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?



Does anyone else think that a 75-year working career seems to be a bit off? I started my career at 26 – if it has three 25-year periods I’ll be working until I’m 101.

Imran Ali

@JohnBardos, @Parag – sounds like a ‘working vacation’ is something that’d benefit a lotta people?

Parag Shah

I totally agree with this post. I recently took a 3 month sabbatical from my regular consulting work, to mentor at a software startup incubation program.

I had an absolutely wonderful experience. I was exposed to new ideas and technologies. It was like being in an environment full of ideas, where we shared, played, learned, and had a great time.

It also gave me the time to work on a personal web based learning project ( which I had been putting on the backburner for a long time.

The whole experience not only expanded my mind but also refreshed me in many other ways.

I think every person should take a sabbatical every couple of years (even if it’s a short one) and do something different from their day to day work.

It’s good for the mind and the soul.



Great Post!

I think there are two key points here. First, work is not as terrible as many people are making it out to be. People that are motivated to excel can make various types of work, their “calling.” I think it is the quality of the individual more than the nature of the work.

Secondly, we all need breaks. Even great work get stagnant. There is no single passion that will keep us happy for the rest of our days.

I love to work. In fact, there is little difference between my personal and business lives. I wouldn’t have it any other way. However, I need regular vacations to clear my brain and open me up do new ideas. Even on vacation, I start itching to start working on something. In fact, my best vacations are the ones where I can work.


I think its important to everyone’s lives to take “Sagmeisters” the life is for enjoying it not suffering it, if you are organized and not obsesive with making money you can have a better life take a break and continue as a web independant worker life has gave me more time to spend with the ones I care always keeping time for work and time for them, I think as times goes by I will be able eventually to say ok stop here and take break to recharge the soul however in these breaks I keep updating and studying about new trends of what I do and learn to be a better professional so when I come back I apply my new abilities and stay always on the top competitors on what I do

Comments are closed.