Business, personal goals can be met while on sabbatical

Journey of discovery

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About once a week, a special appears on the chalkboard menu of Kitchen 1454 in Augusta. It’s Chef Edward Mendoza’s Asian spare ribs, and they’re one of the most popular items at the Walton Way eatery.

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The Rev. Rick Sanders, of St. Paul's Church, took this photo as he led five teens and an adult on a wilderness canoe trip. He earned a wilderness certification on sabbatical.   RICK SANDERS/SPECIAL
RICK SANDERS/SPECIAL
The Rev. Rick Sanders, of St. Paul's Church, took this photo as he led five teens and an adult on a wilderness canoe trip. He earned a wilderness certification on sabbatical.

What most customers don’t know is that the dish was inspired by a recent sabbatical Mendoza took to travel through southeast Asia.

Over six weeks, he and his wife, Cindy Neunert, visited Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore, spending one week in each country.

“It’s the sort of thing you always dream about doing,” Mendoza said.

The trip wasn’t just about getting away or going on a vacation. It was a strategic break from the busy life of a chef that gave Mendoza the opportunity to plan for the new restaurant he would open in Augusta.

“The whole time I was away, I was planning this place,” he said of Kitchen 1454. “I’d say to anyone, if you have chance to get away, do it.”

SABBATICALS, DERIVED from the Hebrew word Sabbath, are no longer reserved to the realm of clergy and scholars. They have the potential to yield not just personal but professional benefits.

Few employers, however, offer long-term leave with benefits. Paid sabbaticals are offered by less than 5 percent of U.S. employers, according to the Society for Human Resource Management, which conducts an annual survey of business practices.

The organization notes, however, that paid sabbaticals are offered by more than 20 percent of the companies on Fortune magazine’s list of the Top 100 Best Companies to Work For.

Kristine Haglund chose to leave her project-management job in Augusta to go on a sabbatical this year.

She lives in China, where her husband, Brian, took a temporary assignment.

“The decision to take leave or resign from my past positions did not come easy and required a lot of thought, planning and sacrifice, but taking these chances has allowed me to create once-in-a-lifetime opportunities,” said Haglund, 27, who is using the time away to learn the local language and culture.

The six-month trip is their second sabbatical abroad; the first was in 2008-09 in Germany. The couple plans to return to their home in Martinez at the end of the summer.

The decision to temporarily step back from her career was not an easy one at first, but Haglund said she knew it was the right decision in the end.

Her grandfather died last summer, two days after Haglund’s husband was offered the assignment. The couple drove to Florida to be with family and talked about the opportunity for the entire nine-hour drive.

“When we arrived, we both did not know if it was best for me to leave my job,” she said. “After looking through some of my grandpa’s files, we found a list of things he wanted to be included in his obituary. The first few items were his travels in Brazil, Japan and North America.

“As soon as I read this, I knew I would regret not going. My grandfather’s passing made the decision easy and has inspired my transition abroad.”

She suggests that anyone who wants to take a sabbatical begin planning and saving early.

“Taking time for yourself can be a sacrifice, but if you have a plan and goal in mind, it will be worth it when you return to the hectic life you left behind,” she said.

The benefits to sabbaticals often outweigh the costs, according to a recent study in the Journal of Education for Business.

Sabbaticals tend to improve goodwill, help companies attract and retain talent and provide opportunities for employees to acquire new skills, according to the research, published in 2011. Most workers, from academia to business, return to work energized, the journal reported.

WHATEVER THE CONTEXT, people need time to get away, said the Rev. Richard Sanders, the rector of St. Paul’s Church in Augusta.

“People need time to think and reflect on the past and how your past reflects on your feature dreams,” he said. “I think that people who don’t make an opportunity to do something like that are really missing out.”

Two-and-a-half years ago, Sanders took a sabbatical for wilderness first-responder training from the National Outdoor Leadership School. The training allowed him to lead a group of church youth on their own getaway the next summer. Five teens and two adults traveled 43 miles in eight days by canoe.

“When I came back, I was energized,” Sanders said. “I had a spiritual depth and resource that was renewed. I had more energy to do things. I had a new perspective.”

Many denominations, including the Episcopal Church, recommend a sabbatical after a certain number of years of service to a congregation, Sanders said.

There’s good reason for that.

“Recreation is re-creation,” he said. “We all need that time to disconnect.”

HOW TO GET AWAY

CHOOSE YOUR TIMING WELL. “We were getting ready to make a big life change,” said Chef Edward Mendoza, who took a sabbatical before moving from Dallas to Augusta. “If we were going to move, we were going to make it a big move. When else are you going to get six weeks off?” Mendoza and his wife rented out their Dallas condo, moved their belongings into a new house in Augusta, went on sabbatical, then unpacked their new home upon returning.

START EARLY. “It took us three months to plan, but we started nine months out to give ourselves some time,” Mendoza said.

SAVE. Cut expenses or look for part-time work. “Just start saving. Have a sabbatical account,” Mendoza said.

ASK. Share your passion to travel, volunteer, write or tackle a new skill or hobby. Summon the courage to broach the topic with employers.

PLAN FOR YOUR ABSENCE. Anticipate needs while you’re away and address them in advance to minimize impact on co-workers, family and neighbors. Kristine and Brian Haglund left pets with family members for their current six-month sabbatical to China.

ENJOY IT. Take pictures and write a journal, said Kristine Haglund. For her first sabbatical, “I blogged about our travels, festivals and events but didn’t write about the small things that made the experience amazing. I am now writing a little bit every day so when I reflect back in the future, it won’t just be the big adventures I remember, but the small stuff that made the experience real.”


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