When I tell people about what I’ve been up to in my 30 days of me time, I get things like, “Wow, aren’t you lucky.” If this all happened by chance, my luck is remarkably predictable as this is my third career break in ten years. I went to Paris in 2005, to Argentina in 2010 and, now, the faraway and most exotic Wesport, Massachusetts. (Apparently my luck arrives on a renewable five year plan.)
Am I lucky? To step outside of your world where the only consequence is positive is lucky, I suppose. It’s easy to judge as some selfish luxury, but really, there’s a lot of practicality to sabbaticals. And to some folks, breaks are the things that move them forward.
Stefan Sagmeister, a world renowned designer, gives a great TED talk on the Power of Time Off. It’s about how he rejuvenates by taking year-long sabbaticals every seven years. His rationale? Here’s an excerpt from his talk:
Right now we spend about 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. And I thought it might be helpful to basically cut off five of those retirement years and intersperse them in between those working years. (Applause) That’s clearly enjoyable for myself. But probably even more important is that the work that comes out of these years flows back into the company and into society at large, rather than just benefiting a grandchild or two.
Sagmeister goes on to talk about how time off re-ignites his work. He owns a wildly successful New York design firm with clients like the Rolling Stones, HBO and the Guggenheim. So it’s easy to see how someone with his clout can shut down for a year and pick right back up again. What about the rest of us?
I‘m no international artist but I acknowledge I’m in a unique situation. I’m single, have no kids, mortgage or debt. And I can earn a decent income with a laptop and my Internet connection (even without taking my clothes off.) So how does someone like me make it happen?
Here are some thoughts, for starters:
1. I believe that work (on some level) is easy to come by but that passion is not. So I always choose to hot pursue the latter. So far, knock on a Giant Sequoia, it has.
2. I spend my money on experiences not designer labels. I rarely shop for “things” anyway, unless it satisfies my stomach, feeds my love of the outdoors or cheers up someone I love. That leaves a lot of pocket change for life change.
3. I know it’s trite and overstated but “You only live once” is a great phrase to repeat to yourself when making a decision. If it’s not going to kill you, get you arrested or close the door to something even more fabulous–go for it. The rest is logistics.
4. I have a past-life as a producer so I manage logistics fairly well in short time and under pressure. I think the only way to not get overwhelmed is to put the wheel in motion and roll. Go make phone calls, send emails and scour the web to find the thing you need. Be dogged, be firm. (And if that doesn’t work, be flexible and footloose.) Your plan will come together as you want it or it won’t, and you’ll revise accordingly.
5. I put my ego and pride aside. Who cares about sacrificing a more prestigious, lucrative or hard-to-come-by choice. Separate what’s social versus personal expectation. If it’s not what you value or want, what does it matter?
6. I make friends with my fear. I know it’s there to caution me, so I nod to it then chin up. Unless my gut gets involved. Obey your innards–they’ve got you covered.
7. I know that my life is about the people in it, but the ones that matter stay in it regardless of my time out. My inspired self is a much better person to hang out with anyway.
8. I get excited about the what ifs. When you can’t picture what might happen if you take a risk, then picture what happens if you don’t. I knew what it looked like to stay where I was, to keep the job I had, the routine I was in. And it was fine. But on the spectrum of fine to fantastic, I’d rather move the needle to the right. Failing is possible but regretting not trying? Certain.
Life is hard. There are obstacles. Not everyone can just up and do what they want. I hear all the nay saying often. I’m not saying I’m living the dream. I could be doing an infinite number of things that could trump what I’m doing now. It’s not about ending up anywhere bigger, better, happier or what have you. It is about coloring your life in every shade of you. Life’s not about finding the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, its catching the rainbow at all.