It’s the stuff daydreams are made of. Daydreams that happen during boring meetings or long, reflective hikes: What would your life be like if you didn’t have to work? Would you follow your dream to be a photographer? Become a yoga teacher? Go back to school? Open a business? Most of us let our flights of fancy evaporate – when a colleague asks us a question, or the hiking trail ends – but a few people pull at the thread of that idea.
One of those people is Lucy Horan. In 2016, she made the call to take a ‘radical sabbatical,’ pausing her day job for a year to pursue her interests in writing, comedy and cabaret.
We spoke to her about how she made it happen, from tricky chats with her partner to structuring her days, and how it has shaped her life today.
Thanks for sharing your story about your year off! Why were you drawn to the idea of taking time off almost four years ago now?
Well, I had been trying to work out what I wanted to do with my life, because what I had going wasn’t fulfilling me. I’d never had a thing in mind where I’m like, “I’m going to be X.” I’ve got friends who are like, “I’m going to be a weather presenter” or “I’m going to be a lawyer.” I didn’t have anything. I felt that if I didn’t have to work, I probably wouldn’t.
So, I had a funny relationship with the concept of work. I went to a career coach because in those moments of frustration, you try all kinds of things. And it was my career coach who pitched this idea of taking a year off to explore some different options that appealed to me.
Can you tell us about the moment you made the decision?
The moment the career coach suggested taking a year off, I knew immediately that’s exactly what I wanted to do. It was a huge relief. It was such a bold option, but it felt so right. All I really felt that I needed to do was discuss it with my partner. I was very nervous about telling him but he was really supportive when I approached it.
How did your values guide you during this time?
At the time, I didn’t know so explicitly what my values were. In hindsight, a big one for me was creativity – all the activities and projects that I wanted to do in my year off were quite creative.
Another of my values is about having fun. I feel like that had been really lacking in my career at that point. I think sometimes I’m not very good at having fun because of the way that it’s often conceptualised for adults. Some people see this as drinking, partying, and going to music festivals. I’d tried all of that in my late teens and early twenties and was unsatisfied. Fun to me meant exploring career options like performing & teaching improv comedy and writing a novel.
Authenticity was a really important one because a big element of the year off was admitting to the world what I really wanted to do instead of comparing myself to other people.
Actually admitting that I wanted to be a writer, to do improv comedy, be a performer, was acknowledging my authentic self – and setting aside a whole year to do that was huge! Committing the resources to explore those dreams financially and emotionally, really put it all on the line.
What were your goals for the 12 months, and how did they change?
My career coach and I formulated four options for me to explore in my year off. One was trying to write a book. Second was to explore public speaking opportunities, the third was to pursue my improv comedy goals and the fourth was to explore freelance editing.
A year is not very long, so these were to start a process over five or ten years, something to build a portfolio career around. As I pursued them throughout the year, some things really shifted. Some things got more time and some things got a lot less time, partly from opportunity or interest.
How did you plan your year and what preparation went into taking it off?
I went to the career coach in April and decided to start my year off starting from Christmas that year. I had eight months to save money, which was a big one, and I started thinking about what I might want to do with my year off.
I went back to the career coach in October just to get some real structure around it. We looked at what my day-to-day routines would look like, how I could make those work for me and maximise my time. We had quite practical things like writing a plan for my blog, including identifying my ideal audience and deciding how frequently to post.
I wrote a business plan for the year with four workstreams and what actions I was going to take against them. But I didn’t feel beheld to them. For example, with the fiction writing, when I discovered I didn’t enjoy that, I didn’t feel like I had to keep pursuing it. I cut that off but could still pursue the writing element of it through the blog, which I found more enjoyable.
Did it affect your relationship with the idea of achievement?
Yes. For the first time ever, no one else cared about the quality of my work. I had to figure out if I was satisfied with what I was working on and how I would measure that. Would I measure that through income? In which case, my year was not very successful.
To build up a freelance career in a year can be hard, so I didn’t expect to do that at all. I did definitely have to reframe what success looked like for my year off. A year seems like such a long time, but it goes so fast. Instead, I focused on worthwhile, interesting things that I saw as an investment in a future career.
How did other people respond to your decision to take a year off?
Lots of people would be like, “Here’s this great idea for you to do with your time off.” And I’m like, “That’s what you should do with your time off.”, they look at other people who have available time and think they know what is best.
Having that really clear idea of what my four things were, and framing it out in a business plan, gave me the boundaries I needed to reject people’s lovely ideas.
Your year off was in 2016. How has it shaped your life today?
I now have a few workstreams that were born from that year off or that were enhanced by it. I still do a lot of improv performing. I’m a children’s clown and still do a bit of writing. This time last year I performed a solo cabaret, which was a huge achievement. A seven-night run in Melbourne with really good ticket sales, and I was really happy with the quality of the show.
I don’t think if I hadn’t taken that year off four years ago that I could sit here and say, “I’m an improv comedian, I’ve done a one-person show and I have a job where I entertain children.” I don’t think that would be my life.
I still have a day job. It’s another stream, and I’ve made an active decision that it is also an important part of how I live. I like having great people around me every day, the intellectual stimulation, as well as the financial reasons. And it’s an important part of my portfolio of activities; how I want to live my life and the make-up of my career.
Lucy’s 3 tips for taking a ‘radical sabbatical’
- You need to feel financially comfortable to do it. Definitely plan it, but don't be chained to the plans. Be realistic about what you can achieve in the time that you have.
- Everyone's going to have an opinion about you taking the time off, take what is useful on-board and leave the rest. This decision takes bravery because it's not the norm.
- Think of it as an investment in your future. That means that in five years’ time you could have built up an awesome set of skills that you can take anywhere.
ING is not affiliated with Lucy and does not endorse nor accept any liability in relation to the statements made by her in this article.
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