Whose Life Could You Improve With A Sabbatical?

Almost without fail, my quest to nest asserts itself at this time of year.

The big stock pot emerges from the cupboard, ready for the simmering soups it will host. The oven gets called back to work from its months-long vacation. And out come the warm blankets and fluffy comforters. My sewing machine will probably make an appearance too, as my love of textiles and color converges with my need to stitch up a few cozy, warm-hued pillow covers.

But since there’s not much time for sewing lately, my nesting instincts propelled me toward the IKEA website this week, hunting for the one pillow that could pull it all together and add a dash of zing. The exclamation point, if you will, for my home’s transition from summer to fall/winter.

As it turned out, I didn’t find the perfect pillow. I found something even better, though: an invitation to take a sabbatical.


The idea of a sabbatical is compelling to many of us. In fact, I often encourage clients to take mini-sabbaticals, in the form of a day just for them. And long ago, that was at the heart of all sabbaticals: an extended time-out to rest and regroup.

In recent history, however, sabbaticals have changed, and people are more likely to use the time away from work to learn something or create something or accomplish something. There’s frequently a healthy dollop of self-discovery and travel mixed in, too.

Whatever kind of sabbatical it is, I’m all for it. And if I were Queen of the World, I would give everyone a chance to take a sabbatical at least once in their lives. But seeing as how I’m not Queen of the World (darn!), I’m happy that IKEA is stepping up to offer it to at least one lucky person.


IKEA is billing this as a Life Improvement Sabbatical. But here’s the interesting part: it’s about improving the lives of others, to the tune of $100,000. Along the way you get coaching, too. With Martha Beck, no less.

Now those IKEA types are pretty smart, if you ask me. They know that when we give of ourselves to improve the lives of others, we improve our own lives immeasurably. The emotional rewards are huge: increased empathy, self-esteem, resilience, a sense of belonging, gratitude. And then there’s all the other intangible stuff that’s difficult to articulate. I won’t even try to put it into words, because I think you get my drift.

So, as my mind rushed ahead to all the possibilities, I arrived at a familiar place: creeping overwhelm. So many options. So many choices.

Kids. The environment. Poverty. Women’s issues. Walkable communities. Sustainable living.

Yikes! How on earth could I figure out what form my own improving-the-lives-of-others sabbatical would take?


OK. Whoa, Nellie. Time to pull back the reins and get this horse back on the path.

At its core, any sabbatical needs to be first about something that truly matters to us. Something we care deeply about.

IKEA liberally uses the word passion in their materials about the sabbatical. It’s a serviceable word, although sometimes problematic; it can isolate people and make them wonder what they’re missing. As in: What’s wrong with me for not having a burning passion?

But there are a whole bunch of other good words.

Fascination. Curiosity. Intrigue. Meaning. Let me use them in a sentence: What truly matters to you, that you find fascinating, that piques your curiosity, that intrigues you and pulls you toward it, that is full of meaning?

Those words definitely clarify it for me: expressive arts and healing. Of the many things that fascinate me, this rises to the top. So during my sabbatical I would develop a non-profit center for healing and expressive arts.

That’s a good start, but whom do I want to serve? Surprisingly, the answer comes quickly. For months I’ve been reading about the dire need for increased mental health services for veterans returning from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

Not only are these men and women facing depression, drug and alcohol abuse, post traumatic stress disorder, and increased risk of heart disease, but suicide rates have sky-rocketed as well. Astonishingly, in California, three times as many veterans took their own lives after returning home as died during the actual wars.

That statistic chills me to the bone, and each article brings another pang of sadness. I know enough to pay attention to that. When we’re drawn to read something again and again, it’s speaking to us. And we need to listen to that voice.

Mind you, I’m not a war person. I don’t think it’s the answer to conflict. And yet, I know that creating a non-profit healing and expressive arts center for veterans would be absolutely the right thing to do if IKEA handed me that check for $100,000.

So there you have it. My Life Improvement Sabbatical.

I’ve even figured out who I’d call first – my old friend from grad school. She’s now the veterans counselor at a local community college. I’m pretty sure the two of us would make a good team.

You know what? Maybe it wouldn’t hurt to call her anyway.


Now it’s your turn. You’ve got the $100,000 to improve the lives of others.

So please, tell me all about your sabbatical.




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24 thoughts on “Whose Life Could You Improve With A Sabbatical?

  1. Hi Patty! I hope you WIN that! As the mom of a veteran I teared up reading this! Gosh I’d need more time to consider this because just the idea of this money to help others brought a flood of thoughts to sort thru – so much “need” out there! Thanks for putting me on to this – I will be definitely chewing on the possibilities! YAY for Ikea!

    • Hey suZen – I agree: Yay for IKEA. I know you’d make a big difference in people’s lives if you got the sabbatical.

  2. I would put it towards having an art center making creative expression accessible to everyone. I would have a special focus on people with disabilities. I would make sure that a diverse population had involvement/ownership. My husband and I already have a nonprofit that focuses on this mission through mentorships and events. A center would be a dream come true for us.

  3. Wow – the possibilities are endless… I might just write about this as it is not something I am sure I could write in a few words nor am I sure that it is a comment in itself, but like yours… a post!

  4. Hey Patty,

    I’m with you that everyone deserves a sabbatical in this one adventure here we call life. Too many folks have no choice but to slog their way through. We get ourselves into debt-laden predicaments for a variety of reasons, some learned in our younger years.

    Your choice was a great one. I’ve been reading about those suicide stats as well. Seen it up close and personal in my town. Wars do terrible things to folks heads – how could we expect then not to? how could we be surprised at the outcome?

    I’d like to open my non-institute institute called “Wake Up and Contribute.” It would serve average middle-aged folks who want to wake up before they die, wake up and contribute something more to the world than buying consumer items they do not need. I’d ask anyone interested in the one-year sabbatical to send me a 2 page letter answering the following question:

    “What do you feel needs waking up in the world? How would you go about accomplishing it.”

    Thanks! Giulietta

  5. Hi Patty — it’s funny, I feel like I’m doing exactly what I would do on my sabbatical, which is work on a fiction book, and, er, continue trying to build up a platform for another non-fiction book. 🙂 I guess if I could get everything I wished for in my sabbatical, the non-fiction book would be immediately published by a big New York house. (I know, this is a sabbatical, not a genie with three wishes.) But in these moments before that happens I get to sit with the frustration of not having that, and allowing my frustration to come up and noticing its contours has been an amazingly rewarding practice for me.

  6. I love IKEA and after hearing this, I love them even more. This time of the year has the same effect on me, Patty. Soups and stews and cozy blankets and sweaters… and hot chocolate.

    If I won the sabbatical prize I’d use it to help other writers get their books written. Definitely. Writing would be the choice here. Good luck!

    • Now all I can think of is how fun it would be to get together, drink hot chocolate, and work on our sabbaticals together, Davina.

  7. Hi Patty,
    So much of what you’ve shared here resonates deep within..
    On a journey to IKEA..to find the “perfect” pillow to pull it all together and bring you satisfaction to open fully to embrace the season…you allow this wonder filled idea to take seed and I *know* whether or not IKEA gifts you the prize money..something will blossom within from this..
    And *then* you share it with us, your very blessed readers…who will now rethink our decor and whether a new pillow would be necessary *grin* as well as how would we improve a section of our world with our own ideas..
    I *love* how you think! Thank you!
    I would do something along the lines of heart healing..a center, a retreat..I’m open to creating something within this field now and very excited to see what shape it shall take…

  8. You’ve created much food for thought. Like Joy, I would use the money to open a center. It will be a platform whereby people in the welfare or community service can learn self-help tools for free or at very low cost. I love the idea of personal empowerment. With these tools, they can first help themselves and then go on to help others in the world. I’m already doing it but on a small scale. It will be nice to expand on this!

  9. I really enjoyed this post, Patty, but I honestly have a hard time picking one thing if I won a sabbatical from Ikea. Mostly, I am trying to do what I can, when I can, without needing $100k. I haven’t always felt like this. But one day, I realized that I am so very lucky compared to so many. I haven’t forgotten that.

    • That’s what I like about daydreaming about the sabbatical, Belinda. Of course, it’s unlikely any of us will win it, but the ideas that burble up can take us to what truly matters. And more likely than not we’ll see we’re already living that, in our own small way. I know for sure you are.

  10. I love the idea of a sabbatical, sounds like just what I need at this point.

    Love your idea of a sabbatical that would serve veterans, there is such a need! You are truly loving.

  11. Patty — I love that you developed all this from searching for a pillow on the IKEA site. You have to go for this!!! It’s such a “creative” idea, especially for people who may not want to do a lot of people talking. Instead, you get them creating and letting their imaginations find ways to heal themselves. Oh, I love it. There’s nothing like creative arts to speak on our behalf when we can’t find the right words.

    YOU have to go for this….YOU do…it’s ingenious:~)

    • Wow, Sara, you are quite the motivator today. I’m not sure my idea is ingenious, but I do so appreciate your wonderful support.

  12. Hi Patti,
    I’d come and work at your place. I always loved art therapy and experiential healing. I have to nephews who went to Iraq and one lost his hearing and the other is just a mess over PTSD.

    My daughter was born without a right hand and each time I see young people without a limb or two or three my first thought is the war. My second thought is who is going to help them and how will they get work. You’ve pushed a button…big time. Let me know when you’re ready to go.

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