10 Reasons Why a Sabbatical Makes You a Better Leader

The most dangerous worldview is the worldview of those who have not viewed the world. Alexander von Humboldt


In 2016, I quit my well paid job in Switzerland, sold all of my belongings and started the adventure of my lifetime – not knowing where it would be leading to. Over a period of 2,5 years, I circumnavigated the entire earth, visited 34 countries, traveled solo about 70’000 km by adventure motorcycle from the bottom to the top of the world, established a global network of friends and discovered more about my real self than in my previous 37 years of life. 

In David Burkus Harvard Business Review (HBR) article “Research Shows that Organisations Benefit When Employees Take Sabbaticals“, he evidently stresses out that not enough employees are taking time off in order to benefit – both the employee and the organization.

Return of Investment (ROI)

The ROI of a sabbatical is priceless and can’t be measured in hard currencies but real and invaluable learning. In a world where artificial intelligence (AI) will influence a significant part of our tomorrow’s society, we urgently need to invest into social skills today in order to be prepared for tomorrow.

Jack Ma, the founder of Ali Baba, stressed out the importance of change in our education system towards a soft skilled approach during the 2018 World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

Education is a big challenge now. If we don’t change the way we teach, we will be in big trouble in 30 years from now. Because the way we teach, the things we teach our kids, are the things from the past 200 years – its knowledge based. We need to be teaching our children values, believing, independent thinking, teamwork, care for others…these are the soft parts. The knowledge will not teach you that. Jack Ma

I visited one of the most prestigious business schools in the world where I learned about strategy, marketing, finance and leadership. I learned how to think outside the box and how to challenge the status quo. Read here more. A sabbatical was the next step of my journey of self-reflection and personal growth, the ultimate school of life which teaches you lessons you will never be able to experience in a traditional class room.


1. Take Risks and Get Out of Your Comfort Zone

Uncertainty is the only certainty there is, and knowing how to live with insecurity is the only security. John Allen Paulos

During my journey I always experienced my greatest adventures and learned the most while leaving my comfort zone, especially when facing my fears towards new challenges.

Traveling solo on a motorcycle in remote areas of the world where no-one speaks English, arriving at a crossroad in the Amazon where the only possible way to continue the path is via Venezuela (country in a state of emergency, hyperinflation and potential risk of assault) or the Brazilian Highway BR 319 (700 km on a muddy „road“ through wildlife rich jungle), or crossing Nicaragua where political tensions cost several hundreds of people their life are real world challenges.

Overcoming inner insecurities, risks and challenges of the real world makes you a more self-confident leader in any given situation.

Washed Away Road, Northern Brazil

2. Think Positive and Stay Calm Even in “Hopeless” Situations

Once you replace negative thoughts with positive ones, you’ll start having positive results. Willie Nelson

Staying calm in crisis situations of great mental distress is key in today’s leadership functions. In the desert of Baja California in Mexico, in the middle of nowhere with limited resources of water and food, I got stuck in sand with my motorcycle.

Trying to set myself free just made things worse and I burned my clutch, making a further progress impossible. After taking a deep breath and analyzing the situation I packed my essential gear, left anything else behind and successfully seeked for help.

Being positive and trying to stay rational despite hopeless looking situations is crucial.

Guajira Desert, Colombia

3. Get Creative

“I’m always doing things I can’t do. That’s how I get to do them.“ Pablo Picasso

During my travels I learned how to get creative when it comes to problem solving. Complex challenges will arise constantly throughout your whole trip… How to solve them?

In New Zealand, I decided to built a camper van without having any prior DIY skills. Like with any other challenges throughout my trip, I learned that a networking and human centred approach is the best way to facilitate creative thinking and to coming up with better solutions than being alone.

  • While explaining my camper van project to the airbnb host I got a place to stay offered while using all his tools for free to get the job done.
  • While working on the van, I tried to involve guests of the airbnb in the process in order to get new ideas on the construction or to solve together certain problems.
  • In the DIY store where all construction material has been purchased, I “sold” the project to the employees and got invited to a “personal workshop” in order to understand more regarding the plumbing of the waste water system inside the van.

Read here all about the whole experience.

Teamwork, Auckland, New Zealand

4. Cultural Understanding

Travel early and travel often. Live abroad, if you can. Understand cultures other than your own. As your understanding of other cultures increases, your understanding of yourself and your own culture will increase exponentially. Tom Freston

I highly recommend to spent some more time in a specific country of interest while doing a sabbatical and not just simply rushing through in order to gain as many stamps as possible in your passport.

Since visiting Brazil as part of my business school’s discovery expeditions and 4 months of traveling and living in this beautiful part of the world during my sabbatical, I had the privilege to gain a deeper understanding of the country, its people and culture.

Read my full article and experiences here.

Be open minded, curious and listen, be ready to learn and flexible towards new cultures in order to be prepared for future cross-cultural experiences and learnings.

São Paulo, Brazil

5. Become humble

If you aren’t humble, whatever empathy you claim is false and probably results from some arrogance or the desire to control. But true empathy is rooted in humility and the understanding that there are many people with as much to contribute in life as you. Anand Mahindra

Going for 2 weeks to beautiful holiday destinations will most likely not give you the same satisfaction and learnings as traveling long term through developing countries. 

Spending most of my time in Asia and South America, I learned how to put life more into perspective and become a more humble person than I used to be. 

When I asked the manager of a Vietnamese hotel at the beginning of my journey to show me 20 different rooms in order to test the softest mattress, I slept later on in a self built camper van in New Zealand, in a hammock together with 300 other people on a ship on the Amazon river in Brazil or simply in a tent when camping in the nature of Alaska’s mountain ranges. 

Hammocks of the “Amazonian Star”, Amazon River, Brazil

6. Give Back

The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away. Pablo Picasso

We are privileged to grow up in developed countries, to receive education or health care for free. Basic needs which are necessary to make this a better world. A lot of people on my way had not the same luck just because they grew up somewhere else under different conditions.

During my journey, I met a lot of people who were offering their unconditioned help in order for my journey to progress. Experiencing such an offer of good will changed myself and deeply anchored my need to give back to society. 

In the Guajira desert, one of the climate’s extremest and poorest regions of Colombia, children are simply happy because of receiving some water. Read here more about the people and their life in the Guajira desert.

Children in the Guajira Desert, Colombia

7. Don’t worry, be happy!

I’ve had a lot of worries in my life, most of which never happened. Mark Twain

Overthinking and worrying too much about possible future scenarios can be paralysing and harmful to personal progress.

I found it important to be aware of certain challenges which gave me headache and approached them in two possible ways:

a) Make a profound analysis and search for an appropriate answer or

b) Take on a calculated risk where the infinite result is not foreseeable

However, as Lao Tzu mentioned: “A journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step”, it is crucial to get started and don’t waste time being worried about things which might never happen. Many times things turn out to be completely different in the end and a new solution needs to be found. Just take the first step!

Pure Happiness, Cali, Colombia

8. Passion

I would rather die of passion than of boredom. Vincent van Gogh

Going on a sabbatical will open your eyes and lead yourself to invaluable treasures. When I quit my job I could not answer the most basic question on what my hobbies were? I was living for my job which made my life pretty lonely.

The sabbatical made me a more balanced person while discovering photography and adventure motorcycle traveling as my new passions.

Northern Lights, Alaska, USA

9. Become realistic

Being purely driven by optimism in South- or Central America can literally cost your life. Dominik Reinhard




noun: optimist; plural noun: optimists

  1. 1.
    a person who tends to be hopeful and confident about the future or the success of something.”only an eternal optimist could expect success”
  2. 2.
    a person who believes that this world is the best of all possible worlds or that good must ultimately prevail over evil.

I have always been and am by definition an optimist. This kind of mindset significantly helped me to overcome any challenges in the past. However, optimism possess also the risk to falsely estimate situations or project turnaround times, set unrealistic expectations for team members and not delivering as promised. What could possibly lead to a project failure at work, could literally lead to death in South America.

In São Paulo I visited a favela in order to learn about a NGO’s activities while suddenly a police squad was approaching the scene. Read here what happened next.

During my sabbatical I learned when it was time to take off my “optimism” glasses – to get more realistic – and when to take them back on again.

Comuna 13, Medellin, Colombia

10. Get rich

Some people never go crazy. What truly horrible lives they must lead. Charles Bukowski

Coming back to my first chapter of the article and the ROI of a sabbatical…. The investments of a sabbatical are unequivocally significant. However, I gained memories and personal growth which no one can take away from me anymore. They are simply priceless!

Deciding to do a sabbatical makes you belong to the richest people of the world.

Amazon, Puerto Maldonado, Peru

I hope this article was useful to you. Let me know what you think…

I am the founder of zenmotero, a source for adventures and life learnings that motivates and prepares to live a more successful life. Join my free newsletter to stay updated.

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8 Replies to “10 Reasons Why a Sabbatical Makes You a Better Leader”

  1. Hi Claudia, vielen Dank für deine Nachricht. Es freut mich, wenn mein Weg andere inspirieren kann. Natürlich wäre diese Weltreise in solchem Ausmass nie ohne meine Karriere möglich gewesen. Wichtig is es “das Leben” nicht ausser Acht zu lassen! Ich bin froh einen Ausgleich gefunden zu haben, der mein Leben erfüllt (u.a. Photographie und Reisen). Die gesammelten Lebenserfahrungen sind mit Gold nicht aufzuwiegen und ich kann mit Stolz sagen, dass ich etwas weiser geworden bin. Falls du auf der Suche nach Neuorientierung bist, kann ich Dir das Buch “What colour is your parachute?” von R. Bolles empfehlen 🙂

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  2. Dominik, ich habe den allergrößten Respekt vor dem, was du aus deinem Leben gemacht hast. Du erinnerst dich sicher nicht an mich, aber ich habe 2014 für ein paar Monate ein Praktikum bei deinem ehemaligen Arbeitgeber (IES) gemacht und dich daher ein paar Mal persönlich gesehen. Nie hätte ich es damals für möglich gehalten, dass hinter der schnöden Businessman-Fassade ein solch abenteuerlustiger und naturnaher Mensch steckt, der dieses ganzes Karriere-Getue in Wahrheit leid ist und dass er trotz seines tollen Schweizer Gehalts und dem beruflichen Erfolg nicht glücklich ist. Dein neuer Weg ist eine wunderbare Inspiration für alle, die selbst aus dieser scheinheiligen Welt ausbrechen wollen.

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  3. Thank you Susanne 🙂 Glad you like it and am looking forward to our reunion this year!

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  4. Amazing ….:inspiring and thought provoking

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  5. Glad you enjoyed the read Erwin… never easy to get back after adventures like that. I keep my fingers crossed everything works out for you!

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  6. Thank you Ken! I deeply appreciate and am happy to help (or to inspire ?)

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  7. Ken mc Greevy says:

    Inspiration is the only word

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  8. I took 4 months and rode from San Francisco to Buenos Aires. I recently came back into the work force after a hectic exit prior to the trip. I could not agree with you more- thanks for capturing this.

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