Founder and President of Measure Meme Styles reflects on her revolutionary act of rest.


By Meme Styles. Photo courtesy of Meme Styles

Picture this: a year filled with relentless challenges, from organizational transformation to the complex web of personal responsibilities. As a Black woman, I wear many hats, including serving as the founder and president of Measure, a research and data-activism organization based in Austin. I am also a Just Tech Fellow, a project of the Social Science Research Council.

Juggling my mission with the demand to lead in our community, the delicate reality of my oldest son struggling with mental illness and the fun and messiness of motherhood to a 3-year-old dynamo named Joy had left me emotionally stretched thin. To top it off, my youngest son was ready to spread his wings and venture off to college. So, when May 1, 2023, rolled around, I embarked on a sabbatical journey that would be nothing short of transformative for me and my organization.

Preparing for the Sabbatical: A Prelude to Freedom

My journey began with recognizing the need for renewal. We in leadership roles often do not give ourselves the grace to acknowledge the toll that our multiple roles and responsibilities take on us personally, physically and professionally. It was time to take a break.

I brought my Measure team to my home for a backyard picnic the Friday before my sabbatical began. As we enjoyed one another’s company, I set my expectations for myself and them as I prepared to take my leave. I knew I had to ensure everyone was on the same page and that my absence wouldn’t disrupt the organization’s operations.

During our time together, I explained that I would not lead Measure for the next two months. I would not answer emails. I would not “jump” on a Zoom or get 10 minutes “more of my day” should a meeting end early. For eight weeks, I was resolved to relax and reject productivity culture. Setting these boundaries was vital for truly disconnecting and recharging.

While the world around me was spinning in my personal life, the professional environment I cultivated as a nonprofit leader was secure enough for me to step away from Measure without causing instability in the organization, reflecting the trust and psychological safety cultivated within my team.

The Benefits of a Sabbatical: A Journey to Rebirth

My sabbatical was a profound rebirth, offering me a treasure trove of benefits that extended far beyond what I could have initially imagined. As I embarked on this time, I immersed myself in a world of self-discovery and rejuvenation, both personally and professionally. It allowed space for renewed vision. The distance allowed me to rediscover the spark that led to the creation of Measure in the first place. It was a journey back to my roots, rekindling the fire within me.

One of the most precious gifts of my sabbatical was the opportunity to reconnect with my family. The demands of my role as president of Measure often took me away from quality time with my loved ones. During those two months, I rekindled the bonds with my children and provided much-needed support to family members struggling with mental illness. This period of healing and closeness was invaluable.
Amid the whirlwind of daily responsibilities, I had lost touch with my own aspirations and passions. The sabbatical allowed me the time and space to rediscover my own identity. I explored new hobbies, delved into personal interests and reawakened my love for old movies, writing and random nap taking. This self-renewal process was like a breath of fresh air, invigorating my spirit.

Stepping away from the day-to-day operations of Measure provided me with a unique perspective. I saw the organization from a distance, gaining clarity on its strengths and areas for improvement. This newfound clarity of purpose helped me refine our strategic direction and identify innovative approaches to our mission.
Rejecting the productivity culture during my sabbatical also gave me a fresh perspective on work-life balance. I realized that actual productivity isn’t about working long hours but about working efficiently and purposefully. This insight has not only improved my personal well-being but has also influenced the way I lead my organization.

When July 1 rolled around, I thought I was ready to return, only to discover that I still needed more time. So, I showed myself grace and sought an extension, which my board graciously approved. Sometimes, we must remember that the path of renewal has its own timing.

My sabbatical saga was a story of rediscovery, reconnection and resilience. It’s a tale that encourages all leaders, especially those who fight oppression, to consider the power of a well-planned sabbatical. It’s not just a journey of self-investment; it’s a voyage that breathes life into your organization’s mission. As you embrace this journey, remember that showing yourself grace is an integral part of the narrative, a story that continues to unfold, chapter by chapter, revealing a stronger, more resilient you.

Before my grand escape into sabbatical bliss, I had to lay the groundwork for a successful retreat from my daily grind.

My first act was to entrust my incredible team of Black women leaders at Measure with expanded responsibilities.

This was not just a delegation of tasks but a transfer of trust, an act of belief in their capabilities. The vice president of Measure would step into an even deeper leadership role as she took on the “Interim CEO” role.

Secondly, I had to check in with my mind and heart.

Preparing for a sabbatical isn’t all about logistics. It’s about finding the mental and emotional fortitude to walk away. I embarked on a journey of self-discovery and support, engaging in therapy to heal myself and better support my loved ones more intentionally during my time away from work.

Lastly, I had to set boundaries.

Even before the sabbatical officially began, I had to learn the art of boundaries. No more late-night emails or work calls during family dinners. This time was strictly reserved for my personal life.



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