Far away from Hurricane Sandy, here I was at SFO’s international terminal on day one of a sabbatical I had long waited for. My employer rewards its employees with a contiguous seven week sabbatical (on top of regular vacation) for every seven years of service. I was eligible for my sabbatical in early September. This was a moment I had waited for, for a long time. This was a moment I wanted to tell everyone about and share, for a long time.
When you’re not an athlete or a performer you rarely get to milestones that you can crow about publicly. You don’t get doff your hat, take a bow, raise your bat or do a discount-double-check dance ever. For most cubicle warriors (like me) a monthly accomplishment is achieving what someone else categorized as a stretch goal or cleaning out that Inbox or getting thru a presentation or meeting without once looking at one’s Facebook or Twitter feed. These are things that make me feel good and are important to keep that wheel turning but these don’t get society’s rousing applause. Similarly, pay raises and promotions at work are satisfying private moments but society deeply frowns the sharing of one’s paycheck in social settings and sharp arrows are drawn at that party pooper who has nice things to say about his job or pay.
Compliments from co-workers and managers have the lifetime of a funny email forward and the day-to-day struggles of just getting shit done rarely gets the attention of a ‘Behind the Scenes’ crew. And far too often little moments of success or joy at work seem like compensation for that moment or event when something went wrong. Yeah, you got these issues resolved and the code released but remember that one time last month when you didn’t know what the answer to my question WAS??????
At its most fundamental level, my paid sabbatical is a reward for the time I have spent doing something that is thankfully cherished needed by someone else and considered valuable enough to society to be compensated for. But for me though, the sabbatical is an enormous look-how-big-my-you-know-what-is moment! How often am I going to be able to publicly crow about something I did and have it resonate socially?
Ever tried bragging about your $30 gift card to the movie theater at a gathering of friends or family? Ever tried explaining to your significant other, how great your fantasy football team is doing and how happy it makes you feel? Ever tried discussing your little daily success at work, at the dinner table? Ever tried explaining how hard that commitment to your very difficult MBA class was and how it got you an A? Nobody cares! And none of these flauntings are considered normal. These aren’t things society allows us to crow about. Society values these exactly the way it values stories of supermarket shopping efficiencies. But a sabbatical? Oh Yeah! Society considers it perfectly normal to crow about completing a certain unit of time at a certain place of work. No one pooh-poohs it. The work-permitted sabbatical falls crisply at the intersection of two things society values – Longevity and effort. And no one likes to trivialize those.
So here I am on seat 33D of British Airways flight #284 yelling guiltlessly to y’all about my paid sabbatical which is a reward for completing seven fucking years at work. The next 60+ days are loosely planned and involve a lot of travelling, soul searching, family and friends. It will also involve a lot of writing on this blog. Like most times in my life, I know I will achieve less than I aim for, I will check e-mail more than I have to and I will eat and drink more than I plan to. But thru all of this I will yell loudly and proudly at anyone and everyone about my sabbatical, write about my experiences and raise my metaphorical bat at anyone who’ll listen. Please follow my blog and tell everyone you know that Shyam Sundararaman is on sabbatical and writing about it. They won’t mind. At least, that’s what society tells me ……