Tired of Tech? Hit Reset with a Sabbatical or LOA

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Tech is tiring. Whether you’re trying to stay upskilled on the latest JavaScript framework or wading through toxic work swamps, it feels like burnout is constantly looming on the horizon. Sabbaticals and leaves of absence (LOAs) are two benefits you could take advantage of to catch a much-needed (and overdue) extended break. I’ve taken both, one time to live abroad in France for 6 months and the other time to take the summer off for 10 weeks, both at different Fortune 500 companies and each time they moved my career forward, not backward. I’ll walk through step-by-step how to figure out if you’re eligible for these benefits, break down the implications to insurance and job security in plain language, and illustrate some strategies on bridging the income gap so you can sleep at night. By the end you’ll walk away with the confidence to finally give yourself permission to reset and get excited about tech again.

8 min
06 Jun, 2023

AI Generated Video Summary

Between burnout, toxic workplaces, the pandemic, the economic downturn, hustle culture, and constant upskilling, let's enjoy the journey instead of slogging through it. Introducing the idea of taking a mini-retirement while working, starting with a sabbatical. Companies offer sabbaticals as a perk, allowing personal development and a chance to return to work. Many companies have publicly stated sabbatical programs, like Adobe. Requirements are guidelines, not set in stone. And they offered it to me anyway by way of apology. Everything worked out, our mini-retirement lasted six months. In fact, the benefits of extended time off are something the rest of the world seems to understand, but the US hasn't gotten the memo. What about those of you who don't have access to a sabbatical? Is there another kind of mini-retirement you could pull off? Absolutely. You can check if you have the ability to request an unpaid personal leave of absence. Unlike a sabbatical, there's no guarantee you'll have a job waiting for you when you get back, but you can request it for any reason at any time. Great, but how can you do this? So let's talk logistics. A mini retirement is within reach for a lot of people. Here's a worksheet to help you plan your mini retirement. Determine your cash in and cash out to calculate your savings rate. You can choose how many months you want to take off and calculate the amount of money you need to save. Your savings rate reveals important information about your finances. Saving 10% to 20% can cut the time needed in half, and saving 30% per month allows you to work from September to May and save for your summer off. There are some considerations, such as paying for benefits out-of-pocket and pausing contributions to retirement accounts. Now, go take a mini retirement and explore more resources on personal finance and lifestyle design.

1. Introduction to Mini-Retirement and Sabbaticals

Short description:

Between burnout, toxic workplaces, the pandemic, the economic downturn, hustle culture, and constant upskilling, let's enjoy the journey instead of slogging through it. Introducing the idea of taking a mini-retirement while working, starting with a sabbatical. Companies offer sabbaticals as a perk, allowing personal development and a chance to return to work. Many companies have publicly stated sabbatical programs, like Adobe. Requirements are guidelines, not set in stone.

♪♪ Listen, I know you're tired. Who can blame you? Between the massive rate of burnout, toxic workplaces, the pandemic, the economic downturn, hustle culture, and the constant upskilling and reskilling that tech demands, you're not alone.

I mean, wouldn't it just be great to quit and go live in the woods, maybe play board games all day? Well that would be nice, but who can really do that in practice. You need to be financially independent to pull it off. Most people aren't. I have three kids. They need to go to school. I have to pay down my mortgage. Even though I'm working towards financial independence, that's still many years away. What do we do in the meantime? Just suck it up with a shrug? That's life. No. I say, let's enjoy the journey instead of slogging through it.

Let me introduce you to the idea of taking a mini-retirement. There are two ways to take a mini-retirement while working that I'm going to cover. Then we'll talk through how to plan your own. First, you have a sabbatical. A sabbatical is an unpaid leave of absence that companies normally offer as a perk to allow you to get a degree, do some personal development, or really do whatever you want. It's called protected because there are legal protections in place to make sure that you can still return to work. The caveat is that it may not be at the same salary or role, but in practice, it's almost always the same job. You might be surprised to learn there are many companies who have publicly stated that they have a sabbatical program and others who have it but don't make it public. For example, here's a list on Build Remote. The one I want to call attention to is Adobe because it's open, you can browse it and see exactly how it works and what the eligibility requirements are. The secret is that these requirements are really guidelines. They're not set in stone. I learned about this firsthand when I worked at General Mills. It was an accident, actually. In 2015, my wife said she wanted to live in France, and I said, yeah, well, let's do it. And I asked my boss if I could work remotely for a year. They said, sure, sounds great. Then HR got involved in something, something taxes.

2. Mini-Retirement and Sabbatical Options

Short description:

And they offered it to me anyway by way of apology. Everything worked out, our mini-retirement lasted six months. In fact, the benefits of extended time off are something the rest of the world seems to understand, but the US hasn't gotten the memo. What about those of you who don't have access to a sabbatical? Is there another kind of mini-retirement you could pull off? Absolutely. You can check if you have the ability to request an unpaid personal leave of absence. Unlike a sabbatical, there's no guarantee you'll have a job waiting for you when you get back, but you can request it for any reason at any time. Great, but how can you do this? So let's talk logistics. A mini retirement is within reach for a lot of people.

And they were like, sorry, you can't work in France. Yeah, big surprise. But they did ask if I wanted to roll a saving throw. I had been working there for five years, and technically, I wasn't eligible for a sabbatical until I was at seven years of service. But they offered it to me anyway by way of apology.

Well, we said, yes, we were young, we didn't have any kids, we knew we couldn't do this again. Everything worked out, our mini-retirement lasted six months. We lived in France, we traveled around. I mean, I even had a monkey on my back in Morocco. It was amazing. In fact, the benefits of extended time off are something the rest of the world seems to understand, but the US hasn't gotten the memo. I mean, if you don't live in the US and you're watching this, why? Because most of you already have really great vacation policies. Super jealous.

What about those of you who don't have access to a sabbatical? Is there another kind of mini-retirement you could pull off? Absolutely. You can check if you have the ability to request an unpaid personal leave of absence. Unlike a sabbatical, there's no guarantee you'll have a job waiting for you when you get back, but you can request it for any reason at any time. I also have direct experience with this. My wife is a school social worker and has summers off, which of course means I wanted summers off. I was able to request a personal leave for 10 weeks during the summer. You might be thinking, great, but taking a mini retirement is going to hurt my career. I've done it twice and can say it probably won't. Both times I came back, I got promoted, and I felt recharged and ready for new challenges.

Great, but how can you do this? So let's talk logistics. A mini retirement is within reach for a lot of people. So what you need to do after this talk is go to your dreaded benefits portal and search for your leave of absence policy. In the best case, you'll learn that not only do you have access to a sabbatical, but if you've been there for four to seven years, you might already be eligible for one. You're going to also need a runway. This will let you float for the duration of your absence without worrying about money. This consists of calculating your monthly expenses, deciding how many months you want to take off. And in my case, I also included a buffer in case I needed to look for a job.

3. Planning for a Mini Retirement

Short description:

Here's a worksheet to help you plan your mini retirement. Determine your cash in and cash out to calculate your savings rate. You can choose how many months you want to take off and calculate the amount of money you need to save. Your savings rate reveals important information about your finances. Saving 10% to 20% can cut the time needed in half, and saving 30% per month allows you to work from September to May and save for your summer off. There are some considerations, such as paying for benefits out-of-pocket and pausing contributions to retirement accounts. Now, go take a mini retirement and explore more resources on personal finance and lifestyle design.

Now, here's a worksheet for you to help plan. Let's walk through it quick. First, you're going to want to know your cash in. What money is coming into your account. Then, what's your cash out? What are you spending? This will get you the amount of savings you have to work with and your savings rate. You can then choose how many months you want to take off. That will tell you how much money you need to save up and how long that's going to take. So, I want you to do this like right now because this might be the first time you've ever sat down and done a cash flow analysis. So, go ahead, pause the video, and come back soon.

This worksheet is going to help you determine your savings rate. If personal finance could be boiled down to a single number to focus on, this might be it. Your savings rate not only dictates how quickly you can save up for your runway, it also dictates how long you have to work. My guess is that you will find you have a pretty low savings rate, and that's okay. There are two ways to control it. First, by playing offense and then by playing defense. Either increase the amount you earn, which is harder to do, or decrease the amount you spend, which is much easier to do. It's like giving yourself a raise. In fact, what's most interesting about your savings rate is that it's an abstraction over your finances, and it reveals some non-obvious information. Here's a table of how many weeks it would take to save up for a summer off. About 12 weeks. Now, let me plot these points. Notice how going from 10 to 20% cuts the amount of time in half. Not only that, if you can manage to save up to 30% per month, you can also work the 40 weeks from September to May, which will let you save up and buy your summer off. Since I did this recently, I can tell you that you probably need less than you think. I saved more than I needed. There were things like higher year-end bonuses, tax credits, extra freelance income along with my wife's salary and combining leave with paid vacation. These are not all going to apply to you, obviously, but my point is that your plan is probably already going to be pretty conservative by default, so it's okay not to be super strict.

Finally, there are some gotchas with benefits to be aware of. Since a leave of absence means you won't be getting a paycheck, anything your paycheck takes care of will have to be paid out-of-pocket like your medical premiums. Things that were on autopilot like your 401k or HSA also will be paused, and you might need to call to reinstate them. Finally, you aren't working, so you're not going to accrue a vacation, so that's something to keep in mind. Now with that, go take a mini retirement. If you need more resources, I have a full hour talk on building up F.U. money and personal finance design patterns, which you can check out. If you have questions you want to ask me, or you want to get occasional tips on lifestyle design for software developers, you can subscribe to my newsletter. And I also provide consulting services to help grow and scale developer tools.

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***
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You already said that teaching is an integral part of the learning process, and you stand your word since you're also a full-time educator. What inspired you to enter this field?
I have been a teacher for as long as I can remember. I grew up in a church where you talk in front of your peers from a very young age, and my mom was an elementary school teacher, so teaching has just always been a part of me. 
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Then I started teaching on the side at egghead.io right after I'd graduated. That was when I first got a paycheck for teaching. And I realized that teaching could be quite lucrative and support my family and me as a full-time endeavor. So I did it — I quit my job. I'm a very risk-averse person, so I'd done teaching as a side hustle for four years just to verify that I could make this work.
When TestingJavaScript was released, and I got that paycheck, I realized that I didn't need my PayPal salary anymore. I could just focus my daytime on teaching and give my evenings back to my family, which was a nice trait.


Apart from that, how has teaching impacted your career? 
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We talked about React and Remix. Are there any other open-source projects that you'd recommend keeping an eye on or contributing to?
I have some myself. React Testing Library is probably the biggest one that people are familiar with. And if React isn't your jam, then other framework versions of the testing library. 
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There are things that I've built at other companies that are still in use, and I'm proud of those cause they've stood the test of time, at least these last few years. But of everything, I think Epic React has made the biggest impact.
***
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