Firsthand Foods supports employees to take time away from work and offers short sabbaticals to team members who have been with the business at least seven years. Co-Founder & CEO, Jennifer Curtis, shares her thoughts on her first sabbatical and the gift of time.
The Gift of Time
“What are you going to do?” This is the question everyone asked as I prepared to take my first-ever 6-week sabbatical. Feeling somewhat ashamed that I had nothing planned, I wondered if I was missing out by not going on a big adventure. But something deep inside instructed me otherwise. I replied, “I don’t know.” This was going to be a time for me to let go of plans, schedules and “shoulds.”
I cleared my Google calendar and erased the household “To Do” list on the side of the refrigerator. I wanted to stay curious. If not directed towards work, where would my creative energy take me? Would I revel in the blank page or feel lost without structure?
As it turned out, I’d been right to follow my instinct to just be rather than do. Letting each day unfold without pre-planning allowed my nervous system to unwind. I read books, journaled, took long walks in the neighborhood, and organized epic surprises for my husband’s 60th birthday. I had known intellectually that multitasking isn’t really effective. But during this time-off, my body experienced a deep calm when I did one thing at a time. Walking and just breathing, without the distraction of listening to a podcast. Reading a novel in the middle of the day. Simply eating, without looking at or talking on the phone. Taking the train to visit my daughter instead of driving. As this pace took hold, I began to think, “I am enough and I’ve done enough….so now what?”
I was drawn to three activities that took me by surprise. The first was thrift store shopping, a pastime aligned with my values and budget but one I hadn’t seriously pursued since I was a teenager. Each week, I explored a new part of the Triangle, took myself out to lunch, and scoured thrift store racks looking for clothing and accessories to add color and texture to my life.
Second, I started reaching out to old friends, some of whom I hadn’t spoken with in 20 years. These conversations were deeply meaningful, reminding me of our shared past, putting my journey in a deeper context, and grounding me for this next chapter of life. We’d met when time seemed infinite and options endless. Years later we’d suffered losses and gained wisdom. It’s hard to describe the rich feeling of reconnecting, but I’m convinced that there is no substitute—no drug, no purchase, no vacation—that can match it.
The third pursuit that took hold during my sabbatical was writing poetry. My Mom died less than a year ago. During the last two weeks of her life, the family followed her lead and wrote haikus to express our feelings, not just our grief but also our gratitude for her good death and the humor in the moment. We shared them in an epic, sometimes hilarious, text chain that connected us to our love for her and each other. Now on sabbatical with no structure to follow, my body relaxed and I allowed my mind to wander and connect with my heart. And that’s when the haikus emerged, helping to incorporate the sadness of her death with the love I still have for life. Here’s my sabbatical haiku:
Support to be, not just do
As I return to work, friends have been asking me what I hope to retain from my sabbatical. How will you hold onto the insights? What routines will you change or keep? I’ve decided that it’s okay if I don’t exactly know the answer. My new mantra is to stay curious, refrain from “shoulds,” and listen to my body because it has absorbed the lessons and gifts of time.