What I learned from a month-long sabbatical


Hi everyone. Remember me? When you last heard from me I reported that I was taking a sabbatical — a month off at the beach — to recover and re-energize. I thought I would report on this experiment. After all, how many people get to take a month off?

People often say that you don’t learn and grow unless you’re out of your comfort zone. For me, not working was definitely out of my comfort zone! Here’s what I learned from this experiment.

The limits of “off”

To keep my business running, I blocked out each Monday for calls and presentations. However, I did find some meetings beginning to creep into other days of the week. I had an internal struggle — was I being responsible, or was I simply not disciplined enough to disconnect? In the end, the extra meetings probably relieved stress more than they caused. And I also realized that I had …

A broader definition of fun

Almost all the work I do in my career is fun. So to the extent that I do not work, I miss out on that fun. In some ways, putting work aside — and missing it — validated that I am in the right place in my life.

I learned that in some way I was living up to an outdated narrative about work — that it is something to dread and avoid. But I’ve created a fun and rewarding career for myself so why would I avoid it? Getting away from work helped me know how much I appreciate the work I do.


Going into the sabbatical, I had a few goals — read a book a week, watch some watercolor painting lessons, paint more. I did not hit any of these goals. I found myself doing a lot of nothing. Watching the sea, walking in the sand, writing a little. I’m OK with that. These goals were definitely made to be broken.

I did read a few books:

The City We Became — an extremely creative science fiction novel. PS If you love New York City, you’ll love this book.

Man’s Search for Meaning — The Viktor Frankl classic. I read this book every few years. If you have not read it, please do so. Especially relevant in the pandemic era!

Hamnet — (almost finished!) An incredible historical novel based on Shakespeare’s family and their experience with a pandemic!

Taste and See — (still reading) Classic book by Christian philosopher John Piper.

Suttree — (did not get to it) My favorite book by my favorite living author Cormac McCarthy.

And here is one painting that I did while I was on the beach. These little Sandlinger birds were so dun to watch …


I was sitting on the beach during one of these “do nothing” times and watched a group of children who obviously were at the beach for the first time in their lives. They were literally jumping up and down with excitement as their feet first touched the warm Gulf Stream water.

They had to learn how the ocean worked. The irregular syncopation of the waves. The dynamics of wet sand. The startling feeling of saltwater in their nose. This was a lesson in itself … just watching this joyful, immersive exploration of something new. What a feeling that must be. Why don’t we have that more often as adults?

The importance of space

In my new book, I cite research that shows how you need to create a productive space and surround yourself with resources to build momentum.

For a sabbatical, I was looking for the opposite. I needed to be in a space that would take away momentum! After a few days of doing nothing, I said to my wife, “There is no way I could have done this at home.” I would have fidgeted and kept working because my office is my productive space. Getting away to a “non-productive space” was absolutely the key to success.

Freedom from others

I was half asleep in a beach chair and realized that I was so calm and rested because I felt no pressure to help anybody. That might seem weird, so let me explain.

I have this sense of urgency about my life. I want to use every talent I have to help people. So, I almost never say “no” to anything. I do interviews for high school projects. I work on behalf of friends who have lost their jobs. I try to help with every content request.

But during this time off, I said “no” and it relieved so much pressure. I had no idea how much stress it was being nice. Not sure what that means going forward … but I think I have to say “no” more at this time in my life.

The sabbatical: Would I do it again?

There was a specific reason I needed this break. In 2020, I was very sick for 11 out of 12 months (flu + COVID + COVID after effects). I went through business crashes and surges. We went through a lot of family drama. I wrote a new book that took everything out of me. I was physically, emotionally, and psychologically spent.

I’ve been wondering … should this type of sabbatical be part of my life every year, or was this a one-time response to an incredibly bad time?

I think there is a clue to this answer … After a month of being out of the loop, I was sad to re-enter the loop. I had adjusted to the slower beach lifestyle. I’m re-energized and excited to unleash some new ideas on the world, but I thought I would be bored by the end, and I wasn’t. I’ll miss the constant roar of the waves and the priority of nothing.

But I also missed you.

In my book The Content Code, I wrote that “we create content, but content also creates us.” By creating content, I connect to new people and new ideas, I make friends, I earn a living. Connecting to you through blogs, podcasts, speeches, and books is part of who I am and I can’t imagine leaving that behind.

Thanks for being here.

Keynote speaker Mark SchaeferMark Schaefer is the executive director of Schaefer Marketing Solutions. He is the author of several best-selling digital marketing books and is an acclaimed keynote speaker, college educator, and business consultant.  The Marketing Companion podcast is among the top business podcasts in the world. Contact Mark to have him speak to your company event or conference soon.

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