April 2021 marked 14 years since I first discovered the subject of data visualisation and started the process of developing my knowledge. It is 10 years since I began my exit from 'normal' employed life to become a freelancer specialising in this field, built on the knowledge I had developed and was continuing to develop. Time has flown by.
I feel tremendously fortunate to have somehow managed to have timed my career move just at the point when interest in and demand for expertise in the subject has grown significantly. I often look back over the blur of the past decade with a degree of amazement at the range of projects, clients, events and opportunities I've been lucky to experience.
The blur I mention there comes through the fairly relentless cycle that exists with freelancing, as you constantly juggle trying to attract work, securing work, and delivering that work. If things go well - and thankfully and fortunately, they have - this pattern becomes all-encompassing. It squeezes out opportunities for taking stock, to evaluate strategies, and to actively personally develop.
And then global pandemics happen.
Since March 2020, against almost any measure, I've got through this pandemic with very limited negative impact compared to so many others who have had an awful time. I have inevitably lost a certain slice of my typical expected revenue, but have not lost my job. I have experienced the same restrictions as everyone else through several lockdowns, but have a comfortable working-from-home existence and happy home life to cushion that. I have not suffered any health impact from the disease, nor seen many around me suffer either. I've had a dose of the vaccine and have the second dose scheduled.
But despite all that, like everyone else I know, I am fairly exhausted. I wouldn't describe it as burn out, but the tank of fuel is definitely on the empty side and I can see the risk of emptying that further (good article about burn out here).
I've previously described living and working through this period as been like trying to concentrate reading a book while sat next to several pneumatic drills. The noise, the anxiety, the uncertainty, the concern are always present. It is draining and it is distracting, even if the effects are not explicitly or significantly impacting me. You care about others and you worry for others.
Translating all this back into a work context, and the reason for this post, I feel it is wise for me to carve out a brief period of time for myself away from any client work, any projects and any events. I'm therefore going to be taking a sabbatical over July, August and the first half of September. After receiving my second vaccine dose on 30th June, that will initiate the break.
Although, like everyone, I do feel a desperate need for a sustained full-on break, this is not going to be time off. Instead, I'm defining this more as a 'learning' sabbatical. I need to find space to catch-up on all my reading - all those books and articles that I've kept but never fully read. I want to practice, to play, to refine some skills. I want to think about my strategy for how to smoothly transition back to operating in whatever the world looks like in 2022 and beyond. I want to review and revise all my offerings, refresh all my teaching materials, think about new training offerings, fresh talk ideas. Progress my belated plans for redesigning my website, think about the future of blogging, think about the role of social media etc. Find time and brain space to do all the thinking and reading and development (non-client) tasks that I've just found incredibly hard to fulfil over the past 15 months.
I'm sharing this news, in part, to explain why I'm largely going to be dropping off the radar for a while. I might need to maintain a few blog postings, and may continue churning out the monthly release of my podcast episodes. I'll still probably keep an eye on social media developments, but I hope I will remember to just lurk rather than be tempted to wade in - block me if I do!
I'm also sharing this to help explain to people who may be keen to engage with my services why, from now until my return, I will be trying to maintain a firm 'thanks, but no thanks' response to any new opportunities. This feels the hardest thing to do - if I don't earn, I don't earn - but is also necessary to get the most value out of this. I'm still going to keep an eye on work emails to handle incoming enquiries but I will hopefully be able to defer them until to my return in the autumn. I'm doing all development to better prepare for and to hopefully enable me to flourish over the next 10 years of my life as a freelancer.
But, finally, I'm also sharing this announcement because I suspect there may be others out there who might benefit (even in the smallest way) from seeing somebody else doing this. I know I find it helpful when I see people in similar freelancing roles to mine to hear about their thinking behind decisions similar like this. There may be one or two people who are contemplating doing something similar, and so let me share this excellent article, by Anne Helen Petersen, 'Against “Feel Free To Take Some Time If You Need It"' (and thanks to Dominikus for sharing it) which really helped to clarify my own thoughts and decisions around this plan:
That’s the backdrop against which we normalize the maintenance of productivity during a pandemic, a mass shooting, police brutality, racist violence, a massive weeklong power outage, or an insurrection. Productivity maintenance becomes a means to prove your fitness for the future, and, as such, your value as an employee: you have the skills, the fortitude, and the control over your immediate environment to work through the inevitable catastrophes and demands of the market. Whatever shit the world throws at you, the work endures. It’s not that you want to be a heartless robot; it’s that the market is hostile to those who aren’t, no matter what your manager assures you. The manager’s crisis refrain of “feel free to take some time, if you need it” is fundamentally a sorting question: are you someone who needs it or are you someone who can ignore that you do?