Chris Free admiring Yellowstone Lake

My Sabbatical – A Recap

Chris admiring a nearly frozen Yellowstone Lake.

Earlier this year, I announced on our blog that I would be taking a sabbatical away from the company. It was to be my first real period of extended time away from work. I had taken vacations before, but never truly disconnected.

So how’d it go? Did I actually put the work down? Did things fall apart in my absence? Did I come back renewed? What the hell did I do with 6 weeks off? Details below.

Did I put the work down?

Yes.

Well, mostly. I’ll explain why I say, “mostly” in a minute, but for six weeks, I had essentially zero contact or communication with my colleagues and business partners. I only chatted with Dave and Mark, occasionally via text and never about work. I did have coffee/breakfast with Dave about halfway through, where he updated me on some of the bigger developments at the company, but that was the only real instance. I didn’t open email or Slack for the entire time off, though my muscle memory to reach for these took about 2 weeks to fully shake.

I say “mostly” because while I wasn’t involved in the day-to-day, I did spend a serious amount of time thinking about our business and where we’re headed. I fought hard against this, but I just couldn’t help but ruminate on the bigger picture. I don’t know that I came back with all of the answers, but I do think I came back with a clearer picture of where I think we need to go. Since my return, Dave, Mark, and I have had some great strategy and vision related discussions and we’ve rolled out some new programs in support of both. In short, the time away from the hustle provided me with space to find more clarity – 👍.

I also say, “mostly” because I spent a lot of time in front of a computer. Why? I think it’s because I love technology and I love making stuff. Even when I didn’t have to be, I wanted to be at my computer. I’d already been learning Swift and iOS development prior to my sabbatical and found myself chomping at the bit to keep going. I even have an app coming to the App Store this fall!

Anajli Free at the Morton Arboretum
My daughter at the Morton Arboretum in Lisle, IL.
Anjali Free enjoying a pool in San Diego, CA.
My little one loves the water.
A view of Marmo Lake from a bridge

Who knew such beauty existed right in my own backyard? I just had to look.

Did things fall apart in my absence?

No.

Quite the opposite, in fact. I came back to find a business that not only survived, but thrived in my absence. Hires were made, deals were closed, and projects were completed. The team even designed some swag while I was out.

I came back to find things that I used to own (and thus I was a blocker for) moved forward without me. These same things have stayed off my plate since returning – a huge help.

Chris Free admiring Yellowstone Lake
Chris admiring a nearly frozen Yellowstone Lake.
A bald eagle as seen through a spotting scope inside Yellowstone National Park
Look at this beautiful bald eagle that greeted me upon entering Yellowstone.
Three men posing in front of a waterfall, river in Yellowstone.
Family and friends helped me pass the time.
A small herd of Buffalo in a small meadow.
To think we almost eliminated this beautiful animal. They're special to see in person – such mass.
A photograph of Lone Peak as seen from a drone
Shot this photo of Lone Peak from a Drone – no big deal.

Did I come back renewed?

Yes.

Time away was just what the doctor ordered. As I mentioned a few paragraphs back, I discovered that I do still love to make things with code and technology. The break from the hustle of agency life helped me see and appreciate that. I was also able to spend more time with friends and family.

Breaking up with email and Slack has helped me solidify better habits and boundaries regarding these attention-leeches. I’ve found that most things can wait and that it’s OK for me to prioritize my mental health alongside prioritizing the needs of the business.

Chris Free riding a carousel with his daughter and her best friend

The carousel at Brookfield Zoo brought out the kid in me and the smiles in the kiddos.

What did I learn?

A lot.

  • First and most importantly, a lot about myself. I’ll spare you all the details, but without work as an excuse to fill up all of my time, I was forced to face some hard truths about me – my habits, my moods, and how I move through the world. It was eye-opening, but good for me to see. I have some hard work ahead.
  • I learned that sometimes you don’t know how heavy something is until you put it down. I had a deathgrip on the work – letting go helped me see that. The relief was tremendous.
  • I need to be productive to feel fulfilled. I suspect I will work late into my golden years, should I be lucky enough to make it that long. I simply don’t enjoy doing nothing for too long. I have this itch to be productive that I know I’ll never shake.
  • I still love to code and to make stuff. See previous mentions of this.
  • The company is better off when I am better off. What I mean by this is that when I’m at my best and focusing on the right things, the company is likely better off.
  • Journaling and meditation are great ways for me to unpack the storms in my mind. When I am committed to these practices, I am better at nearly everything in my life.
  • Solitude is a great way for me to refresh.
A bottle of Scarecrow wine alongside a glass of it.
This wine was worth every penny.

What did I do with 6 weeks off?

  • Went to a family wedding in San Diego – had a blast.
  • Drove up the coast from San Diego to Los Angeles in a rented sports car.
  • Spent days in L.A. with my best friend – eating, imbibing, watching Game of Thrones and laughing like we were kids again.
  • Lots of working out and cycling as weather permitted...the weather was one thing I wish I could change. If I ever do this again, I’ll be planning it a bit later in the year. Chicago’s spring was absolutely brutal this year.
  • I wrote an iOS app!
  • Visited Las Vegas – did some gambling, enjoyed the weather, people watched at the casinos.
  • Drove from Las Vegas to Big Sky, Montana.
  • Spent a week in Montana. Great wine, great company, great views.
  • Visited Yellowstone National Park. Saw lots of wildlife including a Grizzly!
  • Did a “Yes Day” with my daughter Anjali.
  • Designed and built a garden box from scratch.
  • Read (or reread) some great books, including:
  • Rediscovered some amazing places in my own backyard, including the Morton Arboretum.
a view of a bay in San Diego from atop a hill

A walk across San Diego at dawn

So What Now?

Well, Dave, Mark, and I thought the sabbatical was so beneficial for me, that we rolled it out as an official program/perk for the whole team. This might be hard from a resourcing standpoint, but we think it’s worth it for folks to get the same chance to step away from the hustle.

I’m back to work and have a new appreciation for this humble company and for my place in it. I’m so thankful to have had this opportunity and to have partners who support me in this way. My spirit is renewed, I have healthier habits and boundaries, and I’m excited for the next chapter here at Chromatic.

Chris Free posing in front of Lower Falls, Yellowstone National Park

Me, standing in front of Lower Falls, Yellowstone National Park. Absolutely beautiful.

A panoramic view of Lower Falls in Yellowstone, including the falls, the mountains and some pine trees in the foreground.
I can still smell the fresh air and hear the falls in the distance.

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