Spontaneity Beyond Sabbaticals

Dec. 21, 2004
Taking time to smell the coffee and the roses.

A couple of weeks ago I came across an article on sabbaticals, specifically on the number of managers and executives in American companies who are taking three months, or six months, or more away from their jobs. These are people in high pressure jobs, people for whom a 60- or 70-hour week would be a low-pressure break from the existing pace of their business lives. They are always on, seemingly dealing with a variety of business challenges during every one of their waking hours and finding that business subconsciously consumes a lot of their (relatively few) sleeping hours as well. For these men and women a sabbatical was a welcome time to pursue something completely different, to travel for pleasure, to read or write, to pursue an avocational interest such as marine biology. Having immensely enjoyed a sabbatical some 13 years ago, I can attest to its refreshing qualities. It takes an initial week or two, but you do find that you can step out of your job, you can release pressures that have built to an intensity that you can't otherwise appreciate. You find that there is, in fact, time to smell the coffee or the roses -- and to pursue interests that are not strictly job related. However, I wonder that if even the notion of sabbaticals formalizes something that should be more spontaneous. The article I was reading listed a dozen or so companies and their sabbatical policies, the number of years an executive had to put in before he or she was eligible for a refreshing course of action, the number of weeks or months the person could take. Please don't get me wrong. I applaud companies that have such policies, and I continue to appreciate in both job-related and non-job-related ways the opportunity my company gave me just over a decade ago. What I am getting at -- and what I am urging us to reexamine -- is the tendency we have to schedule things, almost everything. Even this essay suggests that: Taking the time to smell the coffee and the roses. Wouldn't it be better if we -- more spontaneously -- smelled the coffee or the roses? Or spent time with a spouse, or partner, or parent, or friend? Or went sailing, or took a hike, or just let our thoughts free associate? That we focused less on trying to schedule it than just doing it? It's difficult to do. It's terribly hard for anyone who is competitive, ambitious, used to structure, and whose working achievements are measured regularly against specific and demanding goals. How many times have you heard someone say, "I don't have time for that"? What I'm trying to suggest is that we do have time for that, that almost every day there is time to make that telephone call to someone just to say hello. To laugh over some particularly well-worded piece of satire. To take a walk around the block. To reflect on the emotions brought forth again upon re-hearing a piece of music. To simply tell someone else how much he or she means to us. I'm not going to try to give you a catalog of things of things to do -- or of things other people have done. That, too, would be to formalize something that, I believe, should be more spontaneous. You know yourself better than anyone else. You can sense better than anyone else what is meaningful to you. Only you can give expression to yourself. Whether that's smelling the coffee, or the roses, or something else is not important. What is important is whatever your role in business is, whatever your abilities and responsibilities are, whatever your ambitions and achievements are, you are foremost a human being. Give expression to your humanness. John S. McClenahen is an IW senior editor based in Washington, D.C.

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