GEO Sabbatical: Two Months of Open Space

  • By Kyle Rinne-Meyers, March 12, 2021

“What would you do if you had 2 months to do whatever you wanted?”

I asked friends and colleagues this question often over the past year as an icebreaker – a way to get to know people I interact with on a whole other level. In effect, it’s another way of asking “who are you outside of work?”. Although this question sparked some good conversation, I’ll admit my motives were primarily self-serving: I had the good fortune and enormous privilege to take 6 weeks away this fall as part of GEO’s sabbatical policy.

GEO’s sabbatical policy was approved by our board in 2015 to promote employee wellbeing and retention. After 5 years of service, every employee is eligible for a 6-week paid sabbatical; 10 years earns 10 weeks. The primary purpose is restorative, meaning that there are no work requirements or expectations for staff while on sabbatical. As long as I stayed away from work, I was doing exactly what I was meant to do.

Who am I, outside of work?

Although there were pandemic-imposed constraints on my sabbatical experience (that trip to Costa Rica will have to wait), I was excited to spend a good chunk of time away from work and to have the space to learn about myself intentionally. As someone who has consistently worked since graduating high school, this was a unique experience for me to step back and take stock of who I am when I’m not working. Like millions of other people, 2020 had taken its toll on my mental health, so I was excited to have open space to fill my soul with the things that matter most to me.

I started my break by exploring some national parks in the area surrounding my new home in Denver. I hiked and camped my way through six national parks across Colorado, Utah, New Mexico and Wyoming. I spent hours on my bicycle, culminating in a 10-day bike packing tour from Denver to Santa Fe. I planned and rode a socially distant 100-mile bicycle ride around Denver with some friends, moving closer to my goal of completing a century ride in all 50-states.

I was also able to feed my intellectual curiosity in new ways, tackling the stack of books and magazines on history, racial justice and conservation that had been collecting dust on my bookshelf. I deepened my self-care regimen by continuing my daily yoga routine and re-visiting my meditation practice. I tended to my love of music by teaching myself how to play the banjo and finally watching all 16-hours of Ken Burns’ Country Music documentary. And I was able to celebrate my first wedding anniversary with my spouse. From all of this, I learned how important it is for me to make time for myself and that I can better support those around me when my cup is full.

What does work mean to me?

The experience away from the day-to-day demands and expectations of work also allowed me to take greater stock of what work, and especially my role at GEO, means to me. A lot of incredibly painful events occurred between September and October (the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, virtual acquittal of Breonna Taylor’s killers, presidential debates, continuation of the pandemic and more), and without my daily to-do list or self-imposed distractions of work, I was able to more fully internalize how these events affect me. I noticed how I was losing sleep over the Trump administration’s announcement that critical race theory was “un-American.” This helped me understand how anti-racism work has become core to my identity as a person and a professional, something I wouldn’t have said before I joined GEO and intentionally started my journey to become more race conscious.

I also found myself longing for my community of peers at GEO, that I rely on to share my concerns, vent my frustrations and think about new possibilities for the world we want to help create. Instead of viewing my peers as merely co-workers, I’ve come to appreciate them as inspiring thought partners and co-conspirators as we work together to create a philanthropic sector and world that is more just, connected and inclusive.

What I’m carrying with me

As I re-enter the workspace and get reacquainted with my email and Zoom routine, I’m feeling an overwhelming sense of gratitude:

  • For my health and body, which allows me to explore and immerse myself in the natural beauty of our world
  • For my family, who has helped me become the person I am today and continues to show me love and support
  • For GEO’s leadership and board, who maintains the sabbatical policy as a way to invest in the whole person, not just the employee
  • For my GEO colleagues, who stepped up to fill in my responsibilities while I was out so I could fully unplug

I also recognize the enormous privilege that I hold in having such an experience in 2020, when tens of millions of Americans are out of work or facing economic uncertainty.

Finally, I’m coming back to work with a new sense of focus and inspiration to dig into the work. I’ve never been one to look at my job as “just a paycheck”, and this experience helped me understand that organizational strategy and learning work, in service of advancing racial equity, is something that I care deeply about. I’m approaching work with a greater understanding of the importance of tending to the whole person – both for myself and colleagues. Sometimes the best thing we can do as change leaders is to take a step back, reflect and re-gather, so we can show up with greater clarity and strength.

I join the chorus of organizations encouraging grantmakers to use your resources to create similar opportunities for those around you – both your staff and nonprofit partners. We can only enact meaningful change if we’re caring for ourselves and each other. As Vu Le has written, “our sector needs to take care of its people”. I’m excited to get back to it.

Kyle Rinne-Meyers

Strategy & Learning Associate Director

Contact Kyle about GEO’s internal learning activities, knowledge management efforts, and research and development projects.

Kyle Rinne is the strategy and learning associate director for Grantmakers for Effective Organizations. He works with the chief operating officer and other staff to lead internal evaluations surrounding GEO’s conferences and other programming. He manages the developmental evaluation for GEO’s emerging projects, including the Leading Change in Philanthropy initiative. He serves as the project manager for major research projects, including the field study and member survey, and manages activities around GEO’s efforts to incorporate nonprofit voice into programming.

Prior to joining the team at GEO, Kyle worked as Child Hunger Corps Member at Feeding America, where he helped coordinate after-school and summer meals programs for Second Harvest Food Bank of Greater New Orleans and Acadiana. He also coordinated leadership development programs in Prague and Rome for students from around the world with Leadership exCHANGE, and served as an intern with a microfinance cooperative in rural Uganda with the Foundation for Sustainable Development.

Kyle holds a Master’s of Public Affairs from the School of Public and Environmental Affairs at Indiana University, a Bachelor of Science in Business Marketing from the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University, and earned a Certified Nonprofit Professional from the Nonprofit Leadership Alliance.