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Ep 63: Creating the “Perfect” Sabbaticals for Peak Experiences | DJ Didonna (Founder, the Sabbatical Project)

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Welcome to Episode 63!

Our guest for STIMY Episode 63 is DJ Didonna.

DJ Didonna is the founder of the Sabbatical Project, which is a collaboration with Professor Matt Bloom of Notre Dame University and the Templeton Foundation to research on all things sabbaticals. Digging into things like what is actually going on, how and if extended time should play a more central role in average careers, the reason why people take sabbaticals and common barriers faced. 

In addition, DJ Didonna was the Interim Managing Director for Wilson Sheehan Lab for Economic Opportunities, Co-Founder of Entrepreneurial Finance Lab (a Microfinance startup he ran for 7 years after graduating from his MBA at Harvard Business School). He was also an Alumni in Residence at Harvard Innovation Labs from 2012 – 2015, and Advertising Operations Manager at Angie’s List.


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    So This Is My Why podcast

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    Who is DJ Didonna?

    DJ Didonna shares how he got his first job at Angie’s List and how he was encouraged and later ended up completing his MBA at Harvard Business School.

    For 7 years after his graduation, he had his dream job running a Microfinance startup until… he burned out and went on a four-month sabbatical.

    • 4:08 Doing an MBA at Harvard Business School
    • 6:37 Launching a microfinance startup that would unlock over $1 billion for entrepreneurs & be featured in the New York Times
    • 8:58 Burning out from doing a job you love
    • 10:01 Burning out versus just needing a vacation
    • 12:13 Guilt
    The current working definition of a “sabbatical” is a period of extended leave intentionally spent on something other than one’s routine job.
    Episode page header STIMY podcast DJ Didonna sabbatical project founder
    DJ Didonna
    Founder, the Sabbatical Project

    Being a Type A

    DJ Didonna shares what his sabbatical was like and how being a Type A meant that he was constantly pushing himself and seeking to maximise every moment.

    Including completing the 900 mile Buddhist walking pilgrimage in a far shorter time than he was meant to!

    • 12:49 Maximising productivity during his sabbatical as a Type A
    • 15:10 Completing the 900 mile (1200 km) Shikoku Pilgrimage in Japan 
    • 16:13 “Ossentai”
    General Photos - dJ Didonna founder the sabbatical project Shikoku Buddhist walking pilgrimage Japan

    Founding the Sabbatical Project

    Because he found his sabbatical to be so transformative, DJ started talking to people about his interest in sabbaticals. That in turn led to introductions to Professor Matt Bloom of Notre Dame University and the Sabbatical Project was born.

    Here, DJ shares some of his research findings on sabbaticals – including advice for people looking to go on sabbaticals in terms of how to structure their own sabbatical and how employees can approach their employers to ask for an extended time off work.

    • 22:51 Collaborating with Professor Matt Bloom
    • 24:00 Founding the Sabbatical Project
    • 26:26 Defining what a “sabbatical” is
    • 27:33 Is there such a thing as a sabbatical that’s gone on for “too long”?
    • 30:06 Travel doesn’t guarantee disconnection 
    • 33:11 Getting in touch with your inner self 
    • 34:20 Testing your assumptions with others
    • 35:52 Has anyone ever regretted taking a sabbatical?
    • 37:19 Sabbaticals help to fight FOMO
    • 38:03 How to structure a sabbatical
    • 40:08 Designing a system to capture your learnings from your sabbatical
    • 43:16 Employers who want to implement sabbatical policies in their companies
    • 45:24 Forced sabbaticals
    • 46:56 When people should think about taking sabbaticals (without waiting for burnouts or something bad to happen in life)
    • 48:13 Best way to ask employers for sabbaticals
    • 50:42 Functional workaholism

    If you’re looking for more inspirational stories, check out:

    • Cesar Kuriyama: Founder, One Second Every Day – mentioned in DJ’s interview as he was inspired by Stefan Segmeister’s TED Talk, which promotes taking many mini retirement breaks & retiring later
    • Dr Julian Tan: Head of Esports & Digital Business Initiatives at Formula 1, London
    • Rahul Chaudhary: MD of Chaudhary Group – on inheriting a 150-year-old family empire in Nepal

    If you enjoyed this episode with DJ Didonna, you can: 

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    If you’d like to support STIMY as a patron, you can visit STIMY’s patron page here

    External Links

    Some of the things we talked about in this STIMY Episode can be found below:

    STIMY Ep 63: DJ Didonna - Founder, the Sabbatical Project

    DJ Didonna: I didn't really have the language for burning out at that point. I think we now as a society understand it a bit more. Even five years ago I assumed that burning out with something you did at some job you hated, right? So like some bankers or consultants burnout, like, oh, of course they're working a hundred hour weeks and they don't like what they do.

    But for someone to burn out from their dream job was not something that I had in my kind of quiver.

    And so funnily enough, I think it was a mixture of feeling like I wasn't at my best self. Then I was not as happy to be doing what I was doing and my temper was shorter and that kind of thing.

    My co-founders kind of having a conversation and being like, hey, are you okay? Like you seem to not be as gung-ho to do the things that you were doing before. And uh, may have had an intervention with me about my facial hair, which is much better now than it was then.

    You know, luckily I had really supportive co-founders and management that I worked with and we were able to work something out. My co-founder and I each kind of said like, all right, we need to kind of take a step to the side here if this is gonna continue to be successful and go without us.

    Ling Yah: Hey, everyone!

    Welcome to episode 63 of the so this is my why podcast. I'm your host and producer Ling Yah and today's guest is DJ Didonna. He's the founder of the sabbatical project, which is a really interesting research that's done in collaboration with professor Matt bloom at Notre Dame university and the Templeton foundation to understand the when and why sabbaticals are peak experiences for people who can take it even if something bad happens to them during a sabbatical like a divorce or family illness.

    In this episode, DJ shares how he first got interested in sabbaticals because he was doing a job he loved. But after seven years, completely burned out. He and up doing a four month sabbatical, which included completing a 900 miles Shikoku pilgrimage in Japan, which lit a fire in him to understand more about sabbaticals.

    Like what are the benefits of sabbaticals? How should you structure one? How long should it be? How does it help you to fight FOMO? And is it possible to do so if you have a partner and kids?

    We explore all that and more in this episode.

    And if you've been enjoying this podcast series, and would like to support what I'm doing, this podcast has a small Patreon page at www.patreon.com/sothisismywhy where for as little as $5 you can get all the behind the scenes to the creation of this podcast.

    And of course my eternal gratitude.

    Now, are you ready for DJ's story? Let's go

    DJ Didonna: As a child my parents moved around a fair amount. So lived in lots of different places in the U S New York, Texas, Colorado, Florida. So kinda got a taste of the different cultures across America.

    And my dad was a pilot and also an entrepreneur. And so I saw firsthand someone trying to hustle to make a living and put things together, provide a good life for their family.

    We had a pizza restaurant growing up. And so I spent a lot of my childhood days working in the pizza restaurant.

    Just kind of thought about work and hard work thing from a very early age. But since my dad was also a pilot, I thought about adventure and, you know, I knew the world was a very big place and was excited to get out there and explore it.

    Ling Yah: Did you have a clear idea of what you wanted to do when you went to the University of Notre Dame?

    DJ Didonna: No. I didn't. And My father said it would be great to be an engineer. And so I should start out in engineering and I knew down deep that I didn't love the math and science stuff I'd done in school and I wasn't amazing at it.

    So going and doing that in college was a little bit of a surprise. You know to go from being like one of the kids with the best GPA to just getting crushed the first year in engineering 101. And the thing I knew I wanted to do was I wanted to sing in college. So I, joined this all male acapella choir that tours all around the world.

    And yeah, I kind of found my way through kind of a non-academic stuff. And I feel like my academic journey, my real like intellectual thirst and curiosity came when I went to grad school five years later.

    Ling Yah: And what was the thought process behind going to grad school and doing the MBA?

    DJ Didonna: So after college, what I really wanted to do was do international service.

    I went to this Jesuit high school that really made you want to do service for others is the model of the high school. And so my plan was to do international service and I applied to a couple of programs and didn't get in. And then I got this entrepreneurial fellowship that keeps you in the state of Indiana.

    Another place that I never thought I would be spending a ton of. And they match you up with like a fast growing startup. I got mathed up with this company called Angielist. So I went from being a kind of like middle of the road, student in political science to within two months of starting my job, managing a team of 20 people.

    That's where I felt like I was in my comfort zone and worked there for a few years. Started a company on the side while I was there, raised some angel funding for it. And then realized that I had no idea what I was doing. And so I'd never taken a business class.

    And frankly the people I worked with at Angie's list had gotten their MBA. And that was the first time I ever even conceived of, doing that. So it was one of those, you surround yourself with good folks, you surround yourself in a place of high possible potential. And then good things happen.

    So they're to encourage me to go to business school and set my sights on a place like Harvard, which was just not something that anyone in my family or extended family had ever done.

    Ling Yah: And what was the experience like at Harvard? I mean, it's quite intense, isn't it? Everyone is really, really gearing for high-level consulting jobs.

    DJ Didonna: Yeah. I mean, I applied just because I knew folks that had gone there and they encouraged me to apply. I went to visit and I was expecting to be in like a room full of jerks that were full of themselves and, intellectual bullies. And I found it to be totally opposite. So I don't know if it's, some feeling of like, okay, you can set aside your like achievement hat for a little while.

    Cause we've all like made it to this place and let's just like learn. I loved how the different people had experienced that I could call upon instead of just like, did you read the textbook? People from the military, people who done the peace Corps people from all over the world and it was an amazing experience where I at the same time was like, man, I am not anywhere close to the smartest person here.

    And also I can hang with a lot of the folks here. So it was like a humbling and also empowering experience. And I think it also changed my perception of what I could and should do with my life. What was possible, how hard I could work, how big of an impact I could have on the world, which is like definitely a two-sided coin or two-sided knife.

    I don't know what the right phrase is.

    Ling Yah: I heard in an interview, you said that thanks to that experience you realized you wanted to do something entrepreneurial, to help people and also should be global. I wonder how you came to that thought and also how you decided to work on that to create your own startup.

    DJ Didonna: You mentioned a bunch of consultants or bankers. I didn't apply to a single job while I was there. I knew that I wanted to use that experience as a way to, start my own thing. as a way to kind of change what my resume had been to date, which was, a person who had worked in Indiana for a few years and grew up in America into something more akin to like world traveler, a citizen of the world, that sort of thing.

    You know, we were talking before we turned on the mics and it's nice to be able to say like Selamat Pagi to someone and, you know, like in a different part of the country of the world and like no other way around Kuala Lumpur. And also have been from a place like this. So I wanted to get out and see the world and also experiencing it from a business perspective.

    Because while I was there, stretching back to that desire to do something kind of service to others, I spent time in Kenya working with a microfinance organization and really discovered the unfairness around the access to finance and how money and talent and an opportunity just aren't distributed fairly.

    And so that's where I kind of got the idea to pursue access to finance, access to credit and start my first company.

    Ling Yah: So what was it like running your own startup, which you've described as a dream job for seven years?

    DJ Didonna: Yeah. I mean, anyone you talk to, who's done, it says it's a roller coaster. You feel like you're six months away from total success and six months away from absolute failure.

    Some of the highest highs and lowest lows that would have had my life anywhere from the first month that we incorporated the company, we got a contract with the largest bank in Africa to run a pilot across three countries to like our biggest customer canceling a contract unexpectedly and having to fire 10% of the staff and fire people before they've even started.

    All the highs and lows, but I think, importantly, it allowed me to bring some of my friends on board and have like close relationships and experiences with them. Develop a bunch of new friendships. I mean, our company was operating in over a dozen countries and we had people from over a dozen countries.

    And so getting to like really experience the culture and live in places all over the emerging world was, incredible.

    Ling Yah: Did you feel as though you were burning out at that point in time?

    DJ Didonna: Yeah, it's a good question. I didn't really have the language for burning out at that point. I think we now as a society understand it a bit more. Even five years ago I assume that burning out with something you did at some job you hated, right? So like some bankers or consultants burnout, like, oh, of course they're working a hundred hour weeks and they don't like what they do.

    But for someone to burn out from their dream job was not something that I had in my kind of quiver.

    And so funnily enough, I think it was a mixture of feeling like I wasn't at my best self. Then I was not as happy to be doing what I was doing and my temper was shorter and that kind of thing.

    My co-founders kind of having a conversation and being like, hey, are you okay? Like you seem to not be as gung-ho to do the things that you were doing before. And may have had an intervention with me about my facial hair, which is a much better now than it was then..

    You know, Luckily I had really supportive co-founders and management that I worked with and we were able to work something out my co-founder and I each kind of said like, all right, we need to kind of take a step to the side here if this is gonna continue to be successful and go without us.

    Ling Yah: How did you distinguish between just being stressed and actually burning out and needing to take that time out?

    DJ Didonna: That's a good question too. I think that burnout there's a clinical definition, right? So you can look it up. It's about like efficacy. Can you even muster up the resources to continue on?

    And I don't want to diminish the clinical definition of burnout by applying it to my scenario. I believe I had a lot of the, , kind of aspects of burnout. I think that when you're stressed that feels like something that you can kind of recover from. So you take a vacation, clear the decks or there's stress and there's use stress, right? So when you lift weights or do exercise, like certain stress helps your muscles grow and repair and things like that.

    I feel like when you're to the point where you're not repairing, you're not restoring and rejuvenating, no matter what you do. It's like perpetual inefficacy feels like the boundary.

    And I think this is what a lot of folks in the world felt this past year is there's no light at the end of the tunnel. Like everything is harder. And like, I don't seem to be kind of recovering and doing better. So yeah, but again, if you aren't used to it and you don't know that that's a possibility your kind of worldview just kind of shrinks. Like your aperture kind of like closes in.

    And you forget that there's always other possibilities of how you could feel and how your body would feel, how your mind would feel like how rested you could be, how excited about your work you could be. That you just like start to forget as you get a little bit of tunnel vision.

    Ling Yah: And in terms of the intervention, was there a point where it's suddenly clicked for you?

    How did they make it effective for you to accept that I'm doing something I love, but I'm actually burning out.

    DJ Didonna: Yeah. I remember my co-founder and I talked on a board meeting that we had where we were just talking about what the next year or two would look like. And that's when we, both kind of decided that we would be like hiring people so that we could like step a little bit aside and take some time off and approach work differently.

    And I think to me, it was about knowing you have this permission, that it was possible to take off, right? I mean, I think a lot of people get stuck in this mode where you assume that the way things are working is the only way it can be. And only by seeing like, no, no, you have permission to take time off.

    Like you can design a way, like the company will be fine without you. Hey, it's okay. We'll make it work. Allows you to kind of take that weight off, I think.

    Ling Yah: Did you feel guilty leaving behind something in someone else's hands?

    DJ Didonna: Totally. And I think the first phase of my sabbatical was really like wrestling with those enter demons of not only did I feel like I was burdening my coworkers.

    But I also felt like our company had a mission of access to finance and like, why can't I kind of soldier on? And these folks are a lot worse off than I am. And like, who am I to take time off and take a break? So there's a lot of,\ guilt and shame there 'cause we were just kind of programmed to work.

    We're not programmed to think about living life outside of work and bringing in a salary and that kind of stuff. So it was jarring.

    Ling Yah: Do you feel like you brought that feeling into your sabbatical and wanting to make it as fruitful as possible in the short period of time?

    DJ Didonna: I definitely approach the sabbatical I think like most type a people do, which is like, okay, on my sabbatical, I'm going to learn a language, learn an instrument, get yoga certified, climb this mountain. Like I had a list of 20 things. When I looked back, I did like two of them. And that was awesome. But you take that same productivity, accomplishment mindset into your time off, which is totally ridiculous.

    But everyone does it and you don't realize how ridiculous it is until you've done it.

    Ling Yah: How was that four months?

    DJ Didonna: So the first thing was that the four months was supposed to start four months earlier. So I kept on trying to leave the company and like, , it's no fault of my colleagues, but like something would come up and I'd be like, you know, , I'm the best person to do this and it'd be chasing some deal or some investment or some acquisition.

    There was never the right time. And I even like, subleted my condo. So that I would like to leave for sure on September 1st and I didn't set off until like January 15th. And so I was staying on friends' couches. I ended up spending time with my parents, , and I was like, I think 33 year old at the time or 32.

    I was like, this is not how I imagined this happening.

    Spent a lot of time doing that. And in some senses it was a blessing in disguise. Getting those alerts from Google photos that five years ago, here's what you were doing. And, you know, i, I got to help nurse, my mom, back to health.

    I helped my father renovate a little cabin in the woods that he had bought. And so it provided this actually really nice quality time with my family that I wouldn't have gotten otherwise ever . The last time I'd spent that much time with them was in high school, right.

    And then the thing that really got me to like leave leave was, I officiated a friend's wedding and they were having kind of a honeymoon in New Zealand where his family was. I wasn't crashing their honeymoon necessarily.

    It was, his family is from New Zealand. And so they were kind of taking like a 12 passenger van of like her family and friends just to meet some of his family and just see, New Zealand. And so they invited me along and I was like, well, I've kind of wanted to go to New Zealand, but it wasn't a place that was really high on my list.

    But this will get me out of here and it'll be like fun to be with friends for a bit at the beginning. So. Went to New Zealand, spent a week with them and then bought a motorcycle and just kind of motorcycled around the country for a month. Did a 10 day Vipassana, silent meditation retreat. And then the main thing that wants to do on my sabbatical was this Buddhist pilgrimage in Japan on the island of Shikoku.

    So you walk around and visit these 88 temples that this guy who brought kind of Buddhism from Japan visited. And so you're kind of tracing his path along. Those are basically the two things that I did.

    Ling Yah: So you completed the whole thing. And you wore the actual outfit as well, the white suit and the cane. Did you bring everything with you and did a proper pilgrimage?

    DJ Didonna: Yeah, well, I actually didn't bring like anything with me. I brought my backpacking gear and I really didn't know what to expect.

    And , of course I'd spent months picking out the perfect shoes and testing them and breaking them in. And then they fell off my motorcycle when I was in New Zealand, decide to buy like, , new shoes. And so you get there and you buy like the whole white vestments and like the Sage hat and the like a walking stick with a bell on it.

    So you're constantly reminded to be present and like a stamp booklet where it has the calligraphy from each temple you visit. You buy that all from the first temple. And so I didn't speak any Japanese. I didn't know what I was doing, but you buy a guidebook and you kind of like, look at the map and you just start going.

    Ling Yah: Isn't there this concept of the ossentai?

    DJ Didonna: Yeah. So you're walking along, you look like a Pilgrim you know, , you're walking, especially at the beginning and through cities. And so everyone knows that you're on this journey. And especially because you're a foreigner, they're like, oh man, this person needs help.

    And so every day, at least once, usually multiple times some just random stranger would come up to me and give you like a piece of fruit or buy you a coffee from a vending machine or take you to their house to stay overnight. And so you're constantly being, given these kind of small gifts of, gratitude, which is crazy because they won't accept anything back.

    You give them like a little paper slip that says, thank you and has your name on it. So it's kind of a constant reminder of just the thing I liked about it is, every day, just in regular life, you see people. Yeah, I probably don't think anything about them, but a lot of them are probably going through a tough time.

    And this is like a way to actually see that someone is intentionally putting themselves through a difficult time. And so you can, identify that and make someone's day a little bit better and just means the world to, people that are on that journey.

    Ling Yah: And you said as well that you were speeding through the route for three quarters of that journey and to decide to take your time.

    What was that like?

    DJ Didonna: I mean, kind of what I said before with approaching things with a type a perspective.

    I read something that was like, oh, you should do 20 to 30 kilometers a day. And I was like, okay, I'll be doing 30. And then I'm, , kind of walking, I'm passing people along the way.

    I can't really speak to folks anyway. So I didn't, really have any distractions. And you're kind of like making way through it. And you're focused on every day and the daily hardships and about two thirds of the way through we're in this town that was across the bay from Hiroshima.

    And so I put all of my stuff in a locker and I took the ferry across to Hiroshima. And it was really the first time I was out of that Pilgrim mindset and had a nice meal and was walking around the peace park kind of in the middle of Hiroshima. And was just like, what am I doing?

    Like, why, like, I'm almost done. I'd been to the hospital earlier in the month because my feet were so beat up and, , just kind of miserable.

    And it was the first time I stepped back and said like, why am I doing it like this? What am I rushing for? I'm kind of terrified of what happens next.

    And some certainly no rush. So it was a, point of reflection of like, why do I approach things this way? What does it say about me? Can I change that or do I need to adapt? Like, , just adapt what I do in the future, knowing that that's how I'm going to approach things. So it was a kind of an interesting moment of reflect.

    Ling Yah: And after that reflection, did you feel that taking your time was a lot better for you? Was there any surprising revelations about yourself?

    DJ Didonna: Yeah, it was surprising because I went slower for like two days and then I just kept going the same speed and I, I couldn't, I couldn't do it.

    I mean, I, could not walk just like 20 kilometers per day. And just like sit around and read a book. I had to kind of like push it. And so at least I've kind of learned that about myself and I got to interrogate that and sit with it.

    And as a kind of self-imposed penance, what I decided to do was like, okay, like I will finish two days or three days earlier than, than people normally would.

    And I'm just kinda like sit at the first temple and just like give out gifts, like the OSA tie and like kind of a care package. So I bought these little things and I had band-aids and little like candies. Map I can't remember what else I had there. And I just sat there and I like gave like anyone who looked like a Pilgrim.

    I was like, here you go. Like, good luck if you have any questions. And I also thought that I would be like some, like, heroic person and people would want to talk to me and say, thanks. But like every single one of them was like an old Japanese man who couldn't even speak to. And so, and so it was just this very kind of Buddhist thing where you're like end at the same place you began.

    And like, none of the things that I wanted did I get, but it was also perfect. So it was totally appropriate, but very frustrating.

    Ling Yah: I find it curious that you used the word "penance". I mean, it's pushing yourself physically that bad. I mean, we would get into the whole sabbatical part, but one thing I took away from researching is that so long as it's not related to what the work you're doing before you can still work.

    So arguably, physically pushing yourself was acceptable.

    DJ Didonna: My desire for my sabbatical was to like, to heal and to learn and explore. And instead I found myself applying the same kind of like type a accomplishment mindset to like, whatever thing I, put my mind to. So I felt like I wasn't really inhabiting another mindset or like another person.

    I was just kind of like realizing that the way that I am, I'm going to like apply it to anything. And I can't, it's not the job's fault. That's me. Which is a really important lesson. And I see this in a lot of the interviews and conversations I have with folks is that they assume that once they take the person out of the consulting firm, that everything's going to be fine, but it's really like it's a longer battle.

    And that's like the important one to be a part of.

    Ling Yah: What was your plan after your own sabbatical? What were you thinking of doing?

    DJ Didonna: I mean, the first thing that I felt like I wanted to do was like step down from my company.

    I think the observation that I had was that if I wanted to, , focus on relationships and friendships and family, like I had to stop living out of a suitcase and having this really adventurous lifestyle. Cause I was, in a situation where any given weekend I could either stay around Boston where I was, kind of living or I could go to Moscow and present to the largest credit bureau in Europe.

    And like, why not go a few days earlier and go to St. Petersburg? You know what I mean?

    The more I saw of the world, the more excited I got by it, as opposed to being kind of like not wanting to see it. And so I felt like I wanted to like create a context for which I could have a more sustainable lifestyle and like kind of put that like international, like jet setting version of myself, like to bed for awhile.

    I think especially in business school, they teach you to do things at scale, right? Like how many millions of people can you help? And like, why not billions? And I was really feeling like I wanted to have more of like an intimate relationship to folks that I was helping. So I felt very far removed from the actual good that we were doing.

    And so I had been on the board of this nonprofit called the lab for economic opportunities at Notre Dame, and they do domestic poverty like intervention studies. So like, does this approach to solving homelessness work? Does this approach to community college graduation work? Why not? Why?

    And I've really liked to work in these folks and I love their mission. Why don't I just kind of volunteer my time with them for a year and see if I can help them and try to be closer to like folks on the ground doing good in the world.

    So that's kind of as far as I've thought through it at that point. So I stepped back, stepped back up to the board of my organization, stepped down from the board of that non-profit to be the interim director and, , just in my brain, I was like, man, that sabbatical had such a big impact on me, but like, I feel like my job here is not done.

    So I just kind of kept talking to folks about.

    Ling Yah: And how did that collaboration with professor Matt Bloom start?

    DJ Didonna: Serendipitously just in the same way that my startup out of Harvard started because I was just telling people what I wanted to work on access to finance. And then someone said, oh, Hey, I heard of these professors over here, you should reach out to them.

    Same thing. So the more people I told about sabbaticals, the more people would connect me to other people. And I got connected to Professor Bloom who had done work on thriving and flourishing at work. And he actually had, , a bit of a similar story where he worked in industry. And I think Lehman brothers until he was in his early thirties.

    Totally burnt out, thought his work was relatively meaningless and wanted to kind of go back to the school to figure out how people find, meaning, how they flourish and thrive in work. And so we had one conversation and he was like, great, I'd love to support your research. Let's collaborate. So then I kind of went from, startup founder to like a nonprofit kind of interim managing director to bottom of the barrel, like researcher, like qualitative researcher, just like calling people and doing multi-hour interviews like you're doing, and then like coding them and like all that stuff.

    And so it was a very humbling, humbling experience.

    Ling Yah: So what is the sabbatical project and what kind of parameters have you set around it?

    DJ Didonna: The sabbatical project is basically the big umbrella and I'm putting everything under. So it started out with research around sabbatical takers.

    So why do they take them? What happens while they're on sabbatical? Like how do they change when they come back? And then like the overall kind of goal of the movement is just to give people kind of inspiration permission and like a blueprint for taking extended leave in their life. So trying to create, , a rigorous academic research and evidence around the benefits and impacts of taking time off. Case studies, interviews, stories from folks that have found a way to do it over the course of their life and over a course of a irregular career.

    You know, what my hunch was and what our research confirmed as that really if you have this story in your mind, that it's possible and it's normal. Taking time off really isn't that big of a deal.

    But for most folks, they think about life as like, oh, you graduate and then you get a job and you put your head down and then you have a family and you're like retire in some kind of corners of the world and some companies, there's a different story, but for most people that's kind of what it is.

    And so really it's about like raising awareness of who actually takes time off. How can you do it? How can we change the way we work for the better? So it's more inclusive for everyone of all kind of like financial means.

    Ling Yah: This is a first of its kind research into professionals, right.

    It's never been done before. How many people have you interviewed? What re your parameters around those?

    DJ Didonna: So the academic research was over 50 people from maybe a dozen different countries. I personally have interviewed hundreds. People come to me like companies or individuals. I wouldn't say we've put any parameters around it other than looking for new companies that want to do rigorous randomized controlled trials around what impacts extended leave have.

    And I think now it's just like, I'm trying to find stories of as many different types of people in different life stages and different places as possible, that everyone kind of has an example that can point to, to say like, oh, like that person reminds me of myself or like I could see myself in that position and it looks like they've kind of ended up okay.

    I don't think like a privileged white entrepreneur, ivy league educated dude is going to convince anyone that it's possible for everybody. And it certainly is not yet. But the more stories we can collect and the more influence we can have on companies and governments kind of like setting policy to enable people to take time off, like the more accessible it becomes,

    Ling Yah: I suppose we can jump in further without actually defining what a sabbatical is.

    So how would you define it?

    DJ Didonna: First of all, what I'll say is that I wish that we didn't have to use the word sabbatical. I think the reason why people use it is because a sabbatical sounds kind of like a fancy thing. It's a thing that professors do. It's like permission to take time off as opposed to just saying.

    I burnt out or like, I need to break or like, I'm going through a really tough transition. And so the reason why I use the sabbatical project and the word sabbatical is because it's meaningful to folks, like they understand kind of what it is as opposed to inventing a term.

    Our definition since there's no real definition is extended time off routine work.

    That definition has three components. One is extended. So how long is long enough?

    From our studies and from the interviews we've done, it seems like at least six to eight weeks is usually what it takes for folks to really feel like they disconnect from work. Like that's just to start, right.

    The most you can take, great. And like, think you can work up to taking a longer period of time off. But most folks say like three to six months feels like ample time. It's great. If you can have more, sometimes it feels like too much.

    Ling Yah: So there's such a thing as too much? Because I read in your FAQ's that 12 months is like a luxury.

    So if you go beyond that, is there such a thing as too much?

    DJ Didonna: I don't know. I mean, it's funny because some people ask, well, like once I take time off, if I take that much time, I'm never going to want to return to work. And I'm like, I've never heard that actually happened. I interviewed Gaggan, which is how I think we got connected and he took 18 months.

    And you could tell that he was like struggling not to like start a new business sooner, you know, and like having to prevent himself from having those conversations and I think most folks, like imperfect metaphor I use is it's like sabbaticals are like psychedelics, not like heroin. Like you don't take mushrooms and then just like want to take more and more and more every day, I think you kinda like have an experience and then you're like ready to go back and then like, maybe do it again some other time.

    I think you take time off and you're not like, oh man, I never want to work again. You're like, wow, this is harder than I thought it would be. Man I'm really enjoying, exploring a lot of other stuff. And like, you know what, I'm ready to with my new understanding of who I am and what I want to do, I'm ready to like, go get it.

    And I really hope I can do this in the future. And like, maybe I'll like intentionally plan to do it, but I just haven't heard of folks being like totally going off and never coming back.

    Ling Yah: It reminds me of a much earlier interview I did with Cesar Kuriyama, who is a CEO of one second every day. And he said he was inspired to take his leave because he listened to a Ted talk by Stephen Segmeister who is talking about, you should take many mini retirement breaks throughout your career.

    It sounds like what you're suggesting is very similar to what he's suggesting as well.

    DJ Didonna: Exactly. Yeah. I think he's the only other Ted talk that I've kind of found on the subject mechanic, the most popular to talk on it. So for sure. And then like, to that point, like with Stefan Segmeister's talk, the second part of the definition is time off, right.

    And so it doesn't mean that you're not working to some extent. I had people that wrote books. I had people that wanted to see if they wanted to run an eco lodge. And so they like went and worked in the eco lodge. It's very different from life as a consultant. But like your work has to be like very different from what you normally do.

    And like, preferably to kind of like answer a question or to like cleanse yourself, like yoga teacher or something like that.

    And then the third part of that definition is routine work. So similarly, like what are you doing normally? Like, are you trying to make any money from it? If you're off and you're searching for a job, like I would argue, that's your routine job.

    Like when you're not employed, your job is to find a job. And so it's really about like, what's your normal routine and how can you get out of it as far as possible to give yourself that perspective.

    Ling Yah: You said before that traveled by itself, doesn't ensure disconnection. I wonder if you could elaborate a bit about that.

    DJ Didonna: Yeah. I mean, and I think the opposite side is true as well. Like, just because you don't travel, it doesn't mean that like you can't be disconnected. So I think it's really about like intentions and boundaries. If you travel to London and you're from New York and like you're working from a, shared workspace and you're going to cafes and stuff like that, like, does it really feel that different from what you're doing before?

    I think it's harder more and more to not be connected to what's going on, on the news or connected to your friends and folks via social, where it's just hard to get disconnected. I mean, I'd be lying if I said that I wasn't connected when I was walking on the frickin pilgrimage in Japan, sleeping on benches, you know?

    I mean you have like the internet that's kind of brutal and it's distracting. So it's all about like what boundaries you set.

    Ling Yah: You said that you interviewed lots of people. Are there particular stories that stood out for you?

    DJ Didonna: So many. I think that thinking back just recent stories that were super inspiring one of the first members of Congress to take paternity leave, his kind of district manager, basically the guy had a kid, Seth Moulton, and like, didn't take any time off.

    They had a second kid and the whole staff was like, you need to take paternity leave, like we're forcing you to and then he kind of return that favor to his district director, kind of like chief operating officer, kind of figure who had been working for 20 years and never really had had a break kind of in public service.

    The guy's guy's name's Rick. He's got two kids ages 11 and 13, and they just kind of like traverse the country in an RV, went to like a dozen national parks. And he talked about how they were walking like descending down to the grand canyon and there was this plaque that said, like, I think it was every 10 feet you descend as a million years of geologic time.

    And so his kids, always asking questions, like, what's this what's that what's that like, they kind of had this like family existential crisis about like, does this mean we're just like a layer of dust in the world? Like, what does that mean? Why are we so frustrated about like how hot it is?

    And he kind of came back from that trip, realizing that he loved nature and he'd been away from it for 20 years. Like all of his kind of geography had been based around the world, what he did for work. And he grew up as a rafting guide in Oregon on the rogue river. And so went back to the rogue river and he did a rafting trip with his family and like his friends that he grew up with where he was like river guides with and just gave him this like connection to his inner self and inner child.

    And the fact that he got to like take his kids there and his kids got to see him in like an atmosphere that was super important and core to his identity, all these things, he was just like, this was nothing short of extraordinary. And it was like a once in a lifetime trip.

    And also like, does this have to be a once in a lifetime trip?

    And so it kind of opened up all these doors inside of them, which is I would like to continue doing something I find meaningful. I would also like to prioritize and execute some of these trips that are really meaningful to me. And like, I got to know my family, like so much better in a way that, had they not done that, he doesn't know if he'd know his kids or his wife kind of as well as he does now. So I hear stories like that once a week. And they're incredible.

    Ling Yah: So it sounds like sabbatical is so much more than just I'm burnt out I need a rest. It's about getting in touch and finding out who you actually are.

    DJ Didonna: Yeah. Who you are, who you were that you want to like re-energize what you're curious about that maybe like you haven't had time to explore.

    It's just about space. You hear these terms that people describe their sabbatical and describe themselves as like, I felt more human or I had like space and perspective and no one's going to like go on sabbatical because you get more space or like perspective.

    It's not sexy enough.

    But like when you have it, you're like, oh man.

    A way of describing I hear often is it feels like you're bringing like future learnings forward in your life. I'm sure I would have figured this out about myself, but it would've taken 10 more years because I'm so busy with work and family and life.

    Now I had this time to experiment on this thing and I realized that I want to leave the work I'm doing and start this thing I've always wanted to, or I want to continue doing what I'm doing, but make sure I'm taking, it's extended a couple of weeks off with my family every year and being outdoors.

    So it's kinda like a time machine. Like you're kind of getting to see your future self and like invest more in that now. And like, who knows how your life could be different with those changes,

    Ling Yah: So the discovering yourself, the inner journey is actually covered in your cohort, which we'll talk about later.

    And I noticed that under number four, which is your inner journey you said, test your assumptions with others. What does that mean?

    DJ Didonna: Yeah, I mean, one of the things that we've found- I've been doing cohorts for about a year, a little over a year, and it's just people that come to me and say, Hey, you're the expert on sabbaticals? Like what should I do?

    Like, how should I be thinking about it? What should I avoid? And I think that one of the things that happens for most people on sabbaticals, most people, they wait until something bad happens and they go on sabbatical. And so they require a fair amount of healing. A lot of folks take it by themselves, right.

    They have like a breakup or they're single. And like that's kind of the easiest time to take time off. It can be very lonely, even if you're, , on it with a partner or with, family or friends, like you're on this like very scary journey where you're off the beaten path and most are taking and you're doing something that's like very scary and like personal and unknown.

    And you don't know what the future holds and that's intimidating. And so what we found is that just the activity of bringing people together, who are all on very different journeys, but the kind of the same is helpful for folks. It's a very fulfilling and kind of self-affirming to say like, oh man, like you're worried about this too.

    So am I it's like, oh, you had this happen too. So did I? So I think there's like a benefit to being in community with folks that are going through similar things, even if you're like very different life stages or have very different plans that it's just hard to realize that you're not the only person in the world suffering on your own journey when you're doing it by yourself.

    Ling Yah: I imagine this is a common question for you, but has anyone regretted taking a sabbatical?

    DJ Didonna: Okay. So I've been looking for someone who is like, listen, I want my refund. I would not have taken that sabbatical. And part of the reason that I haven't found one is that we're kind of self justification machines, right?

    Like everything you do, you end up justifying, you end up finding meaning in it anyway. And so like very rarely, I think, do we like truly regret and not find meaning in our actions? I found people who had pretty bad things happen to them on sabbatical. People who got divorced on sabbatical, people whose relationships kind of like took a turn for the worst people who've spent their whole sabbatical, like caring for like an alien or dying loved one.

    But all of those people were like listen, this was not how I wanted it to be, but I'm glad I got to be there for that person. Or I'm glad I learned that I shouldn't have been with my partner, man, that would have been a mistake if we had had kids. Right. And so I think the folks who took a sabbatical during the pandemic had probably the hardest time of all the folks I've talked to.

    You couldn't travel as much if at all. It was really hard to meet people. So like made the lonely process, even lonelier. And it's just really hard to like learn and grow and be inspired and see new things. Right. Like the world was on fire. So probably if I went back and interviewed a lot of those folks , that's how they would.

    That was how they would view it. But they were also leaving jobs where they're miserable. Like it was the pandemic, so it wasn't everybody miserable. So it's just tough. Like, I don't know if those folks would regret it as much as they would regret that. That was the time that had happened.

    Ling Yah: And you said before that sabbatical also helps to fight FOMO. Why is that?

    DJ Didonna: I think part of FOMO is feeling like other people are doing stuff that you can't do or you haven't done. I think of a sabbatical a little bit as regret insurance. You will never have a regret that you didn't go hiking the Himalayas, because like you did it, right.

    Like you'll never regret that you didn't see what it would be like to live in a Buddhist monastery for a month. And because you did it and it was actually miserable. You never regret.

    So I think you still probably can have some FOMO around sabbatical. Like, am I missing out on just the routine and the good stuff back home. And like, people think I'm weird. But I think the far majority of the, feeling is that folks are like really feeling FOMO that they're not doing the same thing you're doing.

    Ling Yah: I mean like now restrictions are lifting, you can start to actually travel, meet people. For those who are planning a sabbatical.

    How do you think about and structure it?

    DJ Didonna: My advice on this is halfway between, don't worry about it. Like you can't have a bad sabbatical and like here's a structure that I think works. So, I mean, I want to encourage folks not to stress out about over-planning or not getting it right, because I think part of the journey for most people is that experience of not knowing what you're doing and not having a plan.

    And like seeing how that feels kind of like being observant of like, I was just talking to a sabbatical coach today, Alice Chen. Part of her sabbatical story was she knew that she was super type a, and had that everything planned and organized and scheduled. So as part of her, like provocations for herself and challenges was to not plan more than two days ahead.

    She like didn't know where she was going. Didn't know where she was staying. And she had to like talk to folks and figure out what she was doing and get recommendations. And that was really good for her. So anyway, with all that preamble, what I would say is that you have to give yourself enough time to kind of like heal. Get the toxins out, right?

    So I would really suggest for folks, like in the first phase, get into your body and out of your head, do something with your hands, whether it's pottery or yoga or surfing or whatever, and into your body. So you're just unable to like dwell and ruminate on the life you've kind of put on pause.

    Then the second kind of portion you want to like explore, you want to try to answer questions that you've always had. You want to try to work towards your curiosities. You want to change plans. You want to spend time with like family and friends, invest in relationships, all that good stuff. And then be sure to make some time for like reintegration before you go back to regular life.

    So the majority of people aren't going to have like a sabbatical policy. They probably won't be going back to their jobs. But if you are definitely make sure you have like a week or two to kind of like synthesize your learnings and get back on to like the regular pace of life.

    And if you're not make sure that you have set really strong boundaries so that you're not looking for work and thinking about work during phase two, and instead you're like, set it up. So that like phase three, like that's when you start thinking about it. So yeah, that's the grand overview.

    Ling Yah: And how do you design that system? You will talk about in depth of course in your cohort. How do you design that system to capture those learnings?

    DJ Didonna: Most people look at it and they are kind of terrified about it and they don't know what to do.

    And they wanna have like a little bit of guidance. Some people just need like a little bit of a nudge. In the class, we try to give people a bunch of frameworks and be like, Hey, listen, here's a framework to think about using user research to figure out what you want to do and how you plan, how you answer questions and then how you kind of like synthesize and how you go out and like answer questions again.

    Here's a framework to think about it as the hero's journey of like going out and exploring and like coming back with the learnings. Whatever works for you, great.

    But once you have like a container and kind of like a structure for which you can think about it, I think it takes a little bit of the fear out of it to say oh man, in phase one, like I'm probably gonna feel pretty bad because I'm going to be stressed out about like leaving work and wondering what I should do next and like maybe worried about finances.

    And if you can instead say to folks hey, you've already thought about like budget and finances. Like, don't worry about that. You already know that you're not allowed to think about what you're doing next. Like this time it's like set the calendar reminder, you know it's going to happen. So I just think it gives people like a little bit of confidence that they have like a guide kind of helping them along the way who's done it before.

    Ling Yah: What are the ideas of places they can go to find inspiration for things they can do during the sabbatical?

    DJ Didonna: Yeah. I mean, that's part of one of the things you want to do with this sabbatical project is continue to like tell more and more of these stories.

    Folks can say like, oh, I'm looking to have a spiritual sabbatical, or I'm looking to. be surrounded by entrepreneurs. So that's like, hopefully like a glossary that we're going to continue to, build up on. This is what I found when starting the research is that people write a blog post or a medium post about it, and then they'll kind of move on.

    And there's just 10,000 posts about how incredible this experience was. But no, like Homebase.

    Ling Yah: So that's what the sabbatical project is going to be. I guess they are quite a few really interesting stories and some that are coming as well.

    DJ Didonna: Yeah, exactly. You'll stay tuned over the next year, both like interviews and stories and the idea again, is that folks can find their kind of example and find their inspiration there.

    Ling Yah: There's a stat going around that 17% of US companies are now offering sabbatical leave. I wonder what's behind that trend of companies being increasingly open to this.

    DJ Didonna: I mean, you think you see it now with the great resignation where companies, I think for awhile, tried to trick people and say like, Hey, you get unlimited vacation and you get ping pong tables and like free pizza for dinner.

    And I think folks have finally realized that that was a boondoggle. It was just a way to get to you to work more and not think about outworking. So I think , people seem to have more and more power about how companies work. People, especially talented people have power you know, swaying like benefits and recruiting practices and stuff like that.

    And so I think sabbaticals is something that folks are seeing now with can it help you make a sustainable life out of work. So hopefully we'll see more and more companies offering it and hopefully more companies measuring itso as to see like, how long should it be? Like, does it need to be full benefits or like some sort of partial, like what are things that are important to folks?

    How can you increase creativity? How can you increase the tenure at companies and like all those kind of levers that companies care about.

    Ling Yah: And you've spoken and interviewed CEO's before with established sabbatical policies in their own companies. What are your main takeaways from those conversations?

    DJ Didonna: The first is that everyone has the same fear. You want to do the right thing.

    But you also don't want to spend a bunch of money on launching a policy if like your employees are just going to leave. Right. So like, will they leave? Am I just giving them a golden parachute so they can leave sooner? And I think that some CEOs really get it and coincidentally, or not like those CEOs are folks who have taken sabbaticals.

    Right. So they understand that life is about more than work and that if someone has meant to leave, then they're probably were going to leave anyway. And they were probably doing pretty bad work. If someone's going to take a month off and then leave, how good at work do you think they were doing?

    Do you think they just started thinking about leaving or you think you were thinking about it for a long time?

    And I think some of the best leaders are thinking, oh I think about this example from the African leadership academy, their kind of co-founder left. And when he came back, he was like, man, like all of these things that I normally did, went fine without me.

    And like, I never could take my hand off the steering wheel enough to see that my people actually like, could do as good if not better, a job at these things than I did. And like, oh, this thing over here went horribly. Clearly, like I am the only person that does this and I haven't empowered other folks to do it.

    And like, I wouldn't have known that had I not stepped back for a bit anyway. So I can kind of tell what kind of mindset the leader has when I talked to them about this. Are they thinking medium to long-term? Are they thinking about empowering and growing their kind of employees to step up to challenges?

    Are they thinking about preparing their company for key personnel risk and like emergencies or are they just worried about how bad it would look if people left. How much their sales would drop if their sales person was out for three months or something.

    And this is the thing I talked to folks who were looking for jobs after sabbatical.

    It's like, will someone hold it against you? That you took time off? I don't know if they do, is that a company you want to work for? Like, if you're saying, oh, I had the courage to take a few months off and do something that's really important to me that I've always wanted to do. If someone is not supportive of that I think that's kind of a red flag.

    Ling Yah: What are your thoughts of forced sabbaticals? Like you gave the example earlier. You must take a paternity leave. Should employers force people to take sabbaticals if the employee is refused to do so. Cause I'm thinking of your wellbeing. You should do it.

    DJ Didonna: Yeah, absolutely. One of the ideas I've been playing with is this idea of a pre sabbatical pre-medical. So like all of these companies, everyone, 20 million people I think have quit in the past four months in the U S. If you quit and you were burnt out and then you like start a job right away afterwards, there's a 0% chance that you're not bringing that kind of burnout and malaise to your next job.

    and so I think it's actually benefits companies to say like, Hey, we know that you are like, worried about money. We know you're worried about how it looks in the job market. Like it's okay, take a month. We'll pay for your benefits. Maybe like advanced you some of your salary.

    We would rather have you come rested and restored than just be totally frazzled and all that stuff. I would love to see companies experiment with that and see how, like the performance of those, employees entering the workforce compares.

    Ling Yah: Are there any companies that are already doing this?

    DJ Didonna: Not that I've heard of.

    I think there's probably a lot of like ad hoc. you know, a lot of people negotiate start dates with their companies. And this happens with the consulting firms a lot where you can delay your, start date. So it kinda like helps the firm like smooth the number of like new hires and things like that.

    But I mean, I owned a business. I get it. Like when you need to hire someone, you need to hire someone. It's not like you can wait another six months. So I get that there are real world consequences for business owners, but I think the benefits could potentially way outweigh the downsides.

    Ling Yah: When should people think about taking a sabbatical? I mean, I imagine it is preferably way before I actually start burning out. So is it something we should be intentional about and just think I've worked for five years, let's take a Sabbat. Like Steven said.

    DJ Didonna: Yeah. I think the best case scenario is that you kind of have in your mind, like every five years or six years or something seven years, 10 years I'm going to take time off and that way you kind of like plan for it, you budget for it.

    Right. I mean, when I talk about sabbaticals, it's not like, I think that everyone can take a sabbatical tomorrow, but I think there's very few people who couldn't save up for 10 years to take a few months off. Right. And so like, think about what would make sense financially and life stage wise, like, especially get your kids to a certain age and whatnot. And then see how it goes.

    I think that there's going to be times where you can't plan for that makes sense to have a sabbatical, like, , your company goes public or you get fired or there's a death in family. And so like that's always going to happen. But I think folks should be intentional about it and say, , oh, when we get married, I want to take an extended honeymoon.

    Or when our kids are seven and 10 and we want to be abroad for six months or live abroad for a year. Or like before or after I go to grad school will take a few months to recover, you know? life kind of gets away from you.

    And like you focus on the urgent instead of the important.

    Ling Yah: And for those who do want to go on a sabbatical, have you found a way which is the most effective in asking for that extended period from an employer?

    DJ Didonna: One thing that I've heard time and time again is , your employers can't read your mind and more often than not, when you bring it up it's possible, right?

    So people can use unpaid leave policies if they have it, or you can work with your boss to be like, Hey, listen, I'm working on the launch of this thing. But like, once it launches, like that could be a good time to take off. And there's always kind of natural cycles that you can preplan for that I think work.

    And the other thing is that if you ask for it and other people ask for it and you ask around and you tend to find that other people have taken it, you can actually be the agent of change to get a policy launched in your company. No one can read your mind. They don't know if you want a sabbatical policy.

    And so I think it's scary, but bringing it up and saying like, this is not a thing that I need right now, but I'd love to be able to do this at some point in my life is. That's totally reasonable. I like the employers want to keep good employees and if they can keep you for another year or two, but definitely is your for three months, I think the trade-off is totally clear.

    Ling Yah: And we are speaking in end of 2021. I wonder how much if any, that COVID is impacted on people wants to take sabbaticals.

    DJ Didonna: I would like to think that, behind this great resignation, is this understanding that people have all kind of collectively gone through something that reminded them how precious life is, right?

    Like you're not guaranteed to be around next year. It's also put the magnifying glass on work and life and how close and integrated everything was. And so I think it's made people realize like, oh man, this is what I do for a living like every day. This isn't.

    For those fortunate enough to have their jobs and to have flexibility for location, it's given folks a little bit of a, sneak peek of like, oh, I can live in a place that's more aligned with my values. I can have a little bit more time off and time to myself or time in nature. So I think it's, blown open the door for possibilities for a lot of folks. It's sent employers kind of like scrambling because they don't feel like they can make all of the rules and similar to our sabbatical research where like the majority of sabbaticals happen based on a negative event, they're catalyzed by something negative.

    Because people just don't have it in their programming to think about taking time off just for themselves. They wait until it's too late. They wait until they've burnt out. They wait until something bad has happened that like snaps them out of their kind of routine.

    Ling Yah: Is there any other surprising learnings from your research that we haven't talked about yet?

    DJ Didonna: I mean, on that point, I was just talking, we uncovered this kind of state that we call functional workaholism. So until you are removed from work, you don't realize the kind of negative vicious cycle that you run with work. That's just something that folks like have to be kind of out of it to realize.

    We talked about how most sabbaticals are catalyzed by negative events. , I think that, listen, it is really difficult to manage, to take time off. If you have kids or a family. But some of the most inspiring stories come from those folks, it's either kids whose parents like took sabbaticals or academics when they were kids.

    And they got to like live in a foreign country and it changed their mindset for the rest of their life. Or it's parents who say, like, I've seen my kids as basically like a bundle of responsibilities, like get them here for that. And they all of a sudden get to see them and their personalities bloom in a way that they just don't think would have happened otherwise.

    So I would just encourage folks to like, think about it from like a longer five to 10 year horizon, not like a, oh, this guy doesn't understand my life. I can't take time off next summer. Like I'm busy, like everyone is.

    Ling Yah: And what are you working on that we can support you?

    DJ Didonna: These cohort courses, we have one that's starting next week.

    I think folks just get involved in the sabbatical project. If you have a story about your own sabbatical, share it. If you work at a company and you can launch a policy, we want to do it and help you study it. If you're coming to take a sabbatical, join the Facebook group, follow us on LinkedIn. We're trying to start a movement and we're trying to normalize this, so we need all the help we can get.

    Ling Yah: Is there any big idea you've changed your mind on recently?

    DJ Didonna: I mean, I don't want to be like spitting, rainbows and sunshine about sabbaticals all the time. I do think that it was really tough. Like the pandemic was tough and I think taking a sabbatical was really tough. I think that if you take away the ability to heal and to like see new things and meet people. Like a sabbatical can be really tough and could be like a prison sentence, right.

    I have more empathy for folks that have had like really tough times and tried to take off during COVID and kind of had bad timing. I know that you're probably asking more generally, but since we're talking sabbaticals it's in my mind.

    Ling Yah: So it sounds like sabbatical is something of a privilege on this state.

    DJ Didonna: Yeah. I mean, it's a privilege in many ways. Like one is obvious like financial.

    If you're in a world where you're supported by your employer and they pay for you and like they give you benefits, then there's no reason you can't take a sabbatical. We're very far away from that being the main avenue for sabbaticals, but people in our research who had that of all socioeconomic levels, it's not like they didn't get benefits from it.

    It's just that folks are less likely to be able to do that until employers are or government policy allows.

    But just the other nature of the privilege, I think, is his personality and kind of psychological privilege. Like, do you even think that you can take off, right. I know plenty of folks that have more money than the majority of the world who don't believe that they can take a few months off that's crazy, right.

    And so I think there are some folks who are like, yeah, I'm going to dig into my savings, but this is an investment in my future. And life. Like what is life for, right?

    So I think there's like this psychological privilege to that, that culturally or the stories that people hear kind of help them get that mindset that it's not, not guaranteed.

    Ling Yah: Just to tap into the answer is there actually any cons to taking sabbatical outside the context of COVID?

    DJ Didonna: I think that we're still in this inflection point of there's a lot of studies on like work devotion norms and how people perceive folks that have taken time off. And like, if you're in a law firm and you take time off, or you, have a kid or something, does that change people's perspective of your commitment?

    So I think there are like pockets and niches where if you take time off, the folks that you care about in your industry, are they going to look down on you, right? I think that's becoming more and more rare. But that, exists. And so the question is, and this is why I said earlier is like, if that's how you're going to be seen and interpreted in those environments, Okay.

    That's your life.

    And so like what other consequences does that have? if people are gonna look down on you for taking time to be with your family or whatnot. So yeah, I think there's real consequences, obviously. Like you don't make money typically during a sabbatical, I know of plenty of stories where you go and when you apply for a new job, when you get back, you make way more than you made when you left.

    And so your sabbatical essentially pays for itself. But those are like the predominant amount of stories are really positive. And so it's hard not to turn off to tell those stories.

    Ling Yah: Well, thank you so much, DJ, for your time. I normally the end of my interviews with these questions.

    So the first one is this. Do you feel like you have found your, why.

    DJ Didonna: I think that that's a process. So Elizabeth Gilbert talks about following your curiosity.

    There's a quote that I like, which is about kind of living the question. So instead of answering the question and like needing to find answers, it's being like, are you following this curiosity are you're following this question that you're excited about?

    And I definitely am doing that. I think that for right now, I am really passionate about this question. I think it can add a lot of value to a lot of people's lives. And so yes I am for now and we'll see where it goes and how long it lasts.

    Ling Yah: What kind of legacy do you want to leave behind?

    DJ Didonna: I think that what we're doing here is more than long vacations. People who go on sabbatical emerge wanting to do more things with their family. They emerge more pro-social so like caring about their loved ones, friends, like other people in the community. Some of the most inspiring ideas I've heard of like starting electric airplane company, or starting a company that encourages people to be vegetarian. Those ideas are hatched on sabbaticals because you're getting this perspective of like your whole life. What's your life's work. What's important in the world.

    So I hope that I can change the way that we think about work and time off and life and living in meaning through encouraging people to kind of go on their own journeys and take sabbaticals.

    That's one of the things I like to be remembered for.

    Ling Yah: And what'd you think are the most important qualities of a successful person?

    DJ Didonna: When I think back at the times when I consider myself to be the most successful it is times when, the things that I've accomplished, I've had like a multiplier effect. So it's not just like me making more money or achieving this thing. It's like, by virtue of achieving something I like inspired people.

    And then they went off to do other things and I look at their successes and I say like, I feel like I was a big part of those and that I like maybe catalyzed and played a role in them. And so like, my success has like blossomed a bunch of successes. I also think from like a sabbatical perspective, I feel like when folks can take extended leave and like look around and be able to say like, nothing really needs major work here.

    I enjoyed this time off. I'm going to make like a few tweaks. I want to take another block of time off, but like, I'm pretty happy with the dials of like family and work and meaning and things like that. that's something I definitely aspire to. And I think that's like a successful person.

    Ling Yah: And where can people go to connect with you and find out what you're doing? Sign up for your cohort?

    DJ Didonna: The name isn't the catchiest, but the sabbatical project. I think it's kind of everywhere. So LinkedIn. Sign up for a newsletter. The website, the sabbatical project.org. Yeah, follow us and keep in touch and really like, this is supposed to be a movement.

    So like ask questions, help others that are on sabbatical. If you're an alum, tell us your story. Try to get your company to launch a policy or to study it. This is not just about us kind of like giving you the rules of the testaments of, sabbaticals. So yeah, Appreciate you asking all these questions and, sharing your gift as well. So thank you.

    Ling Yah: And that was the end of episode 63.

    The show notes can be found that www.sothisismywhy.com/63.

    if you haven't done so already, don't forget to send it to the weekly newsletter, which can also be found at the show notes, where you can learn about other interesting developments around the world, research and people outside the scope of this podcast.

    And stay tuned for next Sunday, because we'll be meeting a renowned journalist, educator, and mother, one of her daughters is the CEO of YouTube, on her journey in raising independent, successful people with her trick methodology.

    So see you next Sunday!

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