March 5, 2024

Juraj Pal: Burnout, Sabbaticals, and Independence

Pollen Team
Juraj Pal: Burnout, Sabbaticals, and Independence

Table of contents

When Juraj Pal was considering his next move after a layoff in 2022, he had an epiphany. 

“I don’t want to live this life that’s just a straight curve up, and then I retire one day and that’s when I’m going to enjoy my life,” Juraj recalls thinking. 

Instead of diving straight back into the rollercoaster world of startups, he took a yearlong sabbatical to reconnect with his goals and values — and to spend time with his partner and their newborn daughter. Then he built an independent business as a fractional go-to-market and product leader and advisor. 

Today, Juraj has crafted a career that reflects his values, passions, and desire for balance. 

Thanks to the lessons he learned during his sabbatical, he feels like a better leader and team member than ever before. 

“The whole experience of going independent pushed me to rewrite some of those scripts that were holding me back in previous full-time roles,” Juraj says. 

Here are Juraj’s top tips for turning a sabbatical into an opportunity to reframe your relationship with work. 

1. Make it a sabbatical from both work and worrying

Juraj’s yearlong break after his layoff was actually his second sabbatical. He took the first one, which lasted only a few months, five years after joining Slido as one of their first employees. 

When his boss — Slido’s CEO — first mentioned that a sabbatical might help Juraj overcome burnout that was affecting his work, he initially chafed at the suggestion. “I had a very toxic relationship with taking time off,” he explains, adding that he felt like he always had to be “on.” 

A sabbatical is meant to be time spent away from work, but as Juraj points out, it’s easy to fall into the trap of worrying about what you’re going to do when you return. 

“I wasted a lot of days and weeks through both of those sabbaticals spiraling around something that didn’t matter,” he admits. He was stressed by the knowledge that the sabbatical would eventually end and worried that he wouldn’t know his next move when that time came. 

He suggests setting a time later on in the sabbatical to revisit the anxieties and worries about what comes next — perhaps two or three months in, depending on the length of time you plan to take off. “Then try and let go,” he says. 

2. Unplug to get out of the comparison trap

During both of his sabbaticals, Juraj often worried about how others would perceive his time off. 

“I felt that friends and people close to me would put me in the box of He doesn’t care about work anymore,” he recalls. 

He found that fully unplugging — especially from social media — was a good way to break that mental cycle. His family spent the first six weeks of his second sabbatical on a road trip down the West Coast. 

“There was no thinking about work and no comparing myself,” he says. 

As Juraj started to consider returning to work, that mindset helped him avoid taking a job just to impress others. “I would come to final stages and offers and I knew in my body that if I say yes to this, I’m only doing it to optimize my LinkedIn,” he says. 

By developing trust in his own intuition, he was able to stop himself before taking an unfulfilling position. 

3. Take the opportunity to reflect on what work means to you

Looking back, Juraj thinks that being laid off from his last full-time role was “truly a gift in disguise.” He had been unhappy in the role, and taking time off gave him the space to explore what he actually wanted out of his career and his life. 

“For the first time in my life I was working on myself as opposed to anything else,” he says. 

Juraj always saw his identity through work, and the yearlong sabbatical was a chance to think more deeply about his identity, especially since it coincided with becoming a father for the first time. He asked himself questions like I’m a father now — what does that mean? Do I care about work as much? 

One structured exercise that he found helpful was doing a deep dive into his values, which he completed as part of a group coaching program. “That gave me some language to describe some of the things that I’d been feeling,” he says. 

Ultimately, Juraj’s process of reflection led him to pursue an independent career once he started working again. Now, back in a full-time role, he feels confident that the time he took to rewire his relationship with work has put him on a more sustainable path. 

“I’m excited more than anything,” he says. 

At Pollen, we talk about building careers that reflect our own goals, values, and skills. Many of us have gotten to where we are in our careers because of a deep commitment to excellence in work and beyond. Usually that’s a superpower, but sometimes it can create an imbalance between work and life.

At the end of the day, when you’re independent, you’re the core asset to your business. Each decision you make has to be right for you — so to be in it for the long haul, you actually have to know what’s right for you. 

Pollen members can connect with Juraj on the Pollen Community. To join our community of top independent consultants, apply today.

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