There’s this problem with sabbaticals. I call it “sabbatical productivity syndrome.” A syndrome is a condition characterized by a set of associated symptoms. Sabbatical productivity syndrome includes the following symptoms: generalized guilt (i.e., having not done something one believes one should have done); guilt specific to neglect of the typical duties and expectations of an academic; self-reproach for failing to write, create, or in other ways “produce”; and, as a sabbatical draws to a close, feelings of remorse or regret.
The problem, of course, is that a sabbatical is supposed to be a time of rest (a “ceasing” as from the Latin sabbaticus).
I caught myself the other day compiling a list of all the things I accomplished this summer. The list included providing extensive comments to editors and authors during reviews of three separate manuscripts, revision of one of my own manuscripts, advancing two book proposals for the Equity, Justice and the Sustainable City book series I co-edit for Routledge, and so on.
Some of these things were enjoyable, so I don’t feel guilty for having done them when I should have been “at rest.” I’ve also managed to read, for both leisure and intellectual stimulation, a number of books: The River by Gary Paulsen (sequel to the classic Hatchet), Seedfolks by Paul Fleischmann, Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit, What the Best College Teachers Do by Ken Bain, and Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry into the Value of Work by Matthew Crawford.
A close read of the list isn’t necessary to sort out the “casual” from the “serious” reads. The fact that the list is separated in my own mind is a symptom of sabbatical productivity syndrome. It can easily influence my choices of what to read, in particular, and how to spend my time more generally.
To head off the syndrome, I’ve found that I have to have certain routines and activities that, to my mind, are rejuvenating and re-energizing. Sometimes it’s as simple as a sudoku puzzle, a crossword puzzle, or a conversation with my spouse while walking the dogs. Today, in fact, I accomplished all three!
My other regular activity aimed at preventing sabbatical productivity syndrome is fixing and riding bicycles. Over the weekend I spent a few hours replacing corroded spoke nipples on an old wheel. It turned out I had to replace a number of spokes as well. This process, which culminates with adjusting the tightness of the spoke nipples so that they pull evenly and the rim spins without wobble (aka, “truing” a wheel), is immensely fulfilling.
Actually, the culmination of working on a wheel is the first ride on the newly trued wheel. Although I do plenty of riding during a regular semester, including my commute which I often extend into Golden Gate Park or even across the bridge into the Marin Headlands when I need space to think, my sabbatical allows me more time to work on my bikes and to plan and undertake multi-day bike tours. Even on local rides, without a sense of urgency that I need to complete a ride to return to other obligations, I have the freedom to explore corners of the East Bay that I’ve yet to discover.
But it’s always a struggle to balance the notion that a sabbatical is supposed to be for rest with the feeling that I should end my sabbatical with some evidence of my productivity. It’s like trying to walk a meditation labyrinth while avoiding feeling that you have to rush to move on to something else, or that you have to slow down to achieve some sort of state of zen. Sounds trite, but I guess it comes down to focusing on the journey and not the destination. Or, as St. Augustine put it, “Solvitur ambulando,” or “It is solved by walking” (Thanks to Now & Zen blog for introducing me to this nugget of wisdom). I like to think that “Solvitur velo-ando” might also hold true.
Regardless, count on “finding the balance” being a persistent theme throughout the #sabbaticaldiaries!