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Sabbaticals and the rule of 7

Marlon Rodrigues
Marlon Rodrigues
2 min read
"I did my best" painting - San Jose, Costa Rica
San Jose, Costa Rica 

I'm not a professor and taking extended time off from working life seemed like an absurdity at-first. Now, a few months into it, I’m convinced that all of us need to introduce sabbaticals into our lives.

At this point, most people feel like they need a break from work after more than a year of contending with a pandemic. And of course we know that rest is necessary to get the best from our minds and bodies but how much is that exactly?

Human wisdom has a lesson to teach us.

The word sabbatical shares the same root as Sabbath - the practice of taking the 7th day off from work each week. The practice of taking a sabbatical comes from ancient farming law that mandates letting farms go fallow every 7th year to improve crop yield.

Taking an extended break to survey life was not part of my experience growing up.  

I was raised in an immigrant family that prizes a commitment to education, then work, then family life year after year until (hopefully) retirement and (certainly) death.

Yet, of all the leaps I've taken in my life, this one was quickly rewarded if only for the sense of regaining my agency.

In my time spent so far, I’ve experienced the space to heal my brain from a year spent in fear and to relearn the social skills degraded from being in semi-isolation. The new space to think has allowed me to renew my relationship with my Self and to take a broader perspective on potential paths for my remaining life.

Farm sabbaticals are valuable because they allow weathering - when hard minerals break down into smaller parts so they are consumable by plants.

There’s a similar mental process that happens when you let your mind “wander”.

In letting the big ideas sit, degrade and recombine with the full capability of your disengaged but active mind, new ideas are birthed or old ideas recycled.

That process is accelerated by being around other thoughtful people.

A couple of stops ago, I met a young German engineer who marveled at the North American standard of 2 paid weeks of vacation per year. As a junior member of his team, he could opt into 6 weeks of paid vacation with a 7th at reduced pay and more upon request.

And Germany isn't even the most generous when it comes to paid leave!

The top quintile of countries offer about 7 weeks of paid vacation each year.

That's about 1-in-7 working weeks of the year.

Our economy is highly leveraged with technology and platforms that rewards insights so the people that take time to collect things and connect them will be richly rewarded.

The time they spend on both may look like "unproductive" wandering, but the inimitability of those experiences is what will make them valuable.

All said, it seems like a reference rest pattern emerges:

1-in-7 days, 1-in-7 weeks, 1-in-7 years.

And that includes sabbaticals.

My hope is that we (including me) will be more deliberate in designing our lives for the time our body and minds need to thrive over a lifetime.