Initially, the Secret Sabbatical Course evolved in the context of midlife decisions. The idea of taking time to examine one’s life caught on with clients, although they didn’t necessarily want their involvement known. They wanted to discreetly explore the questions and options offered through the Course without making declarations or announcements. First, they wanted to know how they felt about emerging alternatives. They also hoped to avoid raising expectations or sending messages that they were ready to move on, or were dissatisfied at work, or whatever else might be assumed as a result of their interest in the material. The Course was to be a “thought experiment,” which I believed would help in their search. The idea of these kinds of imagined experiences being tied to possibilities of self-discovery, and further discovery in the wider world, is a central theme in my work.
Enlightened companies were happy to support the Course for executives, realizing that it was better to have committed people on board. Because they supported my idea that secrecy was central to the whole idea of The Secret Sabbatical Course, it was agreed I would not report back on any of the discussions between their employees and myself. People often reaffirmed their choices. They decided to stay where they were currently employed, but with renewed vigor.
In time, the Course began to include people contemplating retirement but the secret aspect still seemed appropriate. They used the opportunity to imagine future possibilities that require the freedom I’ve mentioned. Like those at midlife, lots of these folks weren’t sure how they’d feel once free to examine unimagined alternatives. Some didn’t want to announce their interest or the fact that they were searching for a new direction. It truly takes courage to strike out and begin to develop new strengths and talents when we’ve reached a stage in our lives where much of what we do seems second nature.
The decathletes I discuss later in the book are a clear example. While these athletes compete publicly in 10 different events, none has completely mastered all these challenges. So there are times when each of them feels less than competent, perhaps even incompetent. Most choose to prepare in private for events where they have less mastery. Similarly, many people appreciate the confidential aspect of the Course as they practice new ways of framing their future while responding to daily life.
These times of reflection and of practicing new skills, of new ways of viewing oneself and the world are best attempted in privacy, with the suggested degree of secrecy. This is the opposite of building a brand from your existing perspective for the sake of a Facebook or LinkedIn profile. It’s about becoming more grounded and effective, not just about appearances.
There’s another play on the word secret. Throughout my new book, you’ll find references to ideas and tactics that have been disappearing. We’re no longer aware of them. They’ve become secrets in need of rediscovery. And so, the book is also about “Secrets (of the) Sabbatical.”