Monday, October 1, 2012

FAQs about My Sabbatical

It's the first day back in the office and I've already been asked countless times, "So, how was your sabbatical?"  That's the first question, then others usually follow, so I thought I'd provide a FAQ sheet on my sabbatical.  Here goes.

How was your sabbatical?

Great.  Perhaps you'd expect me to have a more prosaic word at my disposal than "great," but in truth that's what it was … it was great.  

What made it "great" for you?

A series of things.  I had a number of great experiences, read some great books, took some great courses in areas where I wanted to learn more.  Like I said, it was great.

Can you be a little more specific?  What kinds of experiences?

I was invited to spent a few days in North Carolina speaking to the state convention's executive leadership and the state directors of missions about thinking like a missionary and it was fantastic.  Among the participants were five young adults involved in a future leaders mentoring program.  During our first session together where we focused on the Great Commission, a young woman left the meeting.  It seemed something was troubling her.  She returned after the session to talk.  God had made it clear during the session that he wanted her to serve as a career missionary, and the call was so clear and compelling she had to step out to compose herself.  In our final session she shared her call to missions, a fitting conclusion to our time together.

I also spoke at the first Send North America conference in Atlanta, led a pastor's retreat in Utah, met with a group of key directors of missions in Portland, Oregon, had lunch with Drayton McLane and Lewis Timberlake in Austin … I had some great experiences.

In what areas did you focus your learning?

I wanted to learn more about the brain and how it functions.  I wanted to study decision-making because I think that's one of the critical skills for every leader.  I wanted to develop the right side of my brain, the creative side, so I studied things like the arts and story-telling.

What did you read?  How did you go about studying in these areas? 

I read several books:  Walter Isaacson's biographies about Steve Jobs and Einstein, Jim Collin's latest book, Great by Choice, Jonah Leher's How We Decide, and portions of Michael Roberto's Why Great Leaders don't take YES for an Answer (which I intend to finish).

Just before I began my sabbatical I discovered The Great Courses (  They video take some of the nation's leading professors teaching on a variety of subjects.  They courses are roughly the equivalent of a semester of college (or grad school) lectures on a topic, along with a course book and follow up questions for the really motivated.  

I "took" courses in neuroscience (the study of the brain), game theory (which is about critical decision-making), Einstein's relativity and the quantum revolution, decision-making (your deceptive mind and critical decision-making), even a course on innovation and how to think differently.  

The arts have always fascinated me, music much more so than other types of art.  So I tried to expand my understanding of music and the arts as well.  I also have a number of other courses I intend to take, things like creative writing (guess it's obvious I haven't completed this one yet) and the great ideas that have shaped our lives.  

Discovering the Great Courses was one of the best things about my sabbatical. 

Did you do anything just for yourself?

Sure.  I began running again, lost a few pounds, and got in better shape physically.  Sandra and I went on a cruise (our first but we don't plan for it to be our last!).  I played golf with friends.  So it wasn't all work with no play.  But I'd have done those things whether I was on sabbatical or not (except for the running).

Anything else?

I took time to think, to reflect, to ponder, to pray.  Those are things that we do in spurts, but sabbatical provides more extended time for these activities.  Those were perhaps my richest moments.

So any insights you gained?  Any final impressions?

Lots of insights, and I'll share them along the way.  Looking back, I do think I tried to do too much, and I didn't get everything done that I wanted.  That probably reflects my work ethic and desire for folks to appreciate the importance of taking a sabbatical.  It's time away, but it's time spent sharpening my skills as a learner and leader, so I wanted to ensure it was time well spent.

I still have one thing left.  This weekend Sandra and I will head to east Tennessee for the national story-telling festival.  When I come back, I'm sure to have some great stories to tell.