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Sabbaticals versus FOBO

[Part two of a three part series on Sabbaticals versus the FOs (MO/BO/DA): Entrepreneur and The Sabbatical Project founder DJ DiDonna explains how taking sabbaticals helps to counteract the forces of FOBO. 

Based on first-of-its-kind research on non-academics who have taken extended leave from routine work, DiDonna shares how his findings can help you live a better life by taking a sabbatical. Sabbaticals—extended leave from routine work for a purpose—are “peak experiences” for those who are able to take them. More than just a vacation, his research found that sabbatical-takers returned with enriched relationships, deeper self-knowledge, better personal health and a healthier appetite for making much needed change in one’s life. Taking extended time off is also a powerful tool for fighting FOBO—read on to learn how.]

 


 

In the first post of this three-part series on sabbaticals, we learned about how taking time off can counteract FOMO. But those who have already read Patrick’s latest book, “Fear of Missing Out,” know that another fear—FOBO—is potentially more widespread. What is FOBO, and how does time off prevent it?


FOBO is a close cousin of FOMO, and it’s defined as: 

The Fear Of Better Options – An anxiety-driven urge to hold out for something better based on the perception that a more favorable alternative or choice might exist. 


Sabbaticals—extended time off routine work for a purpose—can be used to accomplish a variety of different goals. But chief among them is trying out something that’s not possible in “normal life.” For some people, it’s being productive—writing a book, starting a business, or getting yoga teacher certified. For others, it’s more about exploration than accomplishment. 

Either way, sabbaticals offer a chance to do something radically different from everyday life for long enough that it actually starts to feel like normal life. This removes some of the fear of the unknown from the change, and makes it easier to switch to something new.


Or to realize that what you thought was a better option actually isn’t.

Even if you ultimately decide not to do the thing you were trying on for size, there’s value in that too: knowing what doesn’t work is helpful in ultimately finding what does. 


The academic literature calls these alternative possible lives counterfactuals. A counterfactual is essentially “what might have been” in any given scenario. While it’s impossible to know exactly what would have happened had you taken one career turn versus another, experimenting with possible selves gives a pretty close approximation. In other words, you’ll see if the better option is, in fact, better.

 

 

For example, meet Paul , a retired trial lawyer in Tucson, Arizona. Ever since he was a boy, he’d dreamt of writing the next Great American Novel. In his mid-forties, and in the prime of his law career with two young daughters at home, he finally decided to quit to chase his dream. 


Every day, he’d wake up, have breakfast with the family, grab his coffee, and walk out to the outdoor shed—which became his writer workshop—and get to work. He brought his same tireless work ethic as an attorney to the new task at hand. In the evenings, he’d pick his girls up from school—it was rare to even have him home for dinner in his former life—hang out with the family until everyone went to sleep, and then go back to work. 


About five weeks into his new life, Paul tore up his manuscript and tossed it into the trash. He never let anyone read it, not even his wife. That next Monday, he resumed his life as a trial attorney, as if nothing had changed. But something important inside him had. 


You might expect him to look back at his time writing as a waste, or with the bitterness of a dream unrealized. Exactly the opposite: Paul had finally conquered a lingering regret from college. He’d chosen to go to law school because his parents thought it was a good career. After getting into the University of Arizona, he’d left Texas with his new wife, and never looked back. 


But Paul hated the writer’s life. It went against every fiber of his being; he loved being around other people, he had a huge personality, and he savored the impact he was making in his community. The writing sabbatical enabled Paul to see what his dream actually looked like, warts and all. 

Although Paul waited all the way until mid-life to test out this other version of himself, at least he’d tried before it was too late. 


After all, the secondary definition of FOBO, is: 

A compulsion to preserve option value that delays decision-making or postpones it indefinitely.

 


 

After interviewing over a hundred sabbatical-takers from around the world, we found that taking time off is a dependable recipe for both perspective and clarity. More often than not, people end up making a change in their lives. But experimentation also helps to address one of our most innate fears: FOBO – that better options exist. While there’s a limit to how many lives we can live, knowing that we actually can experiment with other selves is a powerful tool. That’s exactly what sabbaticals let you do.


Our research findings are clear: people who take sabbaticals emerge happier, healthier, and more productive. In the next installment, we’ll take a look at how extended time off vanquishes the last FO: FODA, the fear of doing anything.

[To find out more about our research, visit our website (thesabbaticalproject.org) or shoot us an email: research@thesabbaticalproject.org]

 


About the author:

Dennis [DJ] DiDonna has dedicated his career to commercializing social science research to create organizations which positively impact the world. DiDonna founded The Sabbatical Project to explore when and why sabbaticals lead to positive outcomes for working professional s . Along with collaborator Professor Matt Bloom The Sabbatical Project is now exploring the role and effects of companies in making sabbatical policies mainstream. DiDonna previously cofounded EFL Global , which enabled over $2B in capital to underbanked businesses and individuals across 20+ countries before being acquired in 2017. DJ studied Politics, Philosophy and Economics at Notre Dame and received his MBA from Harvard Business School.
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