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September 1, 2022 // Tracey Cassidy  //       //  Opinion

“A Big Mahalo to Allison+Partners”

My wellness-centric sabbatical, where I focused on self-care and learned to surf. 

Time is our only non-renewable resource. It is also a gift. I feel immense gratitude to my employer, Allison+Partners, for the gift of time with my family and friends during my sabbatical this summer. Agency sabbaticals are an incredible perk awarded to team members who work with the agency for five or more years.   

My five-year mark with the agency was in September 2020, but we all know what the world was like mid-2020. Fortunately, our agency is flexible, and I was able to postpone until this summer. For my sabbatical, I knew I wanted to travel, but I was searching for something deeper, more transformative than just visiting somewhere I’d never been. I wanted to focus on wellness, learn a new skill and refuel my mind, body, and spirit.  

According to a Scientific American study, learning new skills in an encouraging environment in older adulthood leads to cognitive growth, just like it does in childhood. And so, my learning journey began in Hawaii with my husband, teenage son and daughter. We landed in Oahu in late July and the four of us attended surf school for several days. The experience was epic. I can’t think of any other skill we all learned for the first time together. That was cool. At first, I was scared and anxious and doubted I’d get it.  

For those who know me, you’ve likely heard about my inability to ski despite several ski schools and numerous attempts. Surf school was different. People of all ages were out on boards for the first time at the most beautiful beach in the world – Waikiki Beach. I have always loved the ocean, and I just felt the realm of possibility in the Hawaiian air.  

We had two instructors for the four of us. Troy, a long-haired lifelong surfer who grew up on the island and felt more like a spiritual guide, and Sione, a young 20-something who emanated positivity. The instructors knew I was an anxious New Yorker trying to embrace the Hawaii lifestyle – I’m close to perfecting my shaka because of their teachings. 

I was clearly the most fearful and hesitant among my family. My son Kyle was a natural and my fearless daughter made it look easy. Despite being a Division 1 college athlete, my husband had some challenges. But he eventually got on the board and smiled and laughed the entire time. Then there was me – the one begging Troy for more practice sessions on shore, which is laughable now. After surfing school, I now know the real transformation happens in the water.  

The adrenaline rush of chasing your first wave is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. It’s a form of euphoria when you get up on the board and feel like you’re dancing on water. It took a few attempts, but once I got it, I was able to repeat and adjust and more importantly have FUN! The other magical element was coming off the board to swim alongside sea turtles, which were just a few feet away also enjoying the waves and sunshine – a truly magical experience.  

We surfed on every island we visited, including Oahu, The Big Island and Maui. We had one deterrent in Lahaina, Maui – a 10-foot Tiger Shark was spotted by snorkelers 100 yards offshore! Thankfully, we stumbled upon a surf shop that rented this amazing shark deterrent technology, Sharkbanz, which allowed us to continue our surfing adventure. I am a big fan of this sport. And while I’ll likely never surf the North Shore, I plan to continue to work on my surfing skills back home on the Jersey Shore. 

Sabbatical was a gift and I’m grateful. In addition to learning to surf, I practiced Yoga on the beach; went snorkeling; adopted a healthy diet without alcohol and inclusive of a lot of local fish; toured Pearl Harbor; watched my daughter and husband parasail; hiked the Kilauea volcano, which is currently erupting at its summit with fresh lava flows; disconnected from all forms of media; read four books; enjoyed the awe-inspiring site of breathtaking sunrises and sunsets and chased numerous rainbows. I’m back working now with an attitude of gratitude and excited for my 10-year sabbatical. Mahalo! 

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