Early Lessons From My Radical Sabbatical
October 5, 2023
Daisy Auger-Domínguez shapes organizational transformations on the leading edge of culture. As an executive, workplace strategist, inclusion revolutionary, author, speaker, and board member, Daisy inspires and equips global businesses, organizations, and leaders to build workplace cultures firmly grounded in human-centric values and purpose.

In a world perpetually in motion, taking a step back can be a radical act. 

On August 16th, a day after transitioning from my role as Vice Media's global chief people officer, I made a public declaration on LinkedIn: I was embarking on a radical sabbatical. The response from friends, colleagues and strangers was overwhelming. As it turns out, our shared sense of burnout is undeniably real and many folks out there have tasted the refreshing rejuvenation of sabbaticals or are giving it serious consideration. 

Because I’ve been asked all the questions—the why, how and what of it all, I’ll unpack my decision making process and practices.

Why I Pressed Pause

My decision to embark on a radical sabbatical was influenced by months-long conversations with my executive coach, Rha Goddess, about the challenges of leading people during difficult times. The world is tired and practicing self-care while managing others undergoing their own turbulence adds an entirely new level of depletion to the equation.

I've spent the last two decades driving transformational change in some of the world's most admired companies. These past three plus years, I held the role of Chief People Officer at Vice Media. Guiding global teams through what felt like an eternal health crisis, providing emotional support to peers, teammates, and colleagues, lending an ear to their troubles, and offering empathy and understanding, all while tackling a gazillion new work challenges spanning the personal and operational without a guidebook—led me down a path of prolonged burnout, unlike anything I'd ever encountered in my career. 

Recognizing that I had neglected myself for too long, I knew I deserved to take a breather, a chance to reevaluate, and an opportunity to let revelations flow. I yearned for a "refugio" – a sanctuary for serenity, reflection, and action where I could pour onto myself what I needed most to feel whole, healthy, joyful, and safe.

And though my decision was deeply personal, it was also evidence-based. 

Recent articles and employee surveys have unveiled a widespread feeling of burnout and disengagement within the traditional 9 to 5 work grind, with more than 40% of workers reporting demotivation. Fresh insights from BambooHR underscore employee unhappiness has reached a new peak since 2020. The underlying causes of this widespread workplace discontent can be attributed to the lingering health and economic ramifications of the COVID-19 pandemic, and messy layoffs, budget cuts, and office return mandates. 

As I speak to others on similar journeys, I recognize the overwhelming need and longing for a respite.

Everyone's sabbatical path is unique; some seek grand far away adventures, leaving behind daily routines. Others tailor their sabbaticals to focus on learning new skills or hobbies that ignite their passions.

How to Radical Sabbatical 

Once I committed to a radical sabbatical, Rha posed three essential questions that helped me design my path:

  1. What would you need to be handled for you to slow down?
  2. If you could slow down, what could be possible for you that isn’t right now? 
  3. As you consider taking this time in service of “what’s next,”  what will you need to make this radical sabbatical truly awesome? 

Unforeseen disruptions and the practical challenges of everyday life conspired to delay my decision more than once. But once the intention had been set, there was no stopping me.

While this isn't my first career break, it's different this time. 

Everyone's sabbatical path is unique; some seek grand far away adventures, leaving behind daily routines. Others tailor their sabbaticals to focus on learning new skills or hobbies that ignite their passions. In a previous sabbatical five years ago, I whisked my family away on travel adventures, volunteered with causes near to my heart and dreamed up a more expansive vision of my next career move. 

This time, however, I’ll be rolling up my sleeves for some speaking engagements—my happiness hack. I’ll be writing, my favorite form of therapy, and sharing my reflections. You see, I’ve learned that when we hold back who we are, we shrink into smaller versions of ourselves. I've made a pact with myself never to play small or dim my light. I'm on a mission to shine my light as brightly as possible because, in doing so, I help others shine theirs.

Furthermore, there will be wellness retreats. Taking a page from the wisdom of Audre Lorde, who wrote, "Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare," these retreats are my declaration of self-preservation. They're a profound means of reclamation, a deliberate step toward nurturing myself in anticipation of what lies ahead.

Good questions help us navigate the messy, unearth our courage, and shed light on the unspoken and overlooked. Different questions are suited to different seasons and moments in our lives.

A Framework

To shape what’s next, I've honed in on a simple framework:

  1. Create a routine: Limiting myself to three scheduled daily activities, with exceptions for essential commitments. If I schedule a speaking engagement, a lunch with a friend and a board meeting, I don’t book anything else. 
  2. Give it meaning: Categorizing activities into three buckets: Generative, Nourishing, and Restful. A corporate talk, that’s generative. Drinks with a friend, that’s nourishing. A retreat, that’s restful + nourishing.
  3. Keep intentions sacred: Reminding myself why I embarked on this journey to honor its purpose. 

Protecting My Refugio Through Self-Reflection

If you've ever worked with me, heard me speak or followed my writing, you know that I’m a big fan of reflective enquiries. I believe they are the key to our liberation. Good questions help us navigate the messy, unearth our courage, and shed light on the unspoken and overlooked. Different questions are suited to different seasons and moments in our lives.

These are the questions currently on my reflection rotation:

  1. How do I want to show up in the world?
  2. What do I want my work and career to be about?
  3. How can I continue to channel joy, hope, and optimism as I heal from my deepest wounds?
  4. What do I need this moment to be for me so that I can remain awake and open to the possibilities?

That’s a lot of questions, but there’s one thing I’m clear on: Treating work and career breaks as closely guarded secrets or topics shrouded in taboos is not on the menu.  

Besides, sometimes unexpected turns can redirect us to the path that is meant for us, guiding us to destinations we may not have even realized we were searching for. 

But being in a liminal space can still feel weird. Illness, a flood in my home office or travel delays will happen. And doubt, feelings of scarcity and shame will rear their ugly heads inevitably.

On those days I feel wobbly, when I doubt the journey, the moment or my decisions, I ask myself:  

  • What's holding you back? 
  • What’s blocking your path, whether real or just a figment of your imagination? 
  • What do you want more of?

A Story in Progress

One of the benefits of this radical sabbatical has been the opportunity to delve deeply in reflective enquiries and express truths through my nearly weekly reflections which I post on LinkedIn.

Within my Radical Sabbatical Chronicles, I’m sharing journeys of seeking light amidst the darkness, discovering strength from depletion, and seeking alignment and ease even when the systems and people around us seem determined to break us. 

My intention is to elevate the unsaid and unheard, drawing from my lessons and the stories shared with me—the broken elements, the issues we choose to ignore, the areas where we've grown complacent, the unfulfilled promises, the unspoken pains, and the fears that can often unravel us. 

I am on a mission to free myself and others from the weight of shame associated with unfair expectations and the unheard pain that burdens us. You can contribute to this mission by contemplating the idea of a sabbatical and sharing your experiences and learnings, perhaps beginning on LinkedIn as I did. Additionally, don’t forget the importance of offering support to those facing burnout and mental health challenges, encouraging candid discussions about work, well-being, and self-care.

Have you ever considered that, as reported in a recent Forbes article, although nearly a third of employees have taken career breaks lasting six months or more, many hesitate to discuss this with potential employers during the hiring process openly? Remarkably, this percentage increases to over 75% among executives. It’s time we confront the shame and stigma associated with career breaks and advocate for more accommodating workplace policies.  

My vision for this radical sabbatical is to chart a uniquely personal path of rest, recovery and reflection. It's a trip into the unknown, an opportunity to write and redefine this next chapter of my life with purpose and intention. My hope is to find my way back to wholeness, build fresh rituals, shed some habits, and recharge my spirit.

I am excited to see how this journey shapes me and propels me forward. For now, I'm cozying up to introspection and immersing myself in creative work writing and speaking—how I sense-make. And those precious moments, like yesterday, when I dedicated my morning to writing and my afternoon to reading in the sun-drenched tranquility of my backyard.

My radical sabbatical isn't just about my journey; it's a rallying cry to embrace self-care, reflection, and growth in these turbulent times. I'm on a path of rest, recovery, and reinvention, and I'd love for you to come along—either in spirit or on your transformative adventures. Together, we can shed light on the unspoken, mend our wounds, and boldly rewrite the stories of our lives with purpose and intention. 

If you're curious to learn more about my journey and reflections, I invite you to connect with me on LinkedIn or Instagram. If my experiences and insights could bring value to your organization, please reach out for speaking engagements. I'm passionate about sharing my learnings on moving from burnout to rekindling our light and unlocking the keys to how we lead and manage ourselves and others.

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