waking up early and having a morning ritual make getting to your creative work easier? Did a daily journaling practice lead to more inspiration and or mental clarity? Did you find daily walks in nature rejuvenating and a time where you had flashes of inspiration? Did meditation help calm your monkey mind?

Finally, look at where you were at with your project, if you were working on something specific. Make notes of the next 3 things you need or want to do with it. If you were learning, write down 3 ways you can apply the information you learned when you return home. Also, create a plan on what you will want to learn next.

Now make a plan for your first week back. Give yourself a break the first morning and day back to reorient yourself. Then day two begin with your new routine. If it seems like too many changes at once, pick one activity and add it to your daily routine. Maybe it is taking a walk during lunch (or before or after dinner…I walk in the morning because it is so hot in Tucson much of the year). Each week add another item from your list. Feel free to edit activities that aren’t serving you. Just make sure that you aren’t letting them go because you have fallen back into old patterns. The idea is to carry the retreat experience into your daily life at home.

Every evening make a plan for what you will do the next day. Having a plan keeps you focused. Try not to have more than 3 things on your list daily. Better to get one thing done consistently than to have 5 or 10 things on your list and get only 3 down. There is a psychology to keeping completion momentum going and we are more likely to commit to new routines long-term if we have consistent successes no matter how small.

I hope that you are excited to create the inspiring sabbatical you deserve.

If you want an inspiring retreat experience but don’t want to do the planning consider joining me in Florence, Italy in mid-October 2019  for Ignite Your Creative Potential retreat. I have carefully curated this retreat to maximize your “aha moments” while giving you plenty of time to bask in the beauty of Florence while reveling in the magic of engineered serendipity.

During the 7 day trip, we dive deep into expanding your creative process examining creative blocks, developing new routines to get you into a flow state faster and how to get to “done” consistently.

Retreat registration will be opening soon. Sign up to be the first to hear when registration opens.





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