WES Blog — What I Did on My Summer Sabbatical

It’s good to be back–especially because of the warm welcome so many of you have offered me, and because of the work that the entire staff and so many volunteers did to keep things moving along in my absence. I’ll look forward to continuing to hear the stories of what you all did while I was away!
And how about me–what did I do while I was away? That has been, not surprisingly, one of the main questions you’ve greeted me with. Of course there are some practical answers: I traveled with and to family; I spoke at the New York Society for Ethical Culture and at my home congregation, the First Unitarian Universalist Society of Albany; I engaged in leadership coaching focused on what skills I want to develop in the coming year; I read a lot of books. Like, a lot of books.
I think the more interesting answers, though, are about not what I did but what I thought. One of the main reasons for sabbaticals, vacations, even days off or retreat days, is the opportunity to let your mind think about things differently. When we literally move away from our usual duties, our minds (eventually) move away too, and we’re able to access the kind of creative, expansive thinking that isn’t harder to find when surrounded by to-do lists.
So what have I been thinking about? I did a lot of thinking–and some planning–about how to use my time efficiently and sustainably. I’ve instituted some new practices, many of them focused on creating tiny pockets of the kind of creative space I had during sabbatical throughout a typical week. I thought about our country, the mood nationally right now, and what my and WES’ role is in this time; specifically, I thought about what it means to both live in the reality of this moment and also provide or receive hope. The book Emergent Strategy by Adrienne Marie Brown has been my companion on much of that thinking, and I commend it to you.
And I thought about the coming year, my 11th with you and WES’ 75th since our founding. The sabbatical time gave me space to think not just about the practical parts of the year (who is speaking on which Sunday, what programs we want to offer), but to think as well about some of the bigger questions. What energy do I want to bring to WES in this coming year? How do I hope WES will feel, to a newcomer and to its current members, on a Sunday morning? Knowing that I have a certain amount of power in my position and my identity, what am I ready to risk as I speak and work and serve the community?
I know those questions, and the answers I have begun forming for myself, will continue to shape the weeks and months to come. And I’d love to hear what answers you have to those questions! Here’s to a year of asking, and answering, together.
Amanda Poppei, Senior Leader