Opinion: I took a year off work and everyone should do it

I loved this article from Kate Emery (journalist & mum) in the West Australian today! It’s packed with great little insights for stay at home and back to work mums 🙂 Thank you Kate Emery

Believe me when I say that I know how this sounds. I am fully prepared to be told to check my privilege.

But here goes: I recently took a year off work and I think everyone should do it.

The reason for my sabbatical was the arrival of a tiny, bald human in my house.

For the first time since I was 16, I spent an extended period of time without a steady pay cheque or work responsibilities.

It was the most relaxing year that I can remember.

Yes, I was incredibly fortunate to be able to take a whole year off. I was also lucky to have an excellent support network and a low-maintenance Mini-Me, which is not the case for many women on maternity leave.

In an ideal world, everyone should take an extended break from the daily grind and experience the benefits of doing so, which I will get to momentarily.

But I do not suffer from the delusion that everyone can afford to hang up their security pass, uniform or high-vis vest for 12 months.

However, I do believe the lessons learned from my hiatus can be applied to daily working life. I certainly hope to apply them to my own, now that I am back behind a desk.

The first thing I realised when I stopped working was that work is not as important as it feels.

In a development I’m sure my employer will be thrilled to read in the paper he is paying me to write for, time off work reminded me that it is not the most important thing in my life.

Work matters and I still strongly believe in the value of journalism in society. But do I absolutely have to respond to those emails before I go to bed or return that call in the middle of a family dinner? I probably do not. The second thing I learnt was that face-to-face communication is underrated.

Too often I have relied on text, email and social media to stay in contact with friends and family. When my life suddenly shrank to the four walls of my house it was amazing just how appealing face-to-face contact with someone not wearing a nappy became. Instead of email chains or WhatsApp exchanges, I enjoyed coffees, walks in the park and lunches out.

At the risk of sounding like your grandma, talking to someone in real life is better than email or phone contact.

No, it is not particularly “efficient” as a way to stay in touch but it permits connection in a way that is not possible with an Intel processing chip as an intermediary.

Which brings me to … the outdoors.

Nobody has ever called me outdoorsy.

I have occasionally suspected that the Lemonheads’ song, The Outdoor Type, was written about me. The lyrics “I’ve never slept out underneath the stars/ The closest that I came to that was one time my car/ Broke down for an hour in the suburbs at night” have a particular ring of truth to them.

But with a lack of regular income came a desire to find things to do for free and the realisation that nature does not cost a thing.

For 12 months I sat in parks and let dew dampen the seat of my jeans. I spread rugs on riverbanks and watched the leaves of trees perform a Mexican wave. I strode along footpaths with no destination and developed tan lines.

I explored parts of Perth I had never intended to simply because I found my way there.

And Perth is … pretty great.

Perth is better than you think it is when you do not have time to explore it. Perth is a more beautiful city than you realise when you are always on your way somewhere and therefore never quite anywhere.

Perth’s cafes and restaurants are good enough that we can stop tugging our collective forelock in Melbourne’s direction. That city can keep its dark laneway cafes with milk crates for seats, Perth has beach views, excellent food and the coffee … well, it’s getting cheaper.

Perth’s CAT buses are amazing. They’re free! Do you know this? Sure, everyone knows this but I had never before realised just how terrific a service they provide.

I have never written a love letter to my husband but I could compose sonnets to the CAT bus network.

One of the best lessons to learn was just how nice people can be. Rushing from the house to the car to work and back again did not leave me a lot of time to stop and chat with my neighbours, let alone strangers.

However, when my only deadline was getting The Bald One home for nap time, I could afford to introduce myself to the lady taking her dog for a ride on a gopher or make chat with the old man whose three-legged shuffles around Hyde Park so often coincided with my own.

Most people will return a smile in the street or make room on the bus for one more.

Complete strangers will say nice things about another person’s baby, even if it does look a bit like a potato in a onesie. They will chase down a stranger to return a dropped cardigan/bottle/rattle and politely pretend not to notice the pram going over their foot in a crowded cafe.

This slowed down life proved to be far more rewarding than I had imagined.

Even with 9-to-5 responsibilities it is possible to adjust the way I experience the world and I am trying to do so.

I walk more more places than I used to and take the time to stop for a chat.

When I am not at work I try not to work. Sometimes I turn off my phone. I have not yet missed anything even a little bit important. Instead of relying on technology to maintain friendships, I try to arrange catch-ups in the flesh. I have remembered what my friends’ faces look like.

I sometimes ignore my mental To Do list in favour of doing nothing, which is why my bookshelf remains unalphabetised, the grout in the bathroom is in need of serious attention and I have not yet learnt Italian.

On a day-to-day basis I probably “achieve” less than I used to.

I know I am happier for it.

Article by Kate Emery

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