The Future Of Work: "Taking a Sagmeister"

Along with Daniel Pink, one of the most intriguing speakers I saw at last month’s TEDGlobal 2009 was notorious graphic designer Stefan Sagmeister. British Prime Minister, Gordon Brown’s opening session was a tough act to follow, but Sagmeister made an impression with some striking observations on career sabbaticals.

Sagmeister illustrated a traditional career as a timeline comprising three distinct “eras:” learning, work and retirement, with each “era” roughly taking up a third of one’s lifetime; around twenty-five years each.

While a confident minority of people might take a traditional career sabbatical, Sagmeister keeps his perspective and his work fresh by taking periodic sabbaticals throughout his career to date. In essence, Sagmeister closes his studio every eighth year, interspersing some of his retirement years into his active working career. This new career timeline looked more like learning, work, retirement, work, retirementand so on.

Returning from a sabbatical in Indonesia back in 2007, Sagmeister realized his work had a new clarity, vision and purpose and that his “job became a calling again.” Sagmeister felt his post-sabbatical work was stronger and edgier; his year out provided the insight, innovation and income for the following seven years. So what is his formula?

  1. Talk to people who’ve taken sabbaticals about how and why they did it, and what they learned.
  2. Add five years to your planned working life.
  3. Intersperse those extra years into your career, taking a year off every seventh year.

Humorously, Daniel Pink himself decided to re-imagine “going on sabbatical” as “taking a Sagmeister”!

As the world of work evolves into distributed portfolio careers and job markets become more flexibleand turbulent — it’s worth reconsidering the structure of your career. We have weekends and workweeks to partition our time and recharge ourselves, yet in the arc of a lifetime, we locate our intellectual renewal at its close. Perhaps it’s worth reconsidering and questioning this orthodoxy and begin to “take Sagmeisters,” breaking up our working lives with periodic sabbaticals and rebooting our passions. Sagmeister’s solution may not work well for everyone, but there’s an opportunity to experiment and mold the structure of our working lives to suit ourselves.

How would you incorporate sabbaticals into your working life?

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