When burnout is real, sabbatical leave might be the solution

perspective of a software developer

When  burnout is real, sabbatical leave might be the solution


It's pretty usual nowadays to hear about people that want a sabbatical year to travel, pursue hobbies or start a company. It's easier said than done. There are plenty of reasons to defer it or never do this, especially when there is a pandemic ongoing, the war in Eastern Europe and multiple conflict zones in the world, or other crises that may come. On top of those challenges, personal responsibilities should be considered. While in some scenarios odds are not favorable to do this craziness (as perceived by most people around me), I will try to debunk this by sharing my perspective: context, values, and priorities.

Burnout is real

2 years ago I accepted to work on a new project with the promise to have a new team, cool technologies, refactoring of an existing successful solution, and a plan for a multi-year development. It's easy to say that I was very excited about it. Most people were nice and skilled and some of them remained friends. But that would be the only good part. Sadly, in the first weeks, I realized that reality was different from what I expected. To summarize what led to project failure: poorly managed, legacy code and unrealistic high expectations that put pressure on the development team. It's not worth going into further details.

Although I felt lied to, I knew that it was only my fault for trusting blindly shiny marketing without putting specific questions to understand better what I was signing for. I told myself several times to be professional, to just deliver what I am paid for, that is not ok to quit after 1 month, 3 months, under 1 year, and so on. Pretty common thoughts, right? Did my best, but in the end, frustration kicked in hard and I had to make yet another change in my career to boost my passion for programming. I didn't know it at that time, but burnout was very real as my motivation was at an all-time low.

The comeback, once again

Out of nowhere, a good friend told me about a project that he had joined. That project caught my interest and became, for sure, the best project setup I have had so far: new technologies, amazing skilled colleagues, almost perfectly planned timeline. It felt great to see that I can be productive again on a complex project.

Something was missing

Even when I managed to deliver tasks and enjoy daily work, motivation wasn't still there. The explanation is quite simple: I just tried to mask that my batteries were off and to skip burnout recovery. I found it hard to admit, but I needed a break.

Time for a sabbatical

I waited to finish the first milestone of the project roadmap (thought to have minimal impact on the team) and announced my decision for sabbatical leave. It wasn't clear what I was going to do, but the most important thing was to take a step back and rethink my priorities. Planned a budget for about 9 months of break. Why this magic number? Well, because I wanted to include summer😉 and I knew would be enough time.

So what have I done with so much free time?

  • Spent quality time with my parents. For example, having a full month of free time to stay with my parents remembered me of summer vacations from high school.
  • Traveled across Europe. The Netherlands is the type of country to chill. Croatia has amazing roads alongside the sea. North Slovenia has beautiful nature. Ljubljana was a pleasant surprise for its vibrant energy. Switzerland is, well, as beautiful as most say. And a lot more experiences. 💡 I had an amazing companion on this journey: my brother! He was on sabbatical leave as well. Cool, right?!
  • I read a lot of technical articles, the ones that I delayed for months.
  • I worked on side projects. No rush, no deadlines, no sync meetings.
  • I coded for fun on CodinGame. So relaxing and rewarding!
  • I helped friends and family with different activities. Not always fun, but feels good to help others.
  • I prioritized and helped my body to recover.

Was it worth it?

Absolutely! I have no regrets. In addition to recharging batteries, I am now sure that taking time off, for more than a few weeks, can recalibrate career direction and life priorities...for a better future. Moreover, next time, I will not wait so much before acting. Having a passion for work and the desire to advance in a career or to earn more money is perfectly fine. But we don't live to work. Life is more than that. Think about your priorities and act accordingly.

If you’re not failing, you’re not pushing your limits, and if you’re not pushing your limits, you’re not maximizing your potential. - Ray Dalio

p.s: The cover image is from Croatia, taken during the road trip