Last December, Pam Hunter, the mastermind behind Studio 707, THE Public Relations firm in Napa Valley, closed its doors to take a sabbatical. On her website’s last post, she told the story of meeting two artists over the years whose practice of taking long sabbaticals from their work had impressed her deeply. Spain’s Fernan Adria, considered one of the world’s greatest chefs, shutters his restaurant El Bulli for five months each year, and told Pam how the experimental months of his sabbatical revitalizes his creative alchemy in the restaurant. Brilliant Austian-born designer Stefan Sagmeister, closes his design studio for at least a year every seven years, so that he and his staff can explore projects the don’t have the time to do when they are working. Pam had almost worked with him on a project but he was about to go on sabbatical, to which he is committed.

“Possessed as I was by the approach of both Adria and Sagmeister, I couldn’t bring myself to take the leap off the treadmill. That is, until late one afternoon in June 2009 when I received the telephone call that reframed everything instantly.  ‘You have cancer,’ said the voice on the other end of the line.  By February I hope to be in remission and ready to begin my first sabbatical.”

Pam included a link to a Sagemeister’s riveting TED talk about why he insists on the year-long break for himself and his staff, and how it works…what it is really like, the kind of discipline needed. Pam’s post got us thinking about the things that stop us from doing something we want to do, or stop us from STOPPING what we are doing to take the time to look around and explore the world and ourselves.

There are often serious and complex constraints of money and obligation – children needing care, bills to pay. Sometimes, it’s a matter of buying ourselves time by NOT buying things we don’t really need, changing our lifestyle to free-up resources. And sometimes there is just plain fear. The question came to mind: “What would you do if you weren’t afraid?”

When Pam was visiting New York recently, she had with her a stack of books, including Twyla Tharp’s The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life, and was mulling what her sabbatical might be. We know Pam to be a force, attuned to what is going on in the world and able to connect many kinds of ideas in unique ways. We look forward to hearing where her sabbatical takes her.

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3 replies on “the power of time off (stefan sagmeister)

  1. This sounds wonderful and I get transferring it to a smaller scale, but I’m also impressed by this being a very “luxurious” problem. In that sense, it depresses me profoundly. I imagine if one were very zen-like or had more of the temperament of a true Buddha, one could look at MOMENTS as sabbaticals, but barring that, most of us can’t take a week, much less a YEAR to re-charge, etc. We’re too busy, perhaps, surviving in addition to living.

  2. Thank you so much for writing. I’ve been thinking a lot about this whole thing – the realities involved – as I think of a single-mom friend who has a special needs child, and who is desperate to do some of her creative work but whose every moment is taken up by having to take care of something or help her child navigate. You said it well: “surviving in addition to living”. These are very big, hard realities, and questions. I will mull this Elizabeth and see how we might do a post about this. I appreciate your words and candor. Sally

  3. This is intriguing. I think this is what I am after any time i go on vacation – but it is not long enough. That is what people always say, but one week or possibly two, is not long enough to pull back, let go, re-absorb, play, explore, and more in order to get recharged and go new directions. I know a guy who takes January off and retreats to a cabin in the woods. He always comes back with great insight on his life, his calling, and the world at the end of his time. I don’t know how I can get a block of time, but one begins to ponder…

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