Four Lessons I Learned While on Sabbatical

February 4, 2023

It’s been almost a year since I took a solo trip to Mexico during my 3 month sabbatical to change up my physical space, shake things up, and give myself the time and space I needed to find myself again and heal after the tumultuous time and trauma of the pandemic. I took the time off in January 2022 and came back to the work 3 months later in April 2022 (mainly because I couldn’t afford not to), but I did so in an intentional way that implemented new boundaries, more aligned values, and an abundance mentality way of thinking.

Right after I came off of sabbatical, I remember a lot of people asking me “What are some of your biggest learnings from your sabbatical?” To tell the truth, I wasn’t ready to share any learnings. I was still processing everything I had experienced, I was in the midst of additional continuous trauma still happening, and I was still healing and finding confidence in myself again. It took me all of 2022 to really find peace with myself, and to come back to myself again. One year later I still stand by my main intention: to work on being better for myself, so that I can be of better service to others. 

Now in 2023, with my new full time team ready to support Make it Mariko, plus a strong support system of POCs who have my back (my therapist, my business coach, amazing WOC mentors looking out for me, and my good friends and partners) I’m finally ready to share some of my learnings.

Here are four. These lessons are not exhaustive.


Lesson #1: You don’t need to share your lessons learned right away.

When I was growing up, my generation communicated through actual phones, AOL chat, Friendster, Xanga, and Myspace. We also passively aggressively communicated via voicemail with musical backgrounds and AIM away messages. We’re used to sharing things immediately and openly. But social media these days is on another level. 

People are so quick to share everything, with everyone. Especially when we learn a lesson, or go through something challenging, we want to share it right away. Don’t get me wrong — sharing is a GOOD thing. Open, honest, and unshameful communication is a beautiful thing. It’s good that we share our stories more. It’s good that we’re not ashamed. But you shouldn’t feel the pressure or the obligation to share just because you learned something. Your learnings are your own and it’s your choice IF you want to share them, WHEN you want to share them, and with WHOM you want to share.

Sometimes you need time to fully process what you want to share before you share it. It took me a year to write this sabbatical blog. And that’s OK. You know why? Because I was busy living my life, resting, working, healing, and reimagining & recreating my business from scratch. So, do YOU. Live your life. Share your lessons when/if you want.

Lesson #2: You are NOT your brand. 

As entrepreneurs and creatives creating brands that are from our heart and are truly authentic to us, we are so closely connected to our brands. We create these brands rooted in our core beliefs, based on our core values in life, and from our personal experiences. It’s hard to NOT take things personally, because the work IS extremely personal. Our brands are created from our heart, and that’s OK, and even good. But we have to set boundaries and clear distinctions between our brands and ourselves. 

Your brand or business is a persona; an extension of you. It reflects your beliefs and your core values, but it is not YOU. Your brand is a means to create a lifestyle and a business that fulfills your purpose, that contributes to the world, creates meaningful jobs, and hopefully makes you money so you can LIVE your life, and also hopefully inspire people along the way. But your brand is not your life. And you are so much more than what you post on social media.

We are human beings. We are mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, daughters, sons, friends. We are people. We really need to remember our humanity. If you never post on social media ever again in your entire life, you will still be a worthy, worthwhile amazing human being with the potential to live an amazing life.

One of the best pieces of support I received during my darkest days was a text from a dear friend named Cheryl, a former teacher in SFUSD who has nothing to do with the events industry. She texted me after I announced I was going on sabbatical:

“Gina you’re such a beautiful person. If you never plan a single event for the rest of your life you will still be a kind, funny, amazing human being.”

I cried when I read that text. The message meant so much to me because it helped me take that first step to disconnect myself and what I do, from who I am as a person, as a sister, as an Auntie, as a daughter. We all need to disconnect and create those boundaries. Remember your humanity.

Lesson #3: Build out of abundance, not scarcity.

So much of what we did in the pandemic was based on scarcity, loneliness, isolation, and trying to find what joy and happiness in any way we could. At the peak of my burnout, I realized that so much of what I was doing was because I was building out of survival mode and out of scarcity. Everything during the pandemic was so uncertain and constantly changing. There was no guarantee of what was going to happen next. Would there be another shutdown? Would events be allowed again? Would there be any clients who would want to hire us? Was my business gonna make it? So many constant questions like this swirling for over two years. 

Somehow I was able to build something dope out of that trauma – because I’m resilient AF, I love a good challenge, and my event partners are creative & innovative AF (you already know @rjkoolraul.). I partnered with those I trusted the most, and we pivoted out of that trauma into virtual events. Thankfully as a former woman in tech, I knew how to pivot successfully and we got really good at it. At one point Make it Mariko was #1 on Google SEO if you searched for ‘virtual event planner San Francisco.’ But just because you’re good at something doesn’t mean that you like it, and it doesn’t mean that it aligns with your values. It was a means to survive and keep the business alive.

Building to survive is OK for a short period of time, but it’s not sustainable. When you’re building out of scarcity, you’re also not able to look out for the well-being, longevity, and sustainability of the team and yourself because of the mere fact that you have no idea what’s gonna happen next. It feels like you’re driving a car, but with the brake pedal on. You keep trying to press the gas to go, while riding the brake at the same time. It’s not a good way to drive, and it’s not a good way to live or run a business. 

I’m learning to be proud that I’m resilient, that I can thrive in chaos, and that I can pivot quickly and adapt to change. I’m also recognizing that that’s only good in short term sprints. Today, I’m proud to say that I’m more rested, feeling more whole, and feeling grounded and strong. I am now headstrong enough to choose to build my business out of abundance mentality. I’m working to create a business model designed for sustainability, growth, and rest so that our whole company, including myself, can be well and whole while doing the work. It’s all experimental still, but I feel good about this experiment. 

Lesson #4: Love Yourself.

Give yourself grace. Forgive yourself. Love yourself. These are huge lessons that I also learned. As a self-proclaimed #RecoveringPerfectionist and #ChronicOverachiever, I’m learning these lessons and how to accept myself deeply at my core. Imperfections and all. During the pandemic, I did my best in a situation that none of us were prepared for. I had many successes. I made many mistakes. I can also be really stubborn. I’m learning to forgive myself for my mistakes and for what I didn’t know. We were all in that Covid-19 dumpster fire together and trying to do our best to climb our way out, while bringing our people along with us.

Perfectionism has run deep for me since youth. As a born and raised Catholic, I’ve learned so much about shame. I’ve learned about being a “good girl” versus a “bad girl.” I’ve learned to internalize the pain and shame that is supposed to happen when I make mistakes that make me “bad” by doing my “penance” to atone and be “good.” I’m working on shedding this harmful way of thinking. Our mistakes do NOT define our worthiness or our goodness. We are always good people at our core. Our mistakes don’t define us. So it’s OK to forgive yourself for the mistakes you made, and move forward. Every day is a new day to be a new you. To grow and be better. 


This blog is for anyone who has fallen hard, deeply, and with a lot of shame. I hope it reminds you that you can always stand back up. That no matter how hard you fall, and no matter what others think of you on your journey, that your journey is beautiful and worthwhile. That you can make beautiful mistakes, and grow uncomfortably through your pain into spaces of pure joy. And that there will always be people who have your back and see the real you at your core.

I pray that you come back to yourself, always.


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