On Sabbatical with Bill Hendricks

Bill HendricksThinking of quitting your job? Well maybe you should.

Bill Hendricks has done the impossible – twice now, in fact. Intentionally unemployed as a thirty-something – really? Yes, and we could all learn a few lessons from his experiences too.

Whether you call it a sabbatical or a mini-retirement, taking a break from employment can be both liberating and productive. Have those long hours finally taken their toll on your health? Is the stress negatively impacting your relationships with friends and family? Are you no longer challenged and find yourself wishing you had chosen a different path in life? A sabbatical could be in order.

Except here’s the kicker. Even if you are considering drafting a letter of resignation, you probably won’t turn it in until you find another job. Instead, you will likely allow fear, or the well-intended advice from others, talk you out of actually doing it. Why? As a culture we place a high value on employment. We see it as evidence of independence, stability and success. It’s the American dream, after all. And most Americans will do anything to avoid entering the terrifying world of the unemployed, including accepting an equally unsatisfying job. The safe way out isn’t always the most rewarding, and being unemployed doesn’t mean that you have to struggle financially.

So before you throw in the towel on the idea of throwing in the towel, take a moment to learn from someone who has done it successfully.

Q: What triggered the realization that you needed a break from employment?

Bill Hendricks: It was a culmination of things in both my personal & professional lives. My job paid me well, but most other aspects of it were increasingly unsatisfying. I was working long hours and bringing the stress home with me at night. Personally, the biggest impact was a dear friend falling quite ill. In addition to wanting to spend more time with him, it made me consider my mortality in a way I’d never done before. It’s cliché, but I decided that “life’s too short” to continue doing something that didn’t make me happy. So I quit.

Q: What has been the most rewarding aspect of taking a sabbatical?

Bill Hendricks: I’ve been lucky enough to take 2 sabbaticals in my career. The first one was 6 months, and this more recent one was around 2 months. The most rewarding aspect of both was the time off to travel. In the recent one, my wife and I spent 3 weeks in Europe, visiting places neither of us had been to before. Another pleasant outcome was the impact on my health! Getting out of a high stress, long-hours corporate environment makes it much easier to eat better and exercise. I dropped over 20 pounds during each respite. Thankfully I’ve been able to continue my good habits during my new business venture and at nearly 38 years old I’m in the best shape of my life.

Q: What do you feel was the most important factor that allowed you to take the risk of leaving the workforce?

Bill Hendricks: The most important factor was my self-confidence in my ability to get back into the workforce when I want to. I’ve been fortunate enough to have built a great resume, I’m a strong interviewer, and I have a great network of influential colleagues I can leverage. Secondly, I am extremely lucky to have a very supportive wife. Roxanne has a great career and she’s been willing and able to hold down the fort for both of us during my breaks.

Q: What advice would you give to someone who is contemplating turning in their notice without having another job lined up in advance?

Bill Hendricks: DO IT! It will be one of the best things you do, both professionally and personally. Of course, don’t be irresponsible, though. Examine your financial situation closely. Determine how much money you can invest in yourself (because that’s what you’ll be doing) and define a monthly budget. “Practice” that budget for at least a couple months before quitting and see how it feels and how realistic it is. If the numbers work out – go for it! If they don’t, then you have a goal to work towards. Tighten your belt now and build up that “eff you” fund until it’s big enough to walk out the door.

Curious to know what Bill is up to now? As you might have guessed, his most recent sabbatical allowed him more time to focus on something more meaningful. He recently co-founded Common Form, a software company that allows customers to do their taxes in minutes from any connected device.