Empty my cup

Its been a busy week work-wise and socially. I am grateful to have this day to relax or “chillax” as my son would say. I am so happy that I do not go anywhere today – I did all my shopping on purpose yesterday so that I can have this whole day to myself without feeling guilty or the need to rush through anything. It’s just me, the kitties and the birdies. It will be an unstructured day – my favourite kind. Having this unstructured day has made me think about all the unstructured time I will have soon.

So settle in and let me tell you all about it. It’s a long story – this is just the first part!

Empty your cup

“A university professor went to visit a famous Zen master. While the master quietly served tea, the professor talked about Zen. The master poured the visitor’s cup to the brim, and then kept pouring. The professor watched the overflowing cup until he could no longer restrain himself. “It’s full! No more will go in!” the professor blurted. “This is you,” the master replied, “How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup.”

There are many variations of this story, but the meaning behind it remains constant. In a way, this story is similar to mine. Although I’m not a professor, I am an academic (of sorts) who is seeking answers about life. This is what I want to do with my “self-funded sabbatical”. My cup which feels uncontrollably huge is so full at the moment that I cannot see the bottom, nor can I add anything more to it without it overflowing. I’m overwhelmed.

I decided I would gift myself a self-funded sabbatical because if I don’t do it for myself, no one else will. As a contract staff member at my university, I am not entitled to year-long sabbaticals as tenured staff are.

Will my sabbatical empty my cup bit-by-bit or all at once?

Who knows? I think I will only be able to tell you what happened after I’m done! Can you wait that long?

Right now though, this is what I think. 

Emptying it will give me the space I need to take the next step. I know that if I do not give myself this space, I will not be able to give any future work the dedication and energy that it deserves. I will be starting from exhaustion and an overflowing cup.

There have been too many times in my life where I have made snap decisions about big things: starting new jobs and getting married are two that come to mind. I have seldom taken the time to think about if they are really what I want or if they are the best use of my skills and talents. Often I’ve felt compelled for financial reasons or by societal pressures.

“The things that matter, take time. To find something fulfilling and uplifting, you need to settle in for the journey. In fact, it’s dangerous to go running wildly toward an answer to your future career.” [CareerShifters]

I do not want to jump into another career that doesn’t suit me or to take an opportunity because it shows up. It’s time to set my own schedule, pace and timescale. Jumping is over-rated!

Since I left university at 20, I have been working one way or another. I did some travelling but worked throughout to survive. I had some maternity leave, but not more than 6 months – and anyway I consider that to be work, just of a different sort. I had a magical time when I worked three days a week, but I still had a young son at that point, so those days were for spending more time with him.

I’m in my mid-fifties, single and my son has left home. I finally have fewer responsibilities than I’ve ever had. I think I deserve to have some time out – a gap year… In thinking about this myself, I have come across stories of others who have been brave enough to do this. Yes, there it is, bravery, courage. It does take balls to do this. And as it gets closer and closer, I realise that I am being brave. This is probably the bravest thing I have ever intentionally done.

But I also realise that there will be many benefits. Just do a web search for “taking a sabbatical from life” and you will see loads of articles listing the benefits and reasons to do it. There are so many stories of people who have done it. And, it makes me happy to say, not all of them have money!

What is this “self-funded sabbatical” all about?

Many things.

A break? Yes. I need that. Time to de-stress, to get back in touch with my spirit, my inner child. To have some fun, to exercise, eat well and live well. In amongst that, there will be opportunities to explore other avenues and ideas for making a living. Above all, it will be an opportunity to live a simpler lifestyle, a less cluttered life (mostly financially) than what I do now. Pare down my possessions, live more simply – BE not DO. To live on the bones of my arse if I have to.

A considered approach. This time I want to (no, make that “need” to) take a different approach to my next step. Yes, I think I want to empty my cup first. Then think about all my skills, talents, knowledge and qualifications and put them together to do something I haven’t done yet, something new that will contribute towards solving a problem. I don’t want to take work that feels like I am going backwards.

I read recently that people who take a career break often make the mistake of being tied to their CV – limited by what they have done before i.e. past tense. In fact, I want to do the exact opposite – I want to find a way to earn a living doing something that I have not done yet, or even thought of yet. Yes, the skills and qualifications will be useful, but they will not define the kind of work that I want to do. I am more than the sum of my skills, qualifications and experience.


My self-funded sabbatical is now so within reach that I’m beginning to fantasise about the things I want to do. Whilst a big part of it is to BE, there are also things I want to DO to give my time more structure. Otherwise, my weeks and days may become wildly unstructured. I’m not sure if that a good thing or not? I’ll play it by ear.

1-who what2

So here is what I am fantasising about. These first few are more about the idea of BEING. I’m dreaming of:

  • Days without multiple to-do lists, without deadlines, without meetings, without travelling for work, without stress
  • Days where I don’t sit at the computer for hours
  • Losing track of the time and forgetting what day of the week it is
  • Having no responsibilities to anyone but myself for a short time

These are more specific DOING items. I’m dreaming of:

  • Joining the local library and reading all the books that appear on various lists such as Oprah’s “Most Addictive Books of the Last 25 Years”. Curling up with these books and a steaming cup of hot chocolate on a rainy day. It will be winter in the UK after all!
  • Walking around the lake near where I’ll be living at least twice a week. Finding a yoga class that I can join. I want to be healthier.
  • Making space to write every day – snuggled in a blanket, on a park bench, in a coffee shop. I have two unfinished books that need editing – one fiction and one non-fiction
  • Regular meetups for long chats and endless cups of tea with family I haven’t seen for years
  • Planning outings: to exhibitions (yoga, photography, blogging), to craft fairs, to open-air markets, to the theatre, to shows, visits to the coast. For so long I have lived in a small inland town that has little to offer culturally (or socially if I’m honest!). It is time to extend my horizons – doing more of what I enjoy.


It all feels a little hypothetical but in less than 25 weeks, 168 days (as I write this), it will be happening, starting in February next year. It is much closer than I think. When I began planning this a few years ago, I dreamt of three months without a “proper job”, doing something arbitrary to bring in some money, or perhaps having enough saved up so that I don’t have to work. I decided that I would save and squirrel away a chunk of cash specifically for this, money that would be separate to my house sale proceeds and other investments.

Earlier this year I read Shonda Rhimes book “Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand In the Sun and Be Your Own Person“. Inspired by her courage, I decided that I would wholeheartedly say “yes” to this and commit to it with the everything I had. Since then the idea has grown and taken on a shape and life of its own. I have committed to it by handing in my notice and selling my house. Financially it scares the pants off me but I have planned and worked towards it.

And when I wake up in the middle of the night stressing about money, I ask myself if I am being self-indulgent?

But then I remind myself of all the reasons I’ve thought about and written down and I think: “No, it’s not. End of conversation. Go back to sleep, Debbie.”

It’s my money and my life. I have worked hard to earn that money. I can spend it in whatever way I want. If it means spending it on some time out so that I can make better decisions and recover my balance, then that is what I will do.

If you could do the same, what would you do? Or have you ever taken a sabbatical from life? Drop me a line and let’s get the conversation started! 

Debbie blog sign off 2018


4 thoughts on “Empty my cup

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