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How I made the most of my sabbatical after I quit my high flying job.

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Recently, I made a very courageous move. I decided to take a career break. After achieving a level of career success and at different roles, I asked what’s next? I needed to reflect and redefine success. Being successful itself was not enough. How do I take my success to significance?

The to-do list for my sabbatical break had unconsciously built up over the last few months. By the time I decided to leave, I already had a plan and everything seem to fall in place. In searching for that significance, I was committed to the outcome of enriching my perspectives, building a deeper connection with family and friends and taking my fitness to the next level.

There are 5 guiding pillars that help frame my sabbatical break. Here’s my journey and insights.

(1) Redefine your success

The first thing I did was to visualise the outcome of my break. So I embarked on a vision mapping exercise on 31 Dec 2016, thanks to Kelly Chua who invited me for the workshop. Now I reference my vision map from time to time to keep me focused. I also asked some pretty hard questions.

In summary,

  • Work on a vision map of where are you headed to by the end of your sabbatical
  • Understand what success means to you
  • Ask reflective questions – “What do you want more of your life?” “What do I want to be remembered for?” “What could I do with my life that excites me and could make a difference in peoples’ lives?”

Being able to answer these questions help provide clarity and set your goals right. Be truly authentic, and spend time to develop your own compass.

(2) Leverage on your strengths  

After 20 years of scaling the corporate ladder, I wasn’t ready to throw away the skills I have acquired.  I did my Gallup Clifton StrengthsFinder, identified my core competency and make use of them during my sabbatical break. 

For example I volunteer to be a mentor to university undergraduates at MentorsHub and SG100 Foundation Mentorship Programme to help these youths gain clarity and facilitate them towards a purposeful, impactful and fulfilling life. It’s energizing for me to be able to give back.

With my strong corporate and marketing experience, I reach out to friends who run tech start-ups to help them identify strategic blind spots and drive strategic alliances/partnerships. Being able to help businesses grow, gave me the adrenaline and intellectual stimulation that I had always enjoyed.

In summary,

  •  Build on your strength and use those as levers to help you in your sabbatical break.
  • Know what drives you and look for opportunities where you could use that energy to create value.
  • Increase your sphere of influence

(3)  Bridge your gaps 

Before my departure, my General Manager – Irene See, with radical candor, shared the opportunities where I could make a difference. I was grateful that she offered to be my reference for my next role after the sabbatical break.  

I started to reach out to people and network. I found good mentors & coaches from the Halftime Asia, ( Lee Han Kiat and Yvonne Grace Low, who shared their pivot journey and how I could possibly navigate. I join the Marketplace Champions Business Network, a community of start-up and professionals who meet monthly, with the intent to build my network and also seek out opportunities where I could create value for someone.

Being an experienced marketer and brand specialist doesn’t stop me from connecting with Eugene Seah– Singapore’s leading Personal Branding Coach, for advice and to attend his workshops. There is always something new to learn as everyone has different experience. It’s important to keep an open mind.

To get myself up to speed in the new digital economy, I recently attended the Digital Transformation Masterclass by HyperIsland (they were part of the consulting team that helped DBS in their digital transformation roadmap). There are also some great workshops organized by General Assembly that you can check out. Not to mention, there is so much to learn about IoT, Blockchain, AR and how these technologies are affecting businesses and jobs.

I have also enrolled in an International Coaching Federation approved Executive Coaching workshop by Mr Sebastien LeBlond in June to hone my leadership skills – to empower, and build high performing team and individuals. A skill that would be helpful in my pro bono work helping the youths.

In summary,

  • Reach out to people and build your unofficial board of advisors
  • Identify the skills you need to acquire to get to your next destination 
  • Keep abreast of latest industry development

(4) Ensure economic flexibility

It helps that I have been very prudent with my spending that gave me the confidence to pivot in my career. If you haven’t mapped out your finances you may get into anxiety and risk your sabbatical plans being derailed. Alternatively, pursue part-time work or projects that gives you the side income yet the time to pursue your goals.

In summary,

  • Set a timeline and build a financial foundation
  • Make sure you have sufficient savings runway to help you pursue what you need to do to get to the next level. 
  •  Prioritize your expenditure

 (5) Practice mindfulness

After all, this is supposed to be a sabbatical break.

Don’t overrun yourself with too many things to fill up your time. It’s Ok to spend that morning by the pool side sipping your pina colada and just relax. Take the break you truly deserve.

Be fully present in spending time with yourself or with family & friends too. I have planned a Hong Kong – culinary trip with my Happening friends in May!

And since February, I have read 5 books! That’s an accomplishment because I could not even finish one in the last 2 years. The following are 2 books that strongly resonate with me. Highly recommended for anyone looking to change.

 – Pivot – The only move that matters is your next one By Jenny Blake           

– Executive Presence – The Missing Link between Merit & Success By Sylvia Ann Hewlett.

I also thrive on a constant dose of endorphins with over 7 hours of workout every week at the gym. I have even picked up Jazz and K pop dance.

In summary,

  • Don’t be too hard on yourself
  • Connect with family and friends – focus on the moment
  • Build anchors into your routine – eg. fitness and spiritual time

I believe career success is no longer following a defined, lockstep path. It’s about being able to constantly renew yourself, taking risks and putting yourself in front of more and evolving opportunities. Uncertainty and change are the new markers of the world we live in today. To thrive in the future economy, one needs to be adaptable to the constant changes.

My sabbatical journey has just started and I intend to make the most of it to redefine my success and taking time to be grateful for all the blessings in my life and paying it forward.

For more inspiration, here’s a link to Les Brown’s speech on “Have Courage, no fear.”

About Author

Adeline Tiah

Accomplished executive with more than 20 years of experience in building brands, delivering business growth and leading teams. I am passionate about building brands and high performance teams.

A practitioner in Human Centred Design Thinking, I enjoy helping organisations solve problems, connect the dots to make things happen.

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