On the benefits of a sabbatical
Back in December I published my Depth Year 2019 post, which set out my goals and hopes for the year.
- As a reminder, here are the goals:
Limit my social media time to 20 minutes per day, except if I’m involved in an important group chat about something: no mindless scrolling.
- Uninstall or block notifications from Instagram and Twitter. Turn off Strava notifications and most Facebook notifications so they’re not distracting me when I’m trying to do deep work.
- Set aside dedicated time each week to play board games and shoot the breeze with Michael. You’d be surprised at how little that happens due to a combination of my fitness training schedule and mindless time-wasting.
- Look at ways to improve how we run the house, so that less time is wasted on mindless chores. Spending money on this is fine as long as the utility value makes the costs worthwhile.
- Allocate (realistic) time limits for tasks. If I haven’t got the task completed in that time then move on, and work out how to do it more efficiently next time.
- Identify a personal project to work on over the year, and track my progress on a monthly basis.
We’re now two thirds of the way through the year. I think it would be fair to say that I haven’t stuck rigidly to all of my rules, or made that much progress with some of my goals. I have thoroughly enjoyed my summer vacation though, and ensured that I spent most of it intentionally.
One of the benefits of working in education is the long summer vacation. This year, I had a whole 7 weeks of summer, and I really needed that period of reduced busyness to reset my life. Not that I spend my time aimlessly. Those seven weeks could easily be frittered away playing video games and eating Chilli Heatwave Doritos. Although given that’s pretty much Michael’s job we may have had to engage in a demarcation dispute. I keep a spreadsheet though which details (in broad terms) how I have spent each morning, afternoon and evening of the vacation. Even though I don’t share the spreadsheet with anyone, just the act of filling it in prompts me to do something I feel is productive or beneficial in some way every day during the vacation.
Summer vacation objectives
The main things I try to achieve with my summer vacations are as follows:
- Catch up with friends and close family, especially the non-running ones who I often don’t see for several weeks at a time during term-time.
- Spend as much quality time as possible with Michael.
- Get a good block of marathon training done.
- Get more reading done.
- Eat well.
- Get more sleep.
Catching up with friends
I think I definitely achieved that first bullet point. Apologies in advance to anyone reading this (very few people read these) who think I should have spent time with them but failed to do so. I did well but I still didn’t manage to get around to it for as many people as I would have liked. I managed to see a reasonable amount of a few friends from Brechin and Montrose who are not runners, and it was good to catch up – both doing things we used to do together (board games and boxing classes) and also things that bore no relation to how we know each other (ten pin bowling, which it turns out I’m not as bad at as I feared I might be). I also spent a week in the Borders with my parents, whilst still managing to fit in the marathon training. Mum was worried I would get lost but I took my phone with me and had no problems, with the added benefit that I could take badly out of focus photos of the scenery.
Spending time with Michael
As Michael was off work for the whole of July, we managed to spend a decent amount of time together. He’s never going to join me for runs, berry picking, gardening, or come for coffee with my friends. He’s usually up for board games though, including with mutual friends. He will even help me clean the house so people can come around without feeling the need to report us to social services out of concern for our wellbeing. Basically, the main impetus for cleaning is so that people don’t realise the squalor in which we live. Why clean for ourselves? We know the squalor in which we live.
I even managed to persuade him to come along on a few outings. He didn’t particularly enjoy our trip to Glen Clova even though he got better photos than I did. I took him to Visocchi’s in Kirriemuir for their famous ice cream but it was such a hot day that a lot of it melted and messed up his t-shirt before he could eat it. He kept insisting a cone was a stupid way to eat ice-cream, but I think a knife and fork would have been more stupid. We had a couple of city trips but, especially with the depth year, neither of us is keen on shopping centres. He also gets bored after a couple of hours of wandering around museums, nice gardens, or tourist sights. Basically he starts to get tired of working out how long he needs to stare at things before moving on to the next one. Every museum trip is a constant risk of being labelled a philistine. Stately homes are not his thing either.
He had an epiphany though when he realised the tourist visit he had enjoyed most in Göteborg was the Naturhistoriska Museum and that was due to the animals. They were unfortunately dead, stuffed animals. He remembered though that Edinburgh had a Zoo with live animals in it. They’re basically the same thing, but they move about a bit. In late July we headed to Edinburgh and spent a lovely 4 hours at the Zoo. It’s not cheap to get in. Only a couple of penguins came on the parade. The lions were all sleeping/ hiding. We still got to see most of the other animals and it was a novel way to spend half a day.
I then discovered that he had never been to Blair Drummond Safari Park or to the Aquarium, so we visited those places too. Blair Drummond was definitely my favourite. I think my aunt and uncle took me there with one or both parents when I was a young child. We didn’t have our own car back then. I hadn’t been in around 30 years. I think I liked it best as there was more to do, and you could do more active things than at the zoo. They have the Flying Fox zip line, the pedal boats, and the boat trip around Chimp Island. Blair Drummond was a bit of a surreal day as we got some big news just before we headed out for our day trip there. But more on that later.
We’ve had a half decent summer weather-wise and I enthusiastically and diligently stuck to my marathon training plan, with just a couple of times where I switched the days of particular runs around so that I could join friends for social runs rather than speedwork sessions, and replacing one 15 mile long run with the Dundee Half DRAM (which after warm up and cool down would have been similar in distance and harder in effort) and replacing a second long run with the Forfar 10k race. I had planned to go out after the Forfar 10k and do the remaining 7.5 miles, but it ended up being torrential rain and by the time that went off I was shattered and sometimes you just have to listen to your body. Unlike last year, when training for Loch Ness was interrupted by a foot injury and so the last 6 weeks were a combination of no running allowed, followed by a reverse taper, this year I have been able to follow the 18-week plan almost to the letter so far.
I think the iron tablets, alongside having the time to eat well and get sufficient rest and stretching, have been beneficial. I didn’t manage quite as good a time at the Dundee Half in early July, just a few days into taking the tablets, as I did at Stirling. I was still over a minute and a half quicker than my time for the same event the previous year though. And though I claim that 10k is my least favourite distance, I actually enjoyed the Forfar 10k and managed my second sub-45 finish at that distance (and first sub-45 without the benefit of a pacer) despite not training specifically for that distance and without tapering for the race. I also reached a parkrun milestone and it reminded me of how much impact running has had on my life over the past couple of years. Things got tougher as soon as I had to return to work. Not so much the first couple of weeks before classes resumed, but now that they have, the midweek medium long runs (12 miles) and sessions (e.g. 9 miles with 5 * 1km at 5k pace) after a 10 hour workday including commute, are taking their toll and my sleep and diet are suffering a little due to a lack of time to achieve everything.
Reading – not quite as much as I’d like
This goal for the summer was one that probably wasn’t as successful as the first three I’ve discussed. I’ve managed to read 26 books so far this year, including audio books. I don’t get through a lot of them during the summer as I have far less time I need to spend alone in a car. I did read a couple of Cal Newport books – So Good They Can’t Ignore You, and Deep Work. They were both well written and easy reads, but his *controversial* advice to ignore the “follow your passion” style career advice is basically just “find work that matches your core competencies”. Those may well be based on things you are passionate about if they are things that society values enough to pay well for. And Deep Work essentially says “if your employer says you can’t spend at least X% of your time on deep work, and can’t cut any of the shallow work (i.e. what most are likely to say for operational reasons) then find another job”.
You can tell it’s written by a tenured professor who has more control over his schedule than most worker bees.
For fiction books, I’ve continued with Stephen King novels (Insomnia on audio book, and The Wind Through the Keyhole as a paperback). It’s lovely to revisit the world of the Dark Tower, even though the story-within-a-story-within-a-story doesn’t really feature any of the main characters of the original series.
When I used to spend my childhood summers at my grandparents they would occasionally remark that they didn’t know when they used to find the time to work. I completely understand that. They did spend a lot of time golfing most mornings, and maintaining a reasonable garden where they grew their own vegetables (I always complained about the tasteless supermarket veg when I returned home). But we also spent a lot of time cooking, baking, and making jam. Getting to cook proper meals at lunchtime (or even just make salads) is such a luxury, and I did reasonably well in taking advantage of the ability to cook from scratch every day rather than only cooking bulk meals that are easy to freeze for eating when I get home from work on weeknights. I also managed to make batches of both raspberry and strawberry jam. The baking, though, was done by Michael. He bakes lovely cakes, and it’s such a shame he’s a type 2 diabetic and shouldn’t really be eating them. I probably ate a bit more refined carbohydrates than is healthy, but I seem to get away with it due to the high mileage of marathon training.
This one is pretty much a massive fail. For some reason, even though we have blackout blinds in the bedroom, I was often still wakening at daybreak. Even if I insisted on keeping the bedroom window closed (so as not to be awoken by birdsong) I was often wakening shortly after 5am and, more often than not, failing to get back to sleep. I’ve seen lots of advice on how to deal with the type of insomnia where you can’t fall asleep (i.e. the kind Michael suffers from) but the early onset awakening kind (which was also the kind Ralph Roberts had in Insomnia) seems much harder to do anything about. If anyone has any suggestions, I’d love to hear them. I do usually manage to get at least 6 hours sleep, but I’d love to get 8 hours a night on a consistent basis.
Farewell Caledonia, having a major re-set, and taking calculated risks
Michael bought the domain name Farewell Caledonia for me a couple of years ago, at the same time as he bought the BRR domain name. We have been considering moving for the past couple of years, basically since the Brexit vote. Michael had been so confident that it would be a Remain vote, that I persuaded him to agree that if, against all odds, the vote was Leave, he would consider anywhere in the world and not just the few English-speaking countries he was currently contemplating. I think he regretted that the day after the vote, when we knew the results and I started talking about moving to the Czech Republic or Bali.
It wasn’t as urgent when Michael started casually looking back then and I thought it might not happen. He’s rightfully rather picky about where he ends up, and there is no point in making sideways or backwards moves in your career. Or making an overly rash move (like selling everything and moving to Bali) just because you’re looking to escape Brexit.
I had a 7-year plan. If we could tough it out in post-Brexit Britain and weather the coming recession for the next 7 years, I could get us in a position whereby we could both retire to somewhere with a low cost of living. But obtaining residency rights in many countries might prove more difficult post-Brexit.
I think Michael’s strategy is better. He has secured a tenured post at Chalmers University of Technology in Göteborg, and starts in December. We don’t yet know where we will be living; our roof started leaking shortly after he accepted the offer so we need the roofer to do the second part of the repair then wait for the walls to completely dry out before we can redecorate that room (thankfully the smallest bedroom) and get the house on the market; we need to sort through and sell a *lot*of possessions as we will be downsizing from a 4 bedroom house to, at most, a 2 bedroom apartment costing at least 150% of our current mortgage; and we don’t speak the language. And we’ve got 3 months to bring it all together. It’ll be fine. In the middle of all this, we’re working up until we leave, it’s the busiest time in the academic year, and I’m deep into 50+ mile per week marathon training. Did I say it’ll be fine? I don’t have a job lined up either, but thankfully that’s not an urgent matter.
A popular saying, (there’s some debate over who originally said it), is that “In the end… We only regret the chances we didn’t take, the relationships we were afraid to have, and the decisions we waited too long to make.” I’m pretty sure that plenty of people regret reckless chances that they did take – such cheating on their loving spouse of 20 years and losing them for the sake of a short and disastrous affair. But it’s probably true also that a lot of people might regret being overly cautious.
The easiest choice is always to maintain the status quo. And I’m very happy and settled in Angus. I have lots of great people to run with, several good friends – both runners and non-runners, a stable job where I feel like I am doing something worthwhile (most of the time) and a very comfortable standard of living. The one pinch point is probably the long commute to work now that I’ve had most of my teaching moved to Dundee. But even then I get to listen to more audio books during the commute and it’s not as bad as the commute I used to have in the central belt. In short, I’m comfortable here. But Michael is not. If you’ve read his posts you can see that he hasn’t been following his own advice to only worry about things you have control over. He needs a new challenge work-wise. And we’re both pretty keen on regaining our EU citizenship.
Although there are many things I will miss, and so much to do in so little time, I’m pretty excited about the move. I really liked what I saw of Göteborg when we visited, particularly how bike-friendly it is, and the fact it has a small and friendly parkrun to get involved with. I’m fairly confident I’ll be able to learn Swedish (though Michael is getting ahead of me there just now I’m sure I’ll catch up) and most Swedes speak better English than we do so it won’t be a problem when we first get there and aren’t fluent yet.
It might not be the best move financially as we are dropping from two salaries to one, at least initially, and the cost of accommodation at least will be a lot higher. The housing market there is very *tight*. So much so that it’s very hard to get a first-hand contract rather than a sublet, and one of the apartments the liaison officer sent us a link to came complete with an 18-year-old schoolchild who would be staying there about half the time. The advert assured us he would stay in his room, and we would benefit from a rent reduction when he was there… Even with housing in short supply, it didn’t appeal.
We’re selling both our cars, because Sweden has excellent and affordable public transport in addition to being extremely bicycle friendly, so our transport costs will plummet. If anyone wants a pristine 5 year old VW Up let me know. And our utility bills will decrease thanks to downsizing. Things might be a little tight if it takes a while to sell our house in Brechin (if you know anyone who is looking for a beautiful early 20th century 4 bed semi with large rooms and high ceilings please send them our way). But we have a decent cash buffer, and once we’ve lost the expense of maintaining the house in Brechin we’ve run the numbers and we’ll be fine on Michael’s salary for an indefinite period of time. So I have the luxury of being able to take time to settle in, get orientated, learn conversational Swedish, and train for the April 2020 London Marathon for which I have successfully obtained a Good For Age place, without the pressure of needing to find a job within x number of weeks or even months.
The move therefore means a re-set for me in a couple of ways. The first is deciding which possessions to take. Michael and I have discussed this, and I think we’re approaching it the right way. Rather than assuming by default that everything is coming with us, then working out what we don’t need, we’re using an additive approach. We’re not assuming anything is coming with us, and have to make the case for each thing we put on the list to go in that air freight or shipping container. This approach is more of a Marie Kondo style one, and will hopefully result in a much more effective cull of pointless objects than we have managed in previous moves. When Michael first moved in with me he brought 28 large boxes of books, insisting he had pared down his collection as much as possible. By the time we made our 5th move in 3 years, that number had probably halved again. But we have added to it in the five and a half years we have been here, and I’m sure there are things I have moved from Canterbury that have never been used. It’ll be nice to work out what we really need, and try to keep things as minimal as possible.
The second part of the re-set is taking the time to work out what my dream job is. Michael is pretty confident that the job he is going to will suit him very well. It even includes board games in the remit. I’m not sure what opportunities I have, but I can take the time to consider whether I want to remain in post-secondary teaching, try to become self-employed as a freelance writer or contract programmer, or retrain in a completely different field.
On Depth Year Progress
In terms of rule 1, if I’m honest, I have spent more time on social media than would be required for arranging runs and advertising blog posts. I’d go on to arrange a run or upload photos from a day out, and get sucked in for a bit. With no major time pressures over the summer this was okay, but not a good habit to get into, and I’ll need to be more intentional now I’m back at work.
I’ve managed to stick to rule 2 with regards to Strava, Twitter and Facebook. However, Messenger seems to have started sending me notifications again after an update, so I need to go back and switch them off again.
With regards to rule 3, I was lucky enough to spend a considerable amount of time with Michael in July when we were both on holiday, and we got some concentrated board gaming in at a few games days/ evenings with friends and, of course, at Tabletop Scotland at the end of August.
I’ve still made no progress on rules 4 and 5. I did get quotes for some work that needs doing around the house, but only one of the jobs has been done, and I need to chase the others up as, with the impending move, they’ve become more urgent now.
In terms of rule 6 we never made any real progress on this. I’m hopeful of being able to find a lot of time for this when we move, but it will probably be a 2020 project rather than one for this depth year now.
With regards to my goals, I think I’m doing reasonably well with the goal of being aware of how I’m spending my time. And my running is going pretty well. All the consistency in mileage and training, plus taking the iron tablets, seems to be slowly paying off.
I’m still feeling pretty happy about goal three, though I’m slightly disappointed that I didn’t get more books read over the summer. I won’t make it to 50 books, but I’m currently at 27 completed with another close to completion, so 40 seems realistic. And, 27 was the sum total I managed last year, so I’m already ahead with a third of the year still to go. I’m pretty sure Michael and I are still pretty solid (goal 4): we’d better be. He keeps joking about abandoning me here and going to Göteborg alone. I don’t think he’d make it there without me though, so I’m not overly worried. And you can probably tell that we’ve had a lot of time for contemplation over the summer – which is just as well as we’ve had a lot of things to contemplate.
So, what kind of mindset will I be in at the end of October? Chicago Marathon will have been and gone, and we’ll be on the final countdown to emigrating! Will we be well-organised, or is there going to be a lot of last-minute panicking? Check in next time to find out.