Taking a Sagmeister

Here’s another TED video I’d like you to take a look at.  In it, we get to hear the consequences of allowing your life to become monotonous, and one very unique way to deal with that issue.

Stefan Sagmeister owns a design studio in New York that’s garnered a lot of commercial and critical praise and success, and he has a rather unorthodox approach to work/life balance that he credits with keeping his work fresh and unique.

First, Stefan discusses the fact that our employment falls into one of three categories:

1.  Job:  Trading time for money.  It’s a 9-5 (or, more likely, 7:30-6:30) commitment, but without much (if any) positive emotional investment on our part.  A person in this scenario needs a hobby on the weekend to balance things out, because what they’re doing isn’t really what they’d like to be doing.

The challenge comes when you’re so exhausted from your job that you have no emotional energy to do anything when you get home.  You collapse on the couch and channel surf until you go to bed so you can wake up and do it tomorrow.

2.  Career:  It’s still a job, but you’re doing it for advancement and promotion.  You see where you’re at currently as a stepping-stone to something better.  It’s a means to an end, whether that end is a better position within the same field, or gaining experience to be able to go out on your own.

This is a little bit better, but only if you can constantly remind yourself of your long-range goals and how your current position is going to help you do what you want to do.  Speaking from personal experience, this is pretty tough to do all the time, so you may end up a little frustrated in this area, as well.

3.  Calling:  This is the proverbial “I love it so much, I’d do it for free” position.  Those folks who have these types of positions are constantly envied by the rest of us because they seem so lucky.  They arrive home excited about what they were able to accomplish during the day, and they can’t wait to get back out the door tomorrow to do the same thing.

The interesting comment that Stefan makes is that, with enough time, even the most powerful “calling” will turn into merely a “job”.  He would get bored and repetitive in what he was doing, even though he loved being a designer.

His solution was to begin to take sabbaticals every 7 years.  He would close his design studio in New York for an entire year and go do something different.  No clients, no sneaking in a project here and there.  He quit doing what he was doing and focused entirely on something else.

Did it work?  According to Stefan, the answers is a resounding “Yes!”

1.  His job became a calling again. The old saying “absence makes the heart grow fonder” certainly seems to be the truth in this case.  Because he spent the entire year away from doing the kind of design the was accustomed to, he began to miss it.  His creativity was sparked again.

2.  He had fun. Who wouldn’t have fun taking an entire year off to spend in Bali?  I think this one speaks for itself.  There’s nothing wrong with enjoying yourself.

3.  Over the long term, the idea was a financial success. Because of being refreshed, he found that his ideas and design concepts were being received even more positively than before.  He was able to raise his rates as a result.

4.  Everything his studio designed during the following 7 years had roots in something that occurred or was experienced during that sabbatical year. This demonstrates what, in my mind, is the key take-away.  This “creative pause” in his life produced such a well-spring of refreshing thoughts and unique experiences that he was able to sustain it for 7 years after (coincidentally enough, right up to the time he was supposed to take his next break).

Sure, it’s fine for the self-employed to do something like this, but what about those of us who work in big, soulless corporations?  Well, companies like 3M and Google have long embraced the idea that employees work better when they have the option to work on projects they enjoy.  Employees at 3M invented Scotch Tape and Post-It notes on the 15% of their time that’s to be allocated to personal projects.  Gmail came out of some Google employees’ 1 personal day a week.

Plenty of other companies allow their employees to take sabbaticals (I’ve got a friend at Intel that just took three months off to travel around Europe).  Whether those are paid or not are another story, of course.  My point is, it’s not unheard of to find a position with a company that understands that it’s in their best interest to allow their talent to do something that they enjoy.

What kinds of benefits could you see accruing to you if you took some time away from your work?  How would you spend that time?  Have you ever had the opportunity to do something like this?  How did it go?  Let us know in the comments…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *