Lessons From Sabbatical

Photo caption: Surina on one of her daily walks along the bluff trails in Sea Ranch – photo credit: Sophie Fanelli

Have you ever looked at someone you love from a somewhat different angle and been newly awestruck by how phenomenal they are? That’s kind of what being on sabbatical was like for me. For four months, I stepped back from the day to day work. I walked in the redwoods and along sea bluff trails. I swam. I read novels and biographies. I pulled back from social media and spent a lot less time on Facebook and Twitter.  I turned off my email and Slack notifications. I literally unplugged my computer and disassembled my home office. 

And I noticed some things. 

While I was out on sabbatical, I started a “sabbatical log.” I am not a big journaler and I think it lasted all of 10 days, but those early efforts raised the question: “What am I noticing?” Asking that question tuned me in on a deeper level to ask the questions:  “What’s most important?  And what am I learning?” 

I slowed way down and with a little distance I noticed new patterns in myself, this organization, and in our community. And I could not be more grateful for what that perspective has allowed me to see. 

Here are four of my “noticings” that mattered to me most – one for each month of my sabbatical:

I Like Going Slow(er)

Slowing down and unplugging gave me the opportunity to experience my life without the constant pinging of urgent emails or the hurriedness of scheduling important meetings or sidebar conversations on text. And I liked it a lot. I was present and purposeful, and I want to bring more of that presence into our work now. I also notice that going slower allows others around me to step into leadership. By not being the first to respond, I am seeing colleagues share their perspectives and ideas in ways that foster creativity and innovation and solve issues that arise. Most often they don’t need me to chime in which means I can focus on other important priorities.

Going slow allows all of us time  to reflect on the things that are most important and to make strategic choices even in my inbox. I used to pride myself on responding quickly to emails and messages. Post-sabbatical, I’ll still be responsive, but not reactive. I’ll take time to respond thoughtfully. And also, I may never turn on my notifications ever again! 

Healthy Bodies, Healthy Work, Healthy Communities

One of the big things that I noticed was that while I have dedicated my life’s work to the health of our communities, I hadn’t really been caring for my own health. My health and wellness became a focus of my sabbatical time. 

At the risk of cliché, I also saw more clearly how caring for myself and my health is a way of caring for our community in ways that are both literal and intangible. When I refuse to contort my calendar to take a regular early morning meeting that disrupts my scheduled swim time, I am able to stay in the work over the long haul, but also model a pace and prioritizing of myself that shapes patterns and dynamics across our team, our partners, and our community. I know now that my self-care contributes to the collective care of our team and partners. 

Across our Women’s Foundation California community, I see deep and powerful generosity as our donor community continues to grow alongside our grantmaking. I see a willingness to experiment. I see profound caring put into action whether it’s direct funding for over 130 organizations putting an end to domestic violence or ensuring that nannies and cleaners and in-home nurses are safer at work

I also know that it’s still hard. Across our communities and our movements there is real burnout and deep pain that will take time and resources to heal.  For all of our sakes, I want to be part of that healing. 

Seeing My Purpose More Clearly

One of my other “noticings” was seeing my purpose in this work and in this community more clearly. It may not come as a surprise that my purpose is to support the leadership of others. I know now that has always been my purpose but somehow I wasn’t able to articulate it as clearly as I can now–and in a way that drives all my decisions, small or big. Whether it’s making myself more available for internal meetings or re-imagining what shared leadership looks like on our own team, I want to use the strong platform of the foundation and my role within it to grow and elevate the leadership of our communities. 

Grounding in Strengths

Part of what this community continues to teach me is what we are capable of. We are so strong and I want to continue to be grounded in our strengths. We have the creativity and the courage to make new models that welcome instead of exclude, that build instead of destroy, that collaborate instead of divide. As we heal, we gain clarity and we build power.

I see this in the coalition of Solís Policy Institute fellows and alums who joined together to pass the Momnibus bill into law in order to ensure Black, brown and Indigenous Californians are safe and healthy while they birth and parent. I see it in the ever-expanding community of donors and partners who invest their time, relationships, and money to resource leaders forging new ways forward, whether that’s growing the policy work at Young Women’s Freedom Center or investing in culture change alongside our grant partners Illuminative. I see it in our sustained commitment to work four days a week instead of five and  provide flexible family-friendly schedules. It is part of our organizational practice to question the status quo and build feminist alternatives.

There’s no doubt that as we move into 2022, we will continue to confront challenges. And what I’m noticing is that the solutions to those challenges are in the lessons of our shared successes and our many strengths.

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