Monday, March 31, 2008

SIX MONTHS OFF by Hope Dlugozima, James Scott and David Sharp

The Book: Hope Dlugozima, James Scott, and David Sharp; SIX MONTHS OFF: How to plan, negotiate, and take the break you need without burning bridges or going broke. Henry Holt trade paperback first edition, 1996.
First read: 1996
Owned since: 1996

You know how people say, "This book changed my life"? Well, this book changed my life.

In 1996 I was 30 years old; I lived in a great townhouse in Washington, DC, with three of my best friends; I had a job that paid me well for work that interested me. And I had the overwhelming feeling that I had no life. I was constantly on the road, constantly saying yes to projects I didn't know how to do, constantly feeling guilty about what I wasn't getting done and the people I was neglecting. I had no ability to set boundaries and no vision of what my life was supposed to be like. I also had more than a month of accumulated vacation time that I had to use or lose.

I looked around for role models, women in their 40s or 50s, to see if any of them were living lives I might aspire to. What I saw were women who had made painful choices, and women who had had those choices thrust upon them. The women who made the choices for themselves were not necessarily women I wanted to be; like bristlecone pines, they had channeled their energies into narrow bands for long-term survival. But the women who felt they'd had the choices thrust upon them were angry, sad, thwarted -- and generally less successful.

Six Months Off was the right book at the right time, as I was puzzling this out. It's a guide to planning a sabbatical, but it's also a tool for figuring out your life on a grander scale. If money were no object, what would you be doing? Well, why aren't you doing that? How much money do you really need? How much risk are you willing to tolerate? What's keeping you from asking for what you need?

Twelve years later, I still don't have the answers to these questions. In fact, I pulled this book down because I'm about to start another big round of life decisions, and could use a little coaching. Thinking about Life, on the grand scale, is overwhelming; what's useful about this book (and others like it) is that it poses the practical questions, rather than the existential ones.

No surprise, but I tend to bog down in the existential ones, and then have to rummage under my couch cushions to find enough money for dog food. I need all the help I can get with the practical stuff.

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