On sabbatical: finding my hidden self

In the pursuit of reclaiming my life, I’ve spent the last six months on sabbatical filling my days with travel to illuminating places, thought-provoking words, compelling poems that speak truth into places I was unable to locate, pottery, and the pursuit of wholeness. I’m interpreting the term “sabbatical” loosely, as it’s commonly used to describe an employer-sponsored period of leave every seven years, but it remains the best way to describe this physical and spiritual sojourn. It’s been seven years since I graduated from college, accounting and Scandinavian studies degrees in hand, to pursue a career in the business world. It’s been seven years of a life driven by position and career success. It’s been seven years of spreadsheets and staring at computer screens for twelve hours a day as my glazed-over eyes reddened in subtle protest. It’s been seven years of describing myself as a workaholic, a business woman, a CPA, an inventory manager, a logistics director, a young professional. Seven years was enough. [See my story of quitting here.]

While on sabbatical I’ve encountered a version of myself I didn’t know before. I suppose it’s been hiding out all along playing a lifelong game of hide and seek, waiting for me to wake up to its existence and exclaim, “Aha! I’ve found you!” Wait no longer, dear self. I have found you, and I am claiming you. I am claiming you as my way to make sense of the joys and sorrows of life. I am claiming you as my way to boldly and confidently express my thoughts. I am claiming you as my way of navigating the emotional landscape of my inner being. I am claiming you as my way of living into the rhythms of creativity. I am claiming you as my way to interpret the world.

In June, shortly after quitting my job in the early days of my sabbatical, I attended a creative retreat put on by Darling Magazine, a favorite publication of mine. Nine women came together to attend this four day event alongside some of Team Darling & friends. Below is a review I wrote for their website and some photos I took while there:

The retreat in Ojai by Darling Magazine was an experience far outside the bounds of normalcy. It was a divine place where women came together and were free to be themselves, free to be whoever they wanted to be in the company of like-minded women.  I knew from the moment I arrived that this event was something sacred. Everything from the workshops to the setting in the pink mountains of Ojai to the beautiful tables groaning with locally-sourced food was exceptional. But it was more than that. It was the feeling of being listened to and encouraged and understood. We don’t often get to be our raw and honest selves, and we definitely don’t often create space to watercolor journal, arrange flowers, practice creative writing, and spend hours around the table talking about fear and authenticity and vulnerability. I left that retreat not only with hundreds of photos and fifteen new friends, but with a deeper sense of self, a fierce desire to fill my life with more creating, and a renewed appreciation for the uncompromising power of women supporting women. [Elisabeth Fondell]
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On Sabbatical: finding my true self
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This was the beginning of my turnaround. A few days ago a friend told me that she’d noticed a huge change in me, a change that started after I returned from this creative retreat. As I’ve been learning to acknowledge and express my emotional self, I’ve realized how much of life I was missing before. Somehow, somewhere along my path, I was coined as a robot, a person that never got stressed, never got scared, never felt emotion. Though it is true that I don’t get overly stressed or anxious, it is completely and utterly false that I don’t have emotions. Too long I believed this. Too long I lived into that label, that life as a robot.

As I’ve worked toward this idea of wholeness, I’ve also come to realize that we don’t have to interpret our emotions alone. There are wise souls out there speaking words of emotional substance. Poetry came alive to me in this period and now stands as a real way to interpret some of life’s depths and peaks and plains. Naomi Shihab Nye, a new favorite poet, writes that our lives are a poem. This idea captivates me, completely certain in its truth. What better way to embrace life than to write its stanzas with the emotions we express?

On this day, amidst the sorrow of our nation’s vast divide, my hope is that I can use this reclaimed self to work for the good of our people. Here’s to living further into that new found sabbatical self and claiming it as my compass and my guide as I navigate the unknown trail ahead.


My name is Elisabeth Fondell. I quit my corporate retail job in May of 2016 and have been on a self-appointed sabbatical ever since. In the pursuit of reclaiming my life, I’ve spent this sabbatical filling my days with travel to illuminating places, thought provoking words, poems, pottery, and the pursuit of wholeness.
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