Nourishing body, mind, and soul: Lessons from my Sabbatical

By: Monisha Kapila

This week I returned from a two-month sabbatical, my first long break since I started ProInspire in 2009. Earlier this year our Board approved a new policy through which all full-time employees are eligible for a sabbatical after five years with ProInspire. As the longest-serving employee, I was the first to take advantage of it.  

The time off was glorious and meaningful in so many ways. Focusing on self-care, spending time with people I love, and having new experiences enriched me in ways that will make me a better person and a stronger leader.

Here are some lessons from my time away that I hope to make a regular part of my life:


1) Nourish yourself

My favorite part of being on sabbatical was having time to myself. I realized the importance of slowing down,especially when you work on issues that feel so urgent. I appreciated the freedom of unscheduled time and the flexibility to decide what I wanted to do. I tried to sleep eight hours a night, which is the optimal amount of time I need to wake up feeling rested. I listened to the Hurry Slowly podcast that was recommended as part of my sabbatical design report from Optimistic Anthropology. A highlight for me was the week I spent participating in “yoga summer camp” at Kripalu. Kripalu, a center for yoga and health, is a great reset for healthy habits — no electronic devices are allowed around the campus, silence is kept during breakfast, healthy and delicious food is served at each meal, there are lots of outdoor activities, and lights go out at 10 PM so you awake early and refreshed. While at Kripalu, I reconnected with yoga, did my first solo kayaking, tried forest bathing, and started journaling.

Going forward: I am creating practices to nourish myself by blocking time for self care activities on my work calendar, not working at night so I can sleep earlier, and following a morning routine. I also hope to try walking meetings so I can get more time outdoors during the work day.


2) Make time for memorable experiences

One of the blessings of my sabbatical was to have a lot of time with family and friends. From the beginning, I knew I wanted to do something special and memorable with my two children (ages 5 and 7). I asked them to each pick a place for a two-day trip we could take together. My daughter and I went to the beach by ourselves during our trip to Michigan. My son and I went to Kansas City to visit the Truman and Eisenhower Presidential libraries (he is a big history buff). My favorite memories include listening to the Hamilton soundtrack over and over during our road trips. We also traveled to visit friends and family in Michigan, Boston, Chicago, and Indianapolis, and we hosted our friends here in DC. It was so nice to nourish relationships without the pressure of work obligations, and to see my kids build their own friendships.

Going forward: I am going to prioritize time for memorable experiences. They don’t have to be trips, but spending the day to do something special near home, or visiting my kids during lunch at school, can make for a memorable experience.


3) Try something new, and fail!

I wanted to try something creative, so I signed up for pottery lessons. I had never tried pottery before and it is very challenging! Art is truly learning by doing, and you fail many times before learning a technique. I realized that I hadn’t done something so new and different in a long time. I had a few classes where nothing I made worked — and that was okay. It felt strange to be absolutely terrible at something, but also fun to have a beginner’s mindset.

Going forward: I will prioritize trying new things and putting myself in situations where I know I will fail. I also want to think about how lessons from pottery can apply to our leadership development programs – learning by doing, trying new things, and making failure an acceptable outcome are all critical to personal growth.


4) Try something new, and practice!

At the beginning of the summer, I got a new bike —my first bike as an adult. Over my sabbatical, I found every opportunity to bike to different places. I pushed through my first long bike ride (the dreaded Rosslyn hill) and started to love biking around town. I was also surprised by the number of bike paths we have in the DC area, and enjoyed trying new paths to get around.

Going forward: I hope to keep biking around town, although I am not quite ready to bike to work yet!


5) Explore the world around you

This extended period of time provided me the opportunity to explore new areas both near and far. From finding new bike paths in my town, to getting coffee at a nearby café that I had never taken time visit, to traveling to new cities, I loved the adventure of exploration. I learned that exploring helps me to have a curious mind. Instead of doing things the way I always do, I am open, creative, and more mindful of my surroundings. Exploring also helps me practice patience and compromise, as you never know when something unexpected can happen. A highlight of the summer was a family trip to London and Menorca, our first trans-Atlantic trip together. We learned alot about how to travel in a different part of the world. We loved taking a bus tour in each city to better understand our surroundings and each of us picked one activity that we all did together. This meant we ended up seeing Buckingham Palace (my pick), Tower of London (my husband), London Eye (my daughter), Churchill War Rooms (my son), and Madame Tussauds (my sister-in-law). While I wouldn’t have picked all of those places if I was traveling alone, each of them gave me new perspectives on London and its history.

Going forward: I am going to push myself to expand beyond routine and explore new places around me, like going to a different place for lunch instead of my standard favorite. I hope that maintaining curiosity and awareness of my surroundings will help me to be more mindful of daily experiences.

I am grateful to my colleagues and my family for their support to make this sabbatical a truly restorative experience. I derived so many positive benefits from this experience, and I encourage my colleagues and peers to consider a sabbatical in the future. I feel inspired and excited to return to the vital work we do at ProInspire, and to put these lessons into practice so that nourishing body, mind, and soul is something that becomes a part of daily life.

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