the whole life sabbatical (part 1 of 3)


Creative Commons License photo credit: urbanshoregirl

Have you ever just wanted to chuck it all and walk away? To just walk away from your commitments and responsibilities and start over again somewhere else? Why didn’t you?

I started thinking about the practicalities of walking away from my entire life of responsibilities after learning an acquaintance had done it. I divided my responsibilities up in a few different groups: work, family, finances and life. Each one has different implications in terms of walking away, and before anyone thinks I’m about to start discussing walking away from your family or your finances – don’t worry! I have a different mindset, and hopefully it will become clear what I’m getting at in parts 2 and 3.

First of all, what ARE your responsibilities?

Work: Chances are good that you work for a living. Maybe you are an employee, or a freelancer, or a small business owner. Your responsibilities for each of these types of work are similar but not the same. If you are an employee, you work at a business. Maybe you serve customers, or work in a group, but for the most part you have nobody who relies on you for their livelihood; the company pays their paycheck, not you. If you are a freelancer, nobody depends on you for their livelihood but customers may rely on you, particularly if you function almost as a “part-time” employee for their business. The most responsible position of these three would be a small business owner. If you have employees, you have people who depend on you.

Family: If you have a spouse, or elderly parents or children or any close family you support (or help support) you have a tremendous responsibility to them. You may share that responsibility (for example, if you are married and have kids you and your spouse both provide overlapping types of support) but in many cases this dependency is total and desperate (think elderly parents or newborn children). How easily could you walk away from family (or even close friends who are like familiy)? People do it all the time. Divorce and abandonment are extremes. I’m thinking more of cases like this: do you bring your aging parent who requires almost-around-the-clock care to live with you if you are able? Or do you send them to an assisted living/nursing home facility? It sounds cruel, but should you neglect your other family to care for someone who probably needs better care than you can provide? It’s a difficult question.

Finances: You have commitments to be paid – rent, mortgages, taxes, utilities and so on. Some are less critical than others. Your cable TV is a fairly mild commitment you could end without much worry. Your electricity? Less so. Your taxes? I wouldn’t advise it – we can’t all be Wesley Snipes. This area is fairly clear cut morally, although there are gray areas – would you walk away from a mortgage if your home plummeted in value, in order to get a fresh start? I would, but some people think this is irresponsible.

Life: You have responsibilities to things in your own life that cannot be pushed aside. Food must be eaten, health must be maintained and medical care is sometimes necessary. You can switch from caviar to tuna fish, but you can’t stop eating. You can decide to stop taking multivitamins, but if you suffer from diabetes you’ll still need insulin. You may even have responsibilities to your friends, your neighborhood and your church/temple/mosque/etc., but these could vary so much it’s hard to make an overarching simplification, and I wonder if those are truly responsibilities. I suppose if you are a community-centric person they might be. I will argue that you have almost no other responsibilities. Do I have a responsibility as a citizen for certain things? I guess so. Voting, jury duty, paying taxes and so on are all “national” responsibilities, but let’s face it – you can walk away awfully easily from most of those. Whether you should is another question.

So did I miss anything? And don’t tell me it’s impossible to walk away from any of these commitments, because you can, without a doubt. These are the major areas of obligation in most of our lives, other than a sense of civic duty. In the next two parts I’ll talk about (1) whether you could walk away and (2) if walking away would make you happy.  We all say we want freedom – but do we?

14 comments

  • people walk away everyday. the question is what are they running from, and what do they want to do next?

    just because you relinquish your responsibilities, your life doesn’t become a void. it’s replaced by something else.

    people who leave their jobs got do something else, like charity work, or even begging ;-P

    people leave their nagging wives for a younger, hotter chick but then they get stuck with child support and alimony and their life
    sucks even more!

    people walk away from their mortgages unaware that it’ll haunt them forever (there’s a box on the mortgage application asking if you’ve EVER filed bankruptcy or defaulted on your mortgage). even if it no longer shows up on your credit history, there’s a chance the bank will find out and deny you a loan, or maybe approve with a substantially higher rate.

    there are always consequences to these sort of actions- many people just don’t think things through.

  • I don’t think you missed anything, though I am curious to see where you are going with this. I am slowly shedding bits of my life in an effort to simplify – I’m starting with “stuff”, and then moving on to the more intangibles. One thing I’m discovering is how things are interrelated – getting rid of my car has an impact on my financial responsibilities, for example.

  • Sometimes I do think about “walking away” but I think it has to do with your previous post on finding a purpose in life. Right now I don’t have a great plan or purpose, so what good would walking away do? I’d be in a new place with no plan.

    But moving someplace brand new and starting all over does sound enticing at times.

    • I think you’re all correct – just walking away from things doesn’t solve anything, but a lot of people think it might. And deepali, I’m not sure simplifying is exactly the same as walking away, although they are similar. This relates to what bouncing betty said – if you are doing it WITH purpose, to simplify, it’s not quite the same as just drifting away. You didn’t just abandon your car, for example.

      It’s actually sort of frightening when you see people just completely walk away from things – just dropping everything and leaving….

  • I “walked away” from some of my old friends. Or at least I thought they were friends but then realize that I am just wasting my time and effort to keep in touch. No, nothing bad happened, nice enough, pleasant people. People that I walked away from are the people that I didn’t much enjoy hanging out with, saw no moral support from, etc. Instead I decided to focus on my few but strong friendships. It, actually, made me feel less anxious to please, happier, calmer and freed up my schedule.
    This is just one of the paths to walk away from something. Someone mentioned “stuff”! Totally agree. Slowly doing that too. It’s liberating.

  • From a rational standpoint (and that’s not to say such decisions are made rationally), it seems like the only reason to do this is as the end result of a series of bad life decisions that are difficult or impossible to unwind – bad marriage, bankruptcy, prison time – that sort of thing. But many people who are in these positions manage to unwind successfully (and many who never make the attempt). I wonder if simply walking away leaves you open to making the same bad decisions yet again.

    Except for gainful employment, I’ve never felt the desire to walk away from any aspect of my life.

  • I share Deepali’s views.

    Really curious to see where you are going with this.

  • Interesting topic. I’ve known someone who ‘walked away’, or at least tried to. The problem was that she walked into a very similar situation which she was in at the previous city. Just with a different crowd around her. I think she blamed her surroundings and tried to leave it.

    Soon enough her old defunct boyfriend had joined her in her ‘new’ location, little did she know the drug scene there was just as big, if not bigger, and she’s back to sleeping through her job because of her same old habits.

    ADVICE: if you’re going to walk away, do your RESEARCH and follow through with it! (i guess…)

  • Seen “Into The Wild” yet?

    An Irish acquaintance of mine had a brother who did this – he literally walked away one day from family (he had no spouse or kids though), job, city and friends. They found out a few months later that he was still alive, had started a life somewhere else and didn’t seem to have suffered a breakdown to the extent of requiring hospitalization or anything. He never really came back. The whole thing kind of wrecked the immediate family, it was a very strange and sad situation to be on the fringes of.

    I still fantasize about winning the lottery and just stepping on a plane to Mustique though! I’d bring my husband along for the ride but imagine my colleagues and neighbours saying “whatever happened to guinness416?”

  • This reminds me of the 70s BBC comedy The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin, where he abandons everything, only to end up with it all again anyway.

    I’d add that your family doesn’t necessarily have to be relatives, for some people their friends are their family. Whilst it might be easier to abandon your friends, it’s still the same thing, but at a different degree.

  • @Bubelah: That’s a good example – even though you didn’t THINK those friends were negative influences on you, they were, because you spent so much time and effort trying to force those friendships. I thought at the time – and still do – that it was a good idea 🙂

    @Curmudgeon: If you’ve walk away from gainful employment, you’re a lot more carefree than most people – a lot of people have to be dragged kicking and screaming away from jobs they HATE, much less ones that simply don’t fulfill their life goals. And yes, just walking away doesn’t guarantee that you’ll avoid a situation like that again (as t h rive pointed out). But I think you have a better chance the second time, don’t you?

    @t h rive: Research would be key, that’s for sure. Walking away from the heroin scene to the crystal meth scene wouldn’t be the kind of “walking away from it” I had in mind, for sure.

    @guinness416: I haven’t seen “Into The Wild” yet, but my guess from commercials is that “walking away from your responsibilities” is to “Into the Wild” as “police procedural” is to “The Departed.” It’s the same thing, but taken to the Nth degree…

    I think everyone has that fantasy at time to time… although it would have to be a pretty big lottery win to afford Mustique, wouldn’t it?

    @plonkee: I agree completely. A phrase you hear every now and then is “you can’t choose your family,” but I disagree completely. You can choose your family. It’s nice if they happen to be people biologically related to you, or related through a marriage/civil union/etc. but frankly your family can be made up of anyone you choose. And I don’t think it’s a different degree, really. Too much is made of blood relations. I have plenty of friends who are closer to me than some of my relatives (admittedly the slightly more distant relatives – but you get my point).

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