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The Work Sabbatical

A couple weeks ago we talked about Cesar Kuriyama and the TED Talk that ultimately inspired the invention of the One Second Every Day app. Did you watch the Stefan Sagmeister talk? He had this provocative idea:

Right now we spend about in the first 25 years of our lives learning, then there is another 40 years that’s really reserved for working. And then tacked on at the end of it are about 15 years for retirement. 

I thought it might be helpful to basically cut off five of those retirement years and intersperse them in between those working years.

A little bit of background on Stefan. He owns a design studio in NYC, which creates everything from album covers for The Rolling Stones to brand identity work for art museums. Every 7 years, he closes the studio for ONE WHOLE YEAR. He takes this time to discover and experiment with ideas that he’s not able to explore during his normal working life. He finds that stepping away, and immersing himself in other activities keeps his creative mind sharp. (Seriously, his Casa de Musica logo design, that came out of one such sabbatical, is unreal… Even if his obsession with the wild dogs is odd.)

But if you’re thinking you can sub in the word “play” or “vacation” for sabbatical, that’s not what Stefan is talking about. In fact, his sabbaticals are pretty structured, with parts of the day allocated to productive activities like future thinking or writing. The idea is to stay active and seek out inspiration. Which kind of makes it sound like work. A working sabbatical vs. a sabbatical from work.

I have a story that relates to this. We got a ski house in Maine when I was 12. The first year, we spent every school vacation up there –skiing, snowmobiling, clearing paths and building forts. It was the first time I remember my dad being around because, as a boat business owner, he usually worked 6 or 7 days a week, often well into the evening. I though he enjoyed getting away from the stress of the business, but soon enough, he became restless. We bought another parcel of land, adjacent to the ski house. He built a satellite office up there, which he used to manufacture a new line of fiberglass boats he was designing. Even during vacation, my dad couldn’t resist slipping away to the office for several hours. Like a working sabbatical.

This is why people like Stefan Sagmeister and my father are always busy. Turned-on people, full of ideas, simply can’t sit still. Their brains don’t take a rest.

Here’s a picture of my father at 6PM on a Sunday night in August. After a full day of work, he’s working a second project — a barn/greenhouse that evaporates saltwater from Wellfleet Bay into fancy salt to be used for cooking. (I like to think of it as his above-board version of Breaking Bad.)

I’ve been obsessed with the idea of a work sabbatical since seeing Stefan’s talk! I’ve been thinking: could I take off one month every year?

But his video leaves a lot of unanswered stuff for me, like, how do I finance this year? What earnings potential am I sacrificing by not working? How does my family fit into this sabbatical month? Etc. Etc. But I guess you can’t let these excuses creep in, you have to just go in full bore, hoping the investment will pay out in threefold.

I’m going to try. I want to try. But first, has anyone else done this? Would you deem it successful?

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