The Grind …
I stopped by my town’s Dairy Queen last night. It’s a traditional DQ. Ninety-nine percent of their sales are ice cream. No hamburgers or grill items. Just ice cream. When the DQ opens in late April, the town knows summer is just about to begin. And when it closes in early October, well, summer is over.
And so I was chatting with the owner as I worked my way through a large Blizzard treat with extra nut topping. We talked about how his summer had been. He told me that, as with the past 18 years of owning and operating the store, business had been amazing. You see, I live in a not-quite-but-almost rural town on the edge of northern Illinois farm country, and taking a walk down to the DQ for ice cream after dinner is as much summer de rigueur for the residents as rooting for the high school football team in the fall. Business in the summer is always good. The owner hires a couple kids to help with the counter and drive through window, but mostly during those months he and his wife are found at the store. The like their job and enjoy, to a huge extent, the long hours the put in. Still, when autumn comes and they close the store, well, that makes them happy too.
I imagined that’s probably how teachers feel. Or farmers. Or most seasonal workers. Find work you enjoy. Work your ass off when you can. Then sit back and enjoy the few months of downtime you have before starting all over again. For my DQ owner friend, the off season is a built-in sabbatical. He and his family travel. They cultivate and enjoy new experiences together. They recharge and they bond. For them, the off-season sabbatical is what “work to live” is all about.
Ceara Lynch is on travel, taking a sabbatical for a few weeks (or longer.) Visiting and bonding with friends too long unseen. Recharging. Cultivating and enjoying new experiences. Ceara has said often, that though she enjoys her work, it’s just a means not an end. The income from her work pays for her travels. And so she works her ass off when she ‘on the clock’ and she’s reaps the fruits of her labor by living life in huge chunks of exhilarating and reinvigorating travel.
And lest you think otherwise, when she’s working, Ceara Lynch’s work is a grind. Hours of behind the scenes work: pre-production set up, make up, wardrobe, props, post-production, distribution, etc. But it’s not just the time involved. Producing a new video each day also takes a mental toll. Imagination flags, fresh ideas become harder to develop, creativity diminishes, and energy drops. There’s a relentless stress that builds with time and potentially affects not only the quality of her work, but her mental and physical health as well. And Ceara is not alone in her industry feeling the need for a sabbatical. Earlier this week, Ellie Idol and Princess Lyne had a short for insightful twitter exchange in which they talked of the stress associated with the job (and, in particular, producing custom videos) as well as the rejuvenating qualities of taking some time off from producing them.
A Sabbatical is …
In theory, a sabbatical is a self-actualizing and regenerative journey of adventure and reflection that gives a respite from work for a month or longer. Sabbaticals are a different beast than a holiday or vacation time. Reasons for taking a sabbatical vary with the individual; some may wish to find their purpose, others may take a sabbatical for health and rejuvenation reasons. For my friend, the Dairy Queen owner, his annual sabbatical was all about family time. For others, it may be to travel and experience the world. In the United States, they’re quite rare, with only 27 percent of companies offering sabbaticals, and only 6 percent being paid by the employer.
In general, there are three types of sabbaticals: lateral, generative, and recuperative. The lateral sabbatical follows a rich tradition of learning and exploration. It includes activities such as teaching, volunteering abroad, or working in an industry related to yours in order to gain new skills in a given area of expertise. These sabbaticals are usually financially supported by academic institutions or businesses (for longtime employees). A generative sabbatical—that fabled and rare year off—is the most idealized. It is forward-looking and optimistic. Upon your return to work, you hope to harness the new ideas and energy it creates. A recuperative sabbatical is the most needed and the most practical. It is often unplanned and occurs only after the “sabbatee” reaches a breaking point, brought on by a chaotic workplace atmosphere of on-demand innovation, parallel work streams‚ and always-on digital lifestyles. The pressure to constantly over-deliver under budget causes a person to lose their ability to control and channel their energy in positive ways. They’re burned out on work they once loved because they’ve run out of room for randomness, spontaneity, and serendipity—all of which are crucial to creativity and innovation. Often the only mode of repair is to take some time off.
Living Your Life …
Whatever the reason for taking a sabbatical, once you get away from the grind and back in touch with your own voice, you realize that you still like yourself and your job, and that what you needed was just a small note of self-appreciation. During your time off, you are able to press your boundaries, reconnect with your inner narrative, and recapture you rhythm of creativity. It’s a time when you can actually feel present in your own lives rather than mindlessly plowing through the day like robots. It’s a chance to take back your life.
Ceara Lynch likes to travel during her sabbaticals. Taking a sabbatical to travel opens up opportunities to do things that she might otherwise have never done. When she gets out on an adventure, she become the person she was meant to be. She begins to experience life rather than just live it.
And I’m all for Ceara Lynch doing that.
Sometimes we need a good reboot. We need time to de-stress, to get re-energized, to find inspiration, to get motivated. Whatever the reason, no one should feel guilty about taking a sabbatical. This is your life. You only get one shot at it. There are no do-overs. And at the end of life nobody ever says “I wish I had worked more.”