Escape 101 – Taking a Sabbatical or Career Break Without Losing Your Money or Your Mind

A few weeks ago I was perusing the Four Hour Work Week blog and came across an interesting post about a book that had just been released, “Escape 101 – The Four Secrets to Taking a Sabbatical or Career Break Without Losing Your Money or Your Mind, which discusses the benefits that extended travel and sabbaticals can have on your psyche and career.

It turns out that the author of the book, Dan Clements, is a really great guy who happened to contact me a few days after I read the Four Hour Work Week post because I had left a comment about “escaping” the corporate world.

After the initial contact, and a couple of emails back and forth, I thought that Dan should absolutely be highlighted on as his book gets to the root of why I started this site in the first place.

Below, please find a copy of the recent conversation that I had with Dan Clements regarding his book, “Escape 101 – The Four Secrets to Taking a Sabbatical or Career Break Without Losing Your Money or Your Mind.”

A conversation with Dan Clements:

  1. Your book was recently profiled on Tim Ferriss’4-Hour Workweek site. How are the concepts that are discussed in Escape 101 different from his book? How can Escape 101 and The 4-Hour Workweek complement each other?

Tim gets a lot of attention (and rightly so) for his outsourcing and use of technology, but the real genius of the book is the way it forces you to question your assumptions about work and lifestyle. In a similar way, Escape 101 is about asking yourself, “What if I didn’t have to go to work tomorrow?”

In the big picture, I think the difference in our books comes down to temporary versus permanent. Tim’s proposing a permanent retooling of your life. Escape 101 is about a dramatic, but temporary shift in your lifestyle.

Here’s the thing, though: sometimes you need the catalyst of temporary change in order to make a permanent one. A sabbatical is something people can get their heads around conceptually.

Six months off? It’s just a break from routine, then back to normal – no need to reinvent yourself. Once you take those six months off, however, you tend to gain the perspective and the confidence to make permanent changes in the way you live your life.

I think taking a sabbatical can give people the headspace to better appreciate the value of what Tim’s saying.

  1. For people who have been seriously thinking about escaping for a while but have not actually committed, what tips or advice can you offer them to maybe help them take the first step?

When people can’t see the entire route to freedom, they tend to not take the first step. The trick is to forget about how for a while. It’s the need to plan everything in advance that tends to stop people from getting started.

It’s natural to feel overwhelmed by trying to figure out how to leave your life, so don’t try to figure it all out at once. Focus on what you want to do and why.

You need to act with the faith that one step will lead to the next step, and that it’s momentum first, before detailed planning, that will help you escape.

  1. Many people are living paycheck to paycheck, how can we possibly afford to leave work and afford to travel the globe?

Sabbaticals don’t have to be expensive. For our last escape, we saved up the cash for plane tickets over several years (a very modest goal), and then chose an opportunity that was affordable.

We did volunteer work in South America, so our total stay cost us less than $200 a month for our family of three. That’s pretty reasonable.

Many people are also taking time off for reasons other than travel – everything from parental leave to writing a book or just recharging.

You don’t need a year’s salary in the bank to take a year off – sabbatical math just isn’t the same as that of your “normal” life. Escapes come in all sizes and prices. What’s important is to not assume that you can’t afford it.

  1. Do people who take an extended career break, or sabbatical, face any disadvantages when they try to return to work?

I firmly believe sabbaticals are career enhancers. Escape artists return to work more empowered and confident, and they’re able to make better decisions – in effect, they return more capable than before they left.

That doesn’t mean, however, that there aren’t a few discomforts in returning. It’s not unusual to come back disengaged and uninspired. The good news is that this will pass, either in the form of renewed passion for your work, or a new direction in your career.

Either way, you’re going to be better off. I’ve yet to speak with anyone who regrets their choice to get away.

  1. What was it in your life that made you realize that travel and sabbaticals have a net positive effect on quality of life?

I’ve always loved the perspective that travel and time off provide, but when you add things like kids, mortgages, careers, businesses and other “high stakes” items to the mix, the contrast between normal life and sabbatical life increases.

As a result, the further along in life we get, the greater the net positive effect.

Our last sabbatical with our daughter was incredibly rewarding for us a family. I remember this profound sense of peace – the kind of joy you can spend your life looking for and never find. I think that’s when it finally hit home for me that this was really what it was all about.

  1. Why did you feel compelled to write the book? Was it difficult to find a publisher for the book?

We speak to so many people who want to get away, but the general attitude seems to be “I’d love to, but I can’t.” We wanted to write a book that would help with the hardest part of escaping – the belief that it can’t be done.

Once you crack that part, the logistics of getting away are just not that complicated. The book is essentially the exact system that we’ve used to deal with the anxiety and uncertainty of sabbaticals, to make the commitment to make sure that they happen, and to manage the logistics of money, careers and business.

I didn’t even look for a publisher for Escape 101. I wanted the book to come out sooner, as opposed to later, and I had a good understanding of self-publishing. It was the definitely the right choice for this book so far.

We’ve had some great press, and some incredible support – it’s been a very positive experience. As the book takes off, though, I’m becoming increasingly open to the idea of a larger publisher to expand our distribution and better support the book.

  1. Do you currently have any sabbaticals or trips planned? Where is one place that you have always wanted to go?

I’ve always wanted to do the classic Polynesian tropical escape, so we’re planning a shorter getaway (a month or two) next year to somewhere in the South Pacific.

Our next long sabbatical will be six months to a year somewhere in Africa. We’d like to take our daughter there when she’s about ten years old, which will be 2012 or so.

  1. As a small business owner, I would really like to take an extended trip next year but how can I possibly leave when there is no one who will run it like I do?

We’ve taken time off under both scenarios – as employees and as entrepreneurs. Sabbaticals present a special opportunity for business owners: the chance to transition into a true business that generates revenue without the constant presence of the owner.

The biggest surprise in our sabbatical experiences has been how much our businesses have grown as a result of leaving them. It seems counter-intuitive, but leaving your business forces you to make that transition – to find good people, and implement systems that allow your business to run and flourish in your absence. I can say, without a doubt, that our net wealth increased as a result of taking extended time off.

The first part of getting away from your business, though, is right there in your question: “… there is no one who will run it like I do.” It’s not easy, but getting over the idea of having to do it all yourself is really the first step.

Like most of the great things in life, the work starts on the inside. And of course, you tend to discover that there are things that other people really can do better than you.

The best part for business owners is that when you return from sabbatical, all these changes that you made in order to escape are still in place, and that lets you spend more time growing your business while still keeping great balance in your life.

  1. What educational benefits do parents give their children if they take them on sabbatical?

Sabbaticals are an opportunity to children to be learners instead of students – to become more adaptable, curious, and open-minded. I think that’s the best educational gift we can give our daughter, and it starts with us demonstrating those same qualities ourselves, and showing her that it’s okay to do things that are a bit scary, and to commit to the things that we feel are important.

  1. What are three things that people can do today that will prepare them for an “escape?”

The secret is to get started by making small commitments. Sabbatical plans tend to gain a momentum of their own if you can get them out of your head and into the real world. Here are three types of commitment that we use that tend to create a lot of leverage and momentum:

  • Financial commitment: Open a new bank account. Set up an automated withdrawal from your main account, or have a small amount of your paycheck deducted before you receive it. The amount is less important than the act – pick something affordable, but stretch yourself a little. No matter how little the amount, just get started.
  •  Social commitment: Tell three people about your sabbatical plans. You don’t have to be specific about details if you aren’t sure (and you most definitely don’t have to be specific about how), but provide a rough timeline.
  •  Logistical commitment: Pick a departure date (this can change later) and add it to your home and work calendars.

Don’t be deceived by the simplicity of these steps – they take just a few minutes, but make all the difference. Taking consistent action, however small it may seem, will get you there every time.

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