After the month of biking and traipsing about Italy, I needed a month of stationary sabbatical time to search for jobs and work on projects. Originally, I had planned to find this time in Southeast Asia, but hastily laid plans unravelled on account of the monsoon season, visa requirements, and changes in travel buddy plans. I came to see that these were good things, since I found myself in a place more conducive to work and more personally meaningful.
The area around Mont Blanc had recently become legendary to my friends on the Fighting Illini Triathlon team as we followed the alpine adventures of Kilian Jornet, a man who in the midst of the age of million dollar athletic television deals insists on doing incredible feats of physicality just for the love of accomplishment, competition, and being the mountains. Deep down, I’d guess most of us have these types of heroes and to visit their haunts is a goal lost in the rush of more traditional tourist exploits.
As SE Asia plans were fizzling, I looked to options near where I had friends and soon found myself writing an email to a friend’s dad about why exactly I’d like to spend a month in his ski chalet in La Clusaz during the summer. The proposal was accepted, and terms were specified. I would arrived in Geneva by train, get a ride to La Roche sur-Foron and then to La Clusaz, and then Walden in the small ski town for most of 5 weeks.
In La Clusaz, I had no transportation beyond my feet and my bike, which was alright by me. The town center was 3km down the valley, making for a solid walk for food, bread, and socializing. The nearest running trails were less than 250m away, taking me from the chalet at 1200m up to 2300-2500m in a few kilometers.
What I did:
Basing my sabbatical time on lessons from Stefan Sagmeister’s TEDTalkon his experience with the power of time off, I found it important to generally schedule my time so that each item on the schedule was a reminder of what I wanted to accomplish that day. This proved valuable, as the days I deviated from a schedule often turned into unfocused or obsessived pushes to complete the task at hand. This restraint as crucial to achieving a balanced and focused time. Naturally, the schedules were rather loose at first, then focused as I found what worked best and gained clarity on the projects. Below is an example of one of my weeks.
- Harmonica: Bringing a harmonica and learning it after an absence of music during college was greatly rewarding.
- Skype Subscription: Having an unlimited skype subscription for calls back to the US was excellent, well worth $6.99 a month.
- Sleep: after years of engineering sleep deprivation, I can’t count one night where I didn’t get enough sleep in the 5 weeks in La Clusaz. It’s amazing how much this improves my clarity and quality of life.
- Job Search = Networking: In my first few weeks, I applied to more than a dozen jobs I found compelling at companies like Nest, Google, GoPro, and Garmin. By the end of my stay in La Clusaz. I had no responses – none – from these. Anticipating this by the end of week 3, I shifted my attention to connecting with people I knew and didn’t yet, and this proved to be much more effective.
- Social Debt to Society: With still-poor, recently-in-college status working for me, nearly everyone I stayed with was immensely generous. Once I’m gainfully employed, it will be my turn to buy dinner for the starving undergrads and give housing to the vagabond bicyclists.
- Being in a cabin alone: 5 weeks was a good length of time for decompression and exploration of my job options, so I didn’t get bored. Plus my host family came to the cabin several days, which was a welcome relief of socializing, great food, and venturing out to do things like downhill mountain biking and rock climbing.
- Tools: Near the end of my stay, I was in deep want of tools, from a hack saw to a 3D printer to calipers. As an engineer, for me to explore and build requires excellent access to tools, and many of the projects I would have liked to pursue if I had more time would have needed these.
- Language: With tasks of job search, projects, harmonica, and outdoor adventures (hiking/running/cycling), learning French didn’t fall very high on my priorities. Additionally, I find I work best with at most about 3 things on my plate and wanted to focus well on the sabbatical work. However, I was self-conscious in my inability to communicate on the terms of the locals, so if and when I sabbatical in a foreign country, language will be on my list of goals.
- Socializing: As with language, I did not engage with locals on a regular basis. I got more done this way, but surely I missed some cultural and social pleasures I may have encountered if I got out more. Next time, along with language, integrating further with the locals would be on my list of goals.
All told, the QLS time in La Clusaz was a smashingly good time and I think it was well-done for my first attempt at a sabbatical. Next time, I’ll be inclined to settle in an area with more opportunities to meet people and get to know them, perhaps seek better access to tools, and spend more time learning the local language.