Some people buy fancy cars or get a new haircut when they go through a mid-life crisis. I took a sabbatical. In October, I reached my fourteen-year anniversary with AASLH and my twenty-fourth year in the history field. I needed a break to look at how I want the last twenty (or so) years of my career to look.
I am lucky to work for AASLH and that our CEO John Dichtl allowed me to take a sabbatical during the month of October to grapple a bit with this question. I used this time to volunteer with a museum in my hometown and get some perspective on the field and my work in it. As a result, I started back to work on November 4 with a renewed passion for my work at AASLH and its mission to serve those in the history field.
I also identified what I was missing. I have an hour and fifteen minutes to hour-and-a-half commute each way, every day. During my sabbatical, I got those two-to-three hours a day back, which allowed me to plan meals and cook healthy dinners for my family instead of just pulling something out of the freezer or running through a drive-thru. I also had coffee with friends and got to read some books (for fun) which had been on my list a while. I drove all around Wilson County, Tennessee, hunting cemeteries for genealogy research. I got to talk to my husband about things not related to work or kids. As a result, I am going to start working from home one day a week. This will make my life better, as well as having the environmental impact of one less car on the road.
I made other discoveries as well during my time away from the office. We spent one day as a family during my sabbatical at Historic Granville. This small, all-volunteer-run organization is an AASLH member and is located about an hour east of Nashville on the Cumberland River. They have a county museum, car museum, historic house, and a general store that serves a delicious plate lunch on Wednesdays. My husband, son, and I had a great time exploring the rich history of the area as well as the natural beauty of its surroundings. The museum is not the best history museum I have ever visited (being heavy on nostalgia), but it serves the community of Granville well. In fact, in many ways it is the community.
My visit to Granville reminded me that this is why I work at AASLH. I do what I do because I love helping people serve their community through local history organizations.
AASLH has a big mission and works on many important national initiatives and I am lucky to have a job where I get to work on them. But I make that commute every day for people like those who volunteer at Granville or are paid to work at small historic houses like Oaklands Historic House Museum in my hometown of Murfreesboro, where I volunteered during my sabbatical.
Through my work at AASLH, I hope to make their jobs a bit easier and their history a bit better. This is my role at AASLH and it is important.
I recommend that mid-career professionals, especially those in management positions, not forget our roots. Sometimes, we need to take a few hours, days, or weeks to center ourselves and reignite our passion. It is easy to get so caught up in the day-to-day details that we forget why we do this work in the first place. Do something to remind yourself what you love about your work. And then share that passion with others. Trust me, it will make your day better.
Bethany L. Hawkins is the Chief of Operations at AASLH. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.