Australia's best rugby player David Pocock has announced that he will take a year off. It's a gutsy decision. He's 27. Sportspeople in contact sports have only so many years to maximise both their earnings and whatever else they hope to achieve from their sport. I salute the guy.
Personally I relate to Pocock's decision because I took a sabbatical last year with my wife and kids, who were then aged 8 and 11, and it totally changed my outlook on all sorts of things. For me the sabbatical was not a tough decision. I had accrued long service leave after 10 years at the large media company for which I previously worked. Who wouldn't take the time off if they had it?
Time away changes your perspective. Nothing else does the trick. And not just time away from home but time away from your routine, your responsibilities.
Pocock, if you don't know him, is an admirable Australian. He's an advocate for gay marriage and has campaigned on such issues as climate change, the environment, and mining in state forests. He has also taken a stand against homophobia. Somehow he has squeezed all this in while becoming the most respected player in Australian rugby. This guy gets a lot done in his busy life. Yet he always seems so calm, so measured, so capable. Why would he feel the need to take time out?
I can't claim to know what's going through David Pocock's head. But I do know that everyone should take a sabbatical in their lives, and possibly several. Yes, even impossibly talented, totally "together" people like David Pocock can recharge and regroup if they take time away.
We spent four months living together as a family in a small village in the southern French Alps during the Alpine spring and early summer. This we couldn't afford but we did it anyway because family time is a more valuable commodity than money.
We did three main things on our sabbatical. We skied. We hiked. And we de-digitised, or as much as we could anyway. The kids also studied French and music in a nearby large town, and also kept daily journals, just to keep their little brains ticking over.
Like most people these days, the online world is a huge part of my life. Here's what I learned when I stepped away from it for four months. I learned that I am addicted to dopamine. It's that little surge of excitement you feel when you publish a story, or a Facebook post, or an image, or whatever, and you wait for the "likes" to come flooding in.
I learned that when you see something exciting, like a rare curly-horned mountain goat which the French call a bouqetin, it's so much more rewarding sharing the experience with the three people in your vicinity instead of posting a pic on some platform and waiting for the world to like it. Who cares what the world thinks?
I learned that you'll never see the whole world, or the whole of France, or the whole of anywhere, so why try? We parked ourselves in our little out-of-the-way valley and more or less stayed there. But boy, did we get to know that valley and its surrounding Alpine peaks well. There's no corner we didn't ski, hike, raft, climb, then hike again three weeks later when certain trees that had been bare were now sprouting leaves.
I think there's a lesson in the way we kept our trip on the micro scale rather than the macro scale. Getting to know a place -- and I mean really know its moods -- is like coming to love and understand a person. More simply, it's about enjoying where you are rather than always seeking somewhere better.
Returning to work was a head trip, and not a good one. I couldn't stand certain people whom I'd previously tolerated. I found myself admiring others I'd never thought much about. My perspective had changed. My eyes were more open, my bullshit detector more finely attuned. Professionally I had a bit of epiphany. I wanted to produce less of the crappy stuff, more of the good stuff, simple as that. No matter what job you can do, I'm sure you'll understand.
This is what David Pocock can look forward to on his return. Whatever he does while he's away -- study and a brief Japanese rugby stint are just two options being mentioned -- he'll return with a clear focus as to what's important in life and what's not.
It worked for me and it'll work for him. It'll work for you too. Time out from your normal life is the best way to find out how you really want to live.