“We have talked to HR, but they say it is not the time to be offering sabbaticals, they cannot guarantee you your job in one year’s time”
The words came from my brutally honest and extremely supportive manager. The month is July, the year 2018 and I am sitting with my Head of Section and Head of Unit in an overly hot meeting room in Luxembourg. I had officially requested sabbatical in May. Steeling myself against the potential ruin to my career, I had asked my Head of Unit for one year of leave. Unexpectedly, he had been supportive and kind, immediately submitting the request to his boss, my Head of Section. The two men had completely surprised me with their support and had started jumping the administrative hoops to make it possible.
Yet here we were, two months later, thwarted by the inflexibility of large company bureaucracy. I had of course asked myself the question many times; what happens if cannot get it? Should I stay or should I go? The safe option was easy, comfortable and guaranteed; a smooth upward trajectory through hierarchies, increased pressure from the increased responsibilities. The other option was entirely unknown and terrifying. At 29 years old, I did not know whether to jump or keep my feet firmly planted where they were.
For two months I had agonised over what I would do if the answer to the sabbatical request was negative. Finally, in a stiflingly hot room, I was being asked the inevitable question – how serious was I about my request? Granted it was not put like this, but the meaning was the same. If they said no, would I stay or would I go? They never asked me those exact words, and I never told them in as many words that my choice was to leave. In a room where we all respected each other too much to admit it was an ultimatum, I looked sadly at these men who had repeatedly promoted me and spread my hands and shook my head – ” I would need to do some serious thinking if the answer is no…”. With a nod of comprehension, the meeting was over.
A week later the final answer came : I was granted my sabbatical.
This is how I have come to find myself here, in a beautiful town of white and blue houses overlooking the Portuguese Atlantic. I have been learning to surf, and that is what I will be writing about here. There may be other things, but mostly I will be recounting the ups and downs of trying – and often failing – to surf.
It is my story, with all the ups and downs and all the unknowns that come from being on an adventure.