Sabbaticals are radical
Jenny with our sweet late dog Rosie as we take in the Sunset.

Photo Caption: Myself and my partner Jenny with our sweet late dog Rosie as we take in the Sunset.

This summer I take my first sabbatical.

At the end of June I embark on four months away from my role as CEO of Women’s Foundation California to rest, reflect, and rejuvenate. I am clear that the work ahead of us is urgent. In the context of that urgency, taking this extended break will allow me to stay energized and committed to advancing racial, economic, and gender justice for many more years to come. My sabbatical is part of how I practice and model that care and restoration for our team and for our movements.

Originally, I had planned to take my sabbatical last year. As 2020 unfolded and the realities of the coronavirus pandemic shaped our world, it became abundantly clear that I needed to postpone. I wanted to be present for our team and our partners in this unprecedented time.

In fact, this is the second time I delayed taking a sabbatical. Our board approved a sabbatical for me a few years ago and while I was ready, the organization was not–at the time we needed to strengthen our team and infrastructure. And now, it gives me great pride to say that the time is right– our team is strong and the Foundation is healthy. We have the trust of our partners and a dynamic organization with an integrated approach to advancing our feminist future.

It can feel deeply counterintuitive to rest and restore in the midst of so much pain and injustice, but that is exactly why we must. Particularly in the American context where we valorize overwork and constant striving, even just the idea of taking a sabbatical can come off as kind of absurd. It can be challenging to imagine that taking extended time off is a good thing for the Foundation, but I know it is – it certainly is for me and I know it will be for our team. I have full confidence that our team will lead the way while I am on sabbatical as they step into distributed leadership and generative thinking.

The continued challenges of the pandemic served to highlight our deep interconnectedness and the critical and overlooked vitality of care and community. Over the last year, women left the workforce in record numbers and shouldered the unequal burden of care work, too many Black lives were cut short by White supremacy and violence, hate crimes towards Asian Americans skyrocketed, and folks across the state struggled to put food on the table and pay their astronomical rents. The issues of racial, economic, and gender justice are part of the conversation in the way that they need to be and haven’t been for too long. I intend to bring my best self to this work, which is why I am grateful to take some time away. Dedicated time for reflection and rejuvenation means I can stay engaged for the long term.

I do not have concrete plans for my time off and that is intentional. For the first time in my adult life, my plan is to have no plan. I am looking forward to unstructured days. I hope to swim lots of laps, tend to my garden, read new books, and spend time with my partner Jenny. I am also excited to reunite with friends and family as more and more of us become fully vaccinated. And I am looking forward to coming back.

With space away from the immediate day-to-day needs of the organization, there will be an opportunity for my brain, my body, and my spirit to make connections and see new perspectives that were previously unknowable to me. I’m hopeful that I will return to an organization that is different from what it was when I started my sabbatical – that is both stronger and better because in my absence people were able to lead and show up in a different way. I hope that I will also be different when I return.

I started as a volunteer at the Foundation in 2004 when I was in my thirties. I came back to the Foundation as CEO in 2014, in my forties, and will return from my sabbatical this fall well into my fifties. I am deeply grateful to have spent so much of my professional life at Women’s Foundation California. It has been my deepest honor to lead us through these transformational times while strengthening this incredible institution.

Advancing racial, economic, and gender justice is multi-generational work that happens across communities who are motivated, inspired, and resourced. Part of how we continue to feel that way is by taking time away which is one of the reasons we have a sabbatical policy. All Women’s Foundation California staff are eligible for sabbatical leave after six years of service to the organization, and I truly hope other staff will follow in my sabbatical footsteps. Eligible employees are encouraged to periodically step back from the day-to-day work and take a sabbatical. WFC’s sabbatical leave policy includes two months paid with the option to increase to 4 months by adding vacation or unpaid leave. Additionally, benefits continue to accrue during sabbatical leave, and WFC will maintain group health benefits on the same terms and conditions.

Over my decades in the field, I’ve seen so many people work under conditions of unrelenting stress and burnout. Numerous friends and colleagues in my circle have left social justice work to turn towards different healing modalities like acupuncture, somatic therapy, and meditation. They needed that healing. We all need healing. We need to rest and restore to stay in the work. At Women’s Foundation California, we know that sabbaticals contribute to organizational stability and more importantly, sustainability, by creating lasting change.

Justice is not a place you arrive at, it’s a horizon that you move towards. Our role at Women’s Foundation California, and my role as CEO, is to keep walking joyfully, in partnership, and with purpose towards that horizon.

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