Insight & Analysis

Ready for a sabbatical?

Published: Nov 2017

For financial professional, Pim Bezemer, the opportunity to take time out from his career was one not to be missed. Treasury Today discovers the benefits of taking a sabbatical.

In today’s ‘always on’ world, the idea of taking extended time out is something many of us consider but few actually have the opportunity to do. When Netherlands-based corporate financial professional Pim Bezemer knew his company was heading into a major restructuring programme, he saw this as a rare chance to leap into the unknown for a few months and do something for himself.

With over 15 years of international corporate finance experience under his belt – the last seven working for a large Dutch corporate in a dual tax and treasury role – Bezemer was already talking to a professional leadership coach about how best to move his career forward. “This made me think about the things that really make me smile, forcing me to look at what I really want from life,” he explains.

Find your motivation

In the previous couple of years, he had spent quite some time in Equatorial Guinea with his employer. With Spanish as one of the country’s official languages, Bezemer was already following a crash-course to try to help him in his work. Although he says he had achieved “only a basic level of competence”, it made him realise that learning something new “is really quite rewarding”. This was his motivation.

With the restructuring programme gathering pace at work, Bezemer’s new-found ambition to study Spanish for a longer and more intensive period was given more fuel.

Taking this route, he says, pushed him into rapidly tying up all the loose ends, making sure his work was passed on in good shape before embarking on the next step. Indeed, for both parties it was seen as a “win-win situation”.

The reaction from colleagues, once Bezemer started communicating his plans, was one of surprise, tinged, in some cases, with a hint of envy. “But at that stage it was just a plan; I hadn’t arranged anything,” he recalls.

“As I kept telling the story, it was slowly becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy; it felt like I was reaching a point of no return, where there was no backing out.” He discovered too that the more he talked about what he was going to do, the clearer his plans became, until eventually he had “the whole thing worked out in my head”. That plan was to move to Valencia in Spain to study the language for half a year.

A period of reflection

Spending that time out of the work environment not only had a positive effect on Bezemer’s linguistic skills and his well-being, it also allowed him to reflect on what he might like to do upon his return.

Tentative conversations with head-hunters and agencies before he had left enabled him to start working through his preferences. But these early conversations often ground to a halt when Bezemer explained that his period away from work was “absolutely non-negotiable”. Nonetheless, there was a lot of interest around what he was doing, allowing the doors to be kept wide-open for his return.

“Giving myself time to re-focus also gave me the privilege of cherry-picking positions,” he notes. Whilst happy to remain within the finance function, he opted to return not to the specialist roles of tax and treasury but to something with a wider remit and more of a management focus. In pre-empting his return to professional life, post-sabbatical, Bezemer was able to secure a new role as interim Group Controller.

The interest shown in his skills by potential employers was in part based on the kind of experiences afforded by undertaking something entirely new, he observes. “If you push yourself into doing things outside of your comfort zone you will make mistakes. But that also means you are going to learn,” he says. “Every lesson we learn on the ground can be applied to our professional lives, and that includes taking on a new job and responsibilities.”

Opening your eyes

“To get the most out of the experience, you have to reset your expectations and adapt to new ways,” advises Bezemer. “In the first few weeks you have to let it all sink in and go with the flow.” As you become familiar with your new situation, he says you learn and develop new ways of handling each new experience. And you never stop learning.

“I’ve never been good at doing routine work; my strengths lie in the area of team development,” he admits. “So now I’m using my experience of the past six months to highlight my capacity for taking on new challenges and building something new from them.”

Leaving a well-paid and secure job to fulfil your dreams is not easy. Here are Pim’s top tips for a successful sabbatical:

  • If you pursue your dream, you might regret it. If you don’t, you will definitely regret it.
  • Be true to yourself: don’t give up easily but if you really are not enjoying what you are doing, don’t be afraid to walk away.
  • Moving out of your comfort zone is hard but the rewards for success are greater.
  • Try to stay curious, open-minded and unbiased about your experience.
  • Whatever happens, you will learn from it.

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