Tag Archives: Work

Six Ways to Make Your Sabbatical Productive

Corporate roles in the twenty-first century offer several perks, from paid sick days, paternity leave, and free meals, to cell phones, on-site massages, and free medical check-ups. An important and exciting one on the rise is the sabbatical policy. Typically offered to long-timers, but sometimes to newer employees too, the sabbatical represents a vision of tranquility and calm, or energy and rejuvenation to many a corporate employee.

A few years ago, I had the opportunity to utilize a sabbatical myself. Since then, several colleagues and friends, who have considered the possibility themselves, have asked how I used my time while on the sabbatical. Now that taking a leave of absence from regular work duties has become acceptable, even coveted, I wanted to share some thoughts on how one could come out at the other end of a sabbatical a happier person.

These six themes could, of course, be part of a regular routine, but given the high propensity with which we tend to find excuses (of not having enough time) not to do them, the sabbatical, with its fabulous promise of offering you ‘time’, is a great opportunity to put them into action:

  1. Get fit.

The older I get, the one piece of wisdom that only seems to get reinforced is how important it is to be healthy to be able to enjoy life and work. If you’ve had this on your list but never had the motivation (or time) to make a start, grab this chance to make it happen. There’s a plethora of information and options out there on how you could begin. Even if you are wondering whether you’d like a gym environment or not, or whether you can achieve this goal in a short timeframe, you’ll likely find sufficient help both online and offline to set up a regimen that works for you.

  1. Learn something new.

The learning curve often suffers after several years of a working life. The sabbatical can be a fantastic opportunity to add new knowledge or even a new skill. You could pick up online courses, set up some time regularly for a new activity, sign up for a language course or a web-design course, join a virtuoso as an apprentice, or take a sculpture class – basically anything that catches your fancy and you’ve been meaning to do but had not had the time for.

  1. Do something you are afraid to do.

The sabbatical is as much a time for expanding your mind, your known limits, as it is for rejuvenation and education. Use this time for doing something adventurous. For some it could be skydiving or bungee jumping. For others it could be living alone or living without creature comforts. For yet others it could be public speaking or scaling up an offline hobby into an e-business. The exhilaration at the accomplishment is bound to be memorable. And the confidence you gain will be for keeps.

  1. Meet people – old and new.

It is unfortunate but true that the regular workweek usually leaves little time for the really important people in your life – spouse, children, parents, siblings, friends. The weekends are often consumed in putting the house in order (literally) and catching a breather before (manic) Monday arrives. The sabbatical is a great window to spend some quality time with the people who matter to you. You could plan an elaborate vacation or an adventure trek with them, or simply spend your days together doing regular things such as cooking, catching a play, shopping, attending weddings, or visiting family members.

This stint is also an excellent time to meet new people and expand your network, whether through interest groups, alumni groups, hobby classes, or social work. Meeting people from different walks of life will give you new perspectives on problems and issues that you may be working to resolve.

  1. (Re)create something.

The joy of creating something is hard to replicate. The humdrum of typical corporate careers allows few opportunities for creating something from scratch. You might be enthused by something ordinary such as writing a blog, sewing a tablecloth, or cooking a new recipe. Or you might be motivated to do something less ordinary such as growing a patch of organic vegetables, or starting a new business. In both cases, you will feel productive and accomplished.

If creating something from the ground up seems too daunting, you can always focus your efforts on re-creating something. A sabbatical gives you the blank canvas you need to take on somewhat long-term projects such as de-cluttering your home, or renovating (a part of) it.

  1. Give back.

Having spent a lot of time in the world of entrepreneurs, whether social or not, I’m amazed to see how many business ideas are spawned from altruism, from wanting to help others. Your sense of self-awareness is bound to reach a new high when you give back to your community and your environment. The sabbatical can be a good time to give wings to your altruistic side. Again, you can choose from several options. Your efforts can be concentrated at the local level – planting and growing trees in your neighbourhood, coaching school students in mathematics, or spending a few hours each week at the elderly care centre nearby. You could also consider global causes such as volunteering in Africa or initiating a research program on renewable energy.

You are bound to receive advice from several well-wishers on how to be conscientious in your use of time while on the sabbatical and how you will risk wasting your ‘holiday’ if you don’t. You will also likely hear how you absolutely MUST use it to advance your development professionally.

To such advice I’d say, following any or all of the routes above can only help your development. And who is to say that one of those activities won’t turn out to be your dream occupation?!

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Old Economy, New Businesses: #RuralWork in India

Judging by the comments and enthusiasm that my post on #RuralLiving drew, it seems to me that the idea of living in India’s villages is romantic enough for many people. Therein lies the irony – it is romantic, but is it achievable? After all, one can’t subsist on clean air and water (seeing as India is not turning socialist anytime soon). However, therein also lies the opportunity. Let me elaborate.

 

On the one hand, it may be true that today every other graduate of the hallowed IITs/ IIMs/ Ivy League or such other institutions is not a jobseeker but a (wannabe) job-creator and going down the entrepreneurship route. On the other hand, one in five 30-something yuppies, wants to turn farmer in the second innings of her/his career.

 

Not too long ago, becoming a farmer was the final resort for the lowest of the low offspring of a farmer and even (s)he would have considered at least one other avenue before signing up for it. The lure of city-life, with its bright lights, shopping options, a service culture (unheard of in the villages), and above all, a much higher income, was something every child who was born towards the end of the Cold War period yearned for.

 

And yet, for the same reasons that #RuralLiving is a massive innovation opportunity, it is also a tremendous business opportunity. It is possible to make money in our villages too, and not simply through the so-called (real estate) “development” projects (perhaps the last thing rural India needs at the moment, but that discussion could be the subject of another post). Expectedly, the two key sectors to focus on are agriculture and services.

 

India continues to be known as an agrarian economy but agriculture is rapidly losing its place as rampant labour-drain from villages forces people to look to other sources of livelihood. After all, how can you till the soil if there’s nobody to till it? Yet, if ever there was a time for agriculture to own its moment in the sun, it is now, what with question of food security looming over our heads in the near future. Of course, the challenges for agriculture in India have changed and so the strategy and methods for agriculture must change too. It needs to be accorded the same level of importance as any other science.

 

What agriculture in India misses is more than simply labour – it lacks a sound systematic knowledge base, appropriate technologies, a focus on scalability, a focus on financials, models to rationalise producer-to-consumer hops, and models to allow non-farmers to participate in the process, to name just a few challenges. But these gaps are precisely where new businesses can flower. Hosachiguru is one such catalyst in the agriculture paradigm that is now being defined.

 

Scalability or the lack of it has been pointed out too often as the chief culprit in the non-story that Indian agriculture has become. But one look at Desai Fruits & Vegetables will tell you how focus, perseverance and horticultural technology can work wonders and still leave the space open for several more F&V kings. Encouragingly, corporates like Mahindra have taken the leap in the dairy sector. But with agriculture being so vast, there are many such opportunities not just in horticulture and dairy, but also in floriculture, pisciculture, cattle rearing, etc.

 

Let’s look at the services sector then. Most people seem to believe either that people in rural areas don’t need services or that a service provider will not thrive there. But, consider this. Over half of the upper income households in India live in rural areas. A higher proportion of rural households are D-I-N-K than urban households. The demand-pull for automobile ownership (passenger vehicles) is expected to be equal for rural and urban areas in this decade. Rural incomes and rural discretionary spending have been rising at a faster clip than urban incomes and similar urban spending.

 

Yet, the rural population is forced to take this discretionary surplus to the cities because there simply aren’t enough avenues, not even essential services, in the rural areas to spend on. A vehicle owner in a rural area must travel at least 50 km, to the nearest service workshop, to get his/ her car serviced or repaired. She must visit the next city to get a salon treatment. He must plan his next city trip such that he can make a visit to the laundry to drop off his ‘dry-clean only’ wardrobe items. She must do justice to her aggregated shopping list for clothes, shoes and beauty essentials when she visits the sole cinema theatre in the city to catch the latest Bollywood release, which will run only for a week at the theatre. Even routine maintenance and repair activities requiring the skills of a plumber, electrician or carpenter require dialing into a city directory for summoning required help.

 

These simple enough routine activities for an urbanite require significant planning, long-distance commuting and an enormous amount of time for the upper income ruralite. Admittedly, it would take an innovative business model, novel channel marketing tactics, and a long-term horizon to make services economically sustainable in the rural areas. But surely the reward should be worth the risk once a solution to the aggregation and scalability challenges is achieved.

 

More power to our villages!