By Will Graebe
In 2019, before the pandemic and the Great Resignation, I retired from Lawyers Mutual. I had been with the company for 20 years and loved my job. But I was ready for a break. I didn’t know what I would do on the other side of that break or how long the break would be. I just knew that I needed to recharge my batteries. I had read stories of grand sabbaticals where people travelled to exotic locations or sold most of their possessions and hit the open road. I had toyed with the idea of buying a sailboat and making my way down to the Caribbean. In the end, though, my sabbatical was not nearly so glamorous, and yet, it was just what I needed. This is the story of my two-year hiatus. I hope that it can serve as an inspiration to anyone toying with the idea of taking a break.
I remember the first Monday after retirement, waking up to no commute, no scheduled meetings, and no need to be anywhere. We had just bought a home, so I had plenty of projects to keep me busy for a while. I knew that I wanted a deeper dive into something more, so I signed up for a nine-week yoga teacher certification course. I had been doing yoga for the last 20 years and wanted to deepen my practice but never had the time. The program ended up being a wonderful exploration of deeper wellness, as well as the opportunity to get to know a great group of people.
Not long after I finished the yoga course, I got married (ironically to someone I met at yoga two years earlier). It was great to be able to enjoy time together without the pressures of work and schedules. We did a lot of fun weekend getaways to the mountains and coast, and spent time wandering around the trails of Umstead Park, Saxapahaw, Lake Johnson and the local greenway system.
And then the pandemic hit.
In March of 2020, as the first major wave of COVID hit the United States, I embarked on a previously planned 6-week fishing and camping trip. In preparation, I had purchased a teardrop camper and Hobie pedal kayak, and, while I considered canceling the adventure, I concluded the safest place to be was out on the water during the day and in my camper at night. In the Everglades, I paddled deep into the mangroves and caught a lot of fish. I saw sharks, sea turtles, manatees, beautiful birds and even one Florida crocodile. After two weeks in the Everglades, I made my way up to the panhandle of Florida, where I again caught some amazing fish. In both places, I got to know some really interesting people who had chosen to leave it all behind and hit the road in their campers. At one of the campgrounds, I got to know a couple from Oregon who were on their second lap around the country in their RV. I met another couple who had sold their home and were working virtually from their camper. I became friends with a retired pilot who was spending the winter with his wife in the Everglades.
While I enjoyed all the yoga, travel and fishing, I missed the intellectual challenge that work had offered. I tried to exercise my mind with books on Audible and fell down the rabbit hole addiction of crossword puzzles. I started out with the New York Times Sunday crossword (with some help from Google). Eventually I started printing out the daily puzzles from both the NY and Los Angeles Times. Feeling the inner momentum still pulling me toward more engagement and stimulation, the final chapter of my two-year sabbatical was the 40-hour Superior Court mediation certification course. As with the yoga teacher certification course, this was something that I had always wanted to do. I had attended hundreds of mediations but found that I learned more about negotiations in this one course than I had in my 27 years as a lawyer. An added benefit was getting to know the other lawyers taking the course.
Shortly before I started the mediation course, I was contacted by Lawyers Mutual to help with some of their claims. The isolation of COVID and my eagerness to reconnect with colleagues and long-time friends felt like exactly what I needed. I loved being back in the position of helping lawyers. After doing contract claims work for a year, I was given the opportunity to come back as a regular employee of Lawyers Mutual in the role of claims counsel and relationship manager. When I retired from Lawyers Mutual in 2019, I had no idea that I would someday return. I think that I appreciate my work so much more because of the break.
In the book The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho, the main character is a shepherd boy who goes on a journey to discover his personal legend. A mystical figure who calls himself a king tells him that his personal legend is to find a treasure buried at the foot of the Egyptian pyramids. So, the boy sets out on his journey to the pyramids and encounters a multitude of challenges and trials along the way. He gives up his sheep, gets robbed of all his money and is beaten by two ruffians. But he also learns a new trade working for a crystal merchant and meets many interesting people along the way, including a woman with whom he falls in love. He finally reaches the pyramids only to discover that the treasure was buried at a church right where he started his journey. When he discovers this, he shouts up to the sky, “You old sorcerer, you knew the whole story!” In response, he hears a voice say, “If I had told you, you wouldn’t have seen the Pyramids. They’re beautiful, aren’t they.”
Life is not about the destination. It’s about the journey. It’s about seeing the pyramids and meeting the people along the way. If I hadn’t taken the two years away from work, I wouldn’t have become a certified yoga teacher and mediator. I wouldn’t have met the people at the campgrounds or in the yoga and mediation classes. I wouldn’t have had the fishing adventures that I had or become a crossword addict. I wouldn’t have the wonderful memories with my wife. My sabbatical was just what I needed.
Maybe you’re thinking that you need a break from work to recharge or explore a new opportunity. It could be as simple as a one month break to rest or travel to a place you’ve always want to see. It could be a longer break to train for a new career. Or maybe you want to explore a new hobby. Another option is to reduce the number of hours you work so that you can free up time for other pursuits.
If any of this resonates with you, make a commitment to yourself to take steps now to make it happen. Write about your idea or tell a friend what you would like to do. This will make it more likely that you will follow through with your plan. We have one life to live with no do-overs. If you really want to take an adventure, take a step in that direction. Sign up for that course or make those travel reservations. And then, see the places life takes you. Mine took me to unexpected places and then brought me back home to where I started, with a deeper appreciation for my life and my work.
About The Author
Will Graebe is claims counsel and relationship manager at Lawyers Mutual. Will is the former Vice President of the Claims at Lawyers Mutual, and served in that role until 2019. After a two-year sabbatical, he returned to Lawyers Mutual as claims counsel and relationship manager. Will focuses primarily on claims related to estates and trusts, business transactions and real estate matters. Will received his J.D. from Wake Forest University School of Law and his undergraduate degree from Stetson University.