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May the Fourth: How Star Wars Helped Me Feel More Comfortable Taking a Sabbatical

May the Fourth: How Star Wars Helped Me Feel More Comfortable Taking a Sabbatical

By Vignetta Charles, PhD | May 4, 2024
Chief Executive Officer, ETR

Happy May the Fourth!  Annually, I write reflections on what Star Wars has taught me about leadership and organizational development at ETR. I usually write in late April when my reflections are very current to the moment. This year, I’m writing this in March since I will be on sabbatical in April and May—which means I’m on sabbatical as you read this blog post.  

As a person for whom working is a core part of my identity, I struggled with the idea of a sabbatical. I try to center balance as I work hard, driven by purpose with a career that help others, but a “hustle culture” mentality can sometimes prevail.

So how did I disrupt my relationship to sabbatical? And how did Star Wars help?  

As champions of science, we lean into research to help find solutions at ETR. A study of five sabbatical programs over five years showed that sabbaticals not only provide needed respite to nonprofit leaders, but also increase organizational capacity, aid succession planning, and strengthen governance.  

Countless nonprofit leader retrospective reflections after sabbatical have also reinforced that the time allowed for reorganized power, evaluation of processes, and exploration of changes drive equity-driven decisions and processes.  

A more recent 20-year retrospective study of the Durfee Foundation’s sabbatical program further documents how sabbaticals can create systems change at organizations. Thus, one might conclude that sabbaticals are as good for the organization’s health as any individual leader. We are also considering how to institute sabbaticals more broadly at ETR as a potential additional benefit to employee wellness and organizational health.  

Researching the impact on organizations and leaders helped, but what about Star Wars? 

Even Jedi Grand Master Yoda (a Star Wars legend and icon) took a sabbatical from the Jedi Council in Star Wars: High Republic Adventures graphic novel series. Yoda took the time to support younger generations of Jedi, which also allowed the Council to implement new practices in his absence. But he never stopped supporting the Jedi, even while on sabbatical. His support just looked different. This resonates since I am a forever stan of ETR, whether on sabbatical or not. 
As I process the impact of sabbaticals on organizational health, I also look to my own words about the lessons of Star Wars to embrace the power of getting some distance.  

I’m incredibly grateful to the ETR Board for the wisdom behind this opportunity—to reset and rejuvenate, and to create opportunities to strengthen other leaders, governance, and processes within ETR.  

As always, I am grateful to Star Wars for providing me with fan-driven guidance on our leadership and organizational journey.  

Vignetta Charles (she/her) is the Chief Executive Officer at ETR. Whether it be using the force (of change)embracing uncommon allies, celebrating the power of youth, finding strength in the struggle of physical distancing, reflecting on the evolution of our understanding of diversity and inclusion, or learning from mistakes to make positive progress forward, Vignetta believes there’s always something to learn from Star Wars.

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