This time last year I made what felt like a huge, unorthodox decision to close my business for two months.
After supporting my husband Andy through cancer for almost eight years; dealing with his death in 2021; then getting to grips with solo parenthood while navigating grief, running my business, my household and Auckland’s longest lockdown all at the same time, by the end of 2022 I was experiencing a deep, pervasive exhaustion in my body and mind.
Explaining how I felt in a session with my business coach, I remember flippantly saying, ‘its not like I can close my business down for six months’.
She responded by saying, ‘Why not? Why can’t you do that? You’re the CEO and you can make that decision.’
My immediate response was firm resistance. ‘Of course I can’t. I have worked so hard building my business for the past 5 years; it would kill it. There’s no way I can let my customers down’.
But after the call, the idea wouldn’t leave me. And once I let myself think, ‘could I make this work?’, I felt relief in every cell of my body. I knew it was the right decision for me.
So, I planned carefully. I ran the numbers, spoke to my accountant and worked out how long I could take off. In what was coincidental timing, Good magazine had interviewed me in December about my personal story, with the edition due to come out at the end of January 2023. Before the magazine hit the shelves, I wrote a blog to share, in my own words, my experience of Andy’s cancer and death.
This was the first time I had ever talked publicly about my personal circumstances.
A few weeks after the article and blog were published, I shared, with trepidation, that I would be closing my business from 28 February – 25 April 2023 for my health-focused sabbatical.
The response I received from my customers and audience was overwhelmingly supportive. These comments helped me give myself permission to take time out without feeling I was doing them a disservice.
While it took a few weeks to unwind myself from my usual frenetic pace, those two months transformed me from a heavy, exhausted, defeated person; back to my light, joyful, optimistic self.
When I re-opened, I decided to challenge my natural high privacy setting and share in an email what I got up to during my sabbatical.
Despite my fears that the closure could be the death knell of my business, my sales popped straight back to the same level they had been the year before (until the economy-related sales drop happened a few months later!).
Taking time out, and making the unconventional move to close my business, is one of the best decisions I have ever made. It didn’t damage my business in the way I thought it might, and rather than pushing my customers away from me, it drew them closer because I had chosen to be open and honest with them.
Here’s the five biggest lessons I learnt from taking time out for my sabbatical:
1) Its important to take a future-focused, long-term view of your life. And to listen to your body and intuition more than your brain when considering a big decision. There is a visualisation activity* I do when I’m grappling with something. I find a quiet space, slow my breath and imagine my older, wiser self. I notice where my older, wiser self is, what I’m wearing and what I’m doing. I pose a question to this self, pause and simply wait to hear what response comes back. I then notice how this response feels in my body – if it makes me feel expansive, excited or relaxed, I know it’s the right choice for me. This is a great way to cut out the noise and pressure of your present life and discover what’s most important in the long run. It sounds a little odd but I challenge you to try it – it really works.
2) Just because you have never done 'this' before, or seen anyone else do it before, doesn’t mean it’s not the best decision for you, in your unique circumstances. There’s nobody else on earth like you, having the unique experience of life that you are right now. So that means the best decision for you may be completely different to anything that’s been done before. It takes courage to go against norms but it can be the best option for you at this stage and season of your life.
3) Being open and vulnerable, and pushing past the fear of being judged, helps create deeper connections with other people – whether that’s your partner, friends, customers, work colleagues etc. I‘m an introvert and a private person. Before I wrote my blog last year, I had never talked about my personal situation through my business before. I still remember the full-body, sickening feeling I had after I published it. I wanted to hide under my duvet for days and not come out. I didn’t regret what I had done but I had shared such a raw personal experience and felt very exposed. A friend of mine called it a ‘vulnerability hangover’. But once the initial shock of sharing subsided, I felt a weight, which I never knew was there, lift off of me. The feeling of being my full self through my business was liberating. And I received so many emails from customers and people I didn’t know thanking me for sharing my story, and many, in turn, shared theirs with me.
4) Your mind and your body are your greatest, most precious assets. It makes perfect sense to invest in them before everything else. Given my children lost their dad when they were only 7 and 4, my goal is to live beyond 100, so I can be in their lives for as long as possible. I have a list of my priorities in my office and my health is #1 (my children are next, my business third). I know I am a better parent and more productive in my business when I am in peak health.
Your mind is what makes you amazing at what you do; it makes you the unique person only you are. And your body gives you the energy to get through everything you need to do each day. Doesn’t it make sense to look after them?
5. On the other side of fear is growth. Just because something feels scary, doesn’t mean its not the right thing to do. It just means its unfamiliar. Our primal brains are wired to prefer certainty and predictability over personal growth. That's why considering something new can feel uncomfortable. But, what’s also on the other side of fear is pride. Pride that you’ve done something brave. Pride at the new skills you have and at the renewed belief you have in yourself. I have come to learn to quietly sit with that discomforting feeling of fear and resistance in the pit of my stomach. To welcome it as an opportunity for growth.
My life's purpose is to gently encourage others to give themselves permission to prioritise their wellbeing. What thoughts pop into your head about your own life when you read this? Remember to listen to your body's response :).
"Rest is not the reward for high performance, it is the prerequisite to high performance.”
quoted by Marie Forleo, US coach and thought-leader.
I took the banner photo on my sabbatical when I was biking in Greytown on the path that leads to the old train station. About half an hour later the clouds grew heavier and darker then released a torrential force of rain that left me completely soaked! :)
*I learnt the 'older, wiser self' exercise from the book, Playing Big, by Tara Mohr about nine years ago and have used it many times since then.