Last night a couple of friends and I went to the first annual “Meet, Plan, Go” event at REI in Atlanta. These sessions were being held simultaneously in 13 cities around North America.  The intended purpose for MPG is to encourage people (especially Americans, who get notoriously little time off of work), to come together in a way that we can share ideas, experiences and questions on how to plan our own sabbatical. The hope and idea is that this will become a movement for change in the way we view and handle our work lives.

Travel was the focal point of the evening, and while not attempting to “sell” any specific travel destinations to the participants, a panel of several everyday-type folks shared their experiences of their own sabbaticals.  Sabbatical was  loosley defined as either a paid or unpaid strategic time away from the job.  Ranging from several weeks to a year or more, sabbaticals are a way to benefit the employer as much as the employee.  Employees, of course, benefit from time away to clarify goals and broaden their skills while the employer offering the sabbatical benefits from employee loyalty, increased innovation and renewed motivation.

Personally, I can attest that sabbaticals accomplish what they set out to do. When HK and I first moved to Atlanta, he went to work for a company that, after five years of continuous employment, gave him four weeks of paid sabbatical time in addition to his four week paid vacation.  In planning for this time off, we studied travel brochures (this was before the internet was used so widely in travel planning) and set aside money from each paycheck. When the time came, we combined the four weeks with two of his vacation weeks for a six week trip through New Zealand. The trip was a story in itself, but it whet our appetite to continue this lifestyle of renewal and rejuvenation from the daily grind.  (At the time, I was working part-time as a travel consultant, and was able to take that time away from my job).

Each city had different hosts, including  Atlanta’s, to Seattle’s Married with Luggage hosts, San Francisco’s Three Month Visa and Toronto’s Solo Traveler. Even though the host had various focuses, the overall message was the same-taking time off to experience new places will reap huge rewards in your life. As yourSabbatical quotes: Life holds a lot of possibilities. Make sure you’re available for them.

Have you ever taken an extended break from work? If so, what did you do? If not, what would you do? Does your company offer sabbaticals?

Meet Plan Go will be hosting a boot camp in January of 2011. They also plan to make MPG a yearly event to get momentum and enthusiasm for making your own career break. Check out their website for updates.

To quote Mark Twain:  “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed in the things that you didn’t do than in thee ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. EXPLORE. DREAM. DISCOVER.”