Sabbatical vs Sabbath

“Are sabbaticals some kind of religious thing?”

I’m often asked if I take sabbaticals as a part of a religious ritual of some kind.

This stems from a confusion between the words sabbatical and sabbath. While similar in sound and root, the two words have different meanings.

Sabbatical

I’m an all-in kind of person. If I’m going to work, I work hard. Whatever I do, I want to be the best. Maybe it has something to do with being the oldest of 13 kids. I’m not sure.

I don’t know how to do something half way. I tend to obsess.

This is great for my career advancement and for my business. It’s not so great for my health.

I needed a way to go all in on a break. I didn’t know what that looked like or if such a thing existed.

When researching rest and what it would look like to take an extended break, I came across the concept of sabbaticals. Most examples cited an extended career absence for those in academic fields.

A traditional sabbatical is one full year of paid leave granted to a professor in their seventh year of employment. This sabbatical year is usually for a specific purpose—such as research or writing a book.

A sabbatical is an extended career absence, usually in the amount of one year every seventh year.

When I came across this idea, my first reaction was, “A year is a long time! A really long time.”

Why isn’t there a small scale sabbatical? Something more frequent?

What if, instead of one full year off, I took off every seventh week?

Thus, Seventh Week Sabbaticals were born.

(Spoiler: After years of Seventh Week Sabbaticals, I realized the immense power of rest and time off. I came back around to the idea that initially seemed “too extreme” for me; two years ago, I made the decision to also take off every seventh year. I will take off one full year in 2020 as my first Seventh Year Sabbatical. I’ll talk more about this in a future post.)

Sabbath

The first time I heard of a sabbatical, I too wondered if the word held any religious connotation. While sabbatical does not have a religious connotation, sabbath does.

What sabbatical and sabbath have in common is they both encompass the idea of rest and the number seven.

The word sabbath has been watered down with informal use to the point of nearly being synonymous with rest, but it does have religious roots. In fact, when referring to observation of the seventh “holy day” (either Saturday or Sunday depending on whether Jewish or Christian), the word Sabbath is usually capitalized.

Differences in capitalization may help you distinguish between the two:

  • sabbatical: not religious
  • Sabbath: religious

While Sabbath is the religious observance of one holy day per week, sabbatical refers usually to a full year of paid leave for academic purposes.

Fallowing the Land

There is biblical admonition to let the land lie fallow in the seventh year to restore nutrients to the soil. However even the pagan Romans followed the practice of land fallowing.

Before the advent of chemical fertilizers, fallowing the land helped add back three essential nutrients to the soil: nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium.

Each harvest removes more nutrients from the land. This causes a progressive loss of soil fertility.

As soil fertility decreases, yields decline.

You cannot over-farm the land and expect the same harvest without replenishing the soil.

You may think fallowing the land is an ancient practice that’s no longer needed thanks to modern farming systems. But the excessive use of chemical fertilizers can cause environmental pollution and degradation1.

In other words, attempts to alleviate one problem by taking shortcuts often end up creating new problems.

Rest to Sustain Productivity

Sabbaticals are not inherently religious, but there is some wisdom (and science) to the ancient practices of intentional rest.

Chemical fertilizers solve some problems and create others, in the same way that energy drinks make you feel as though you can operate without sleep. We know energy drinks are merely a temporary “solution” to the problem of needing rest.

After a little while, exhaustion catches up with you.

Shortcuts end up costing you in the long run. Foregoing rest will ultimately result in burnout.

It’s nearly impossible to put a price on the opportunity cost of burnout. It’s just not worth it.

Prioritize sustainability. Set aside time for purposeful rest.

Try a Seventh Week Sabbatical.


1. https://www.sciencedirect.com/book/9780123485366/soil-in-the-environment