Learning the art of the break

Photo by Fabien Bazanegue on Unsplash

We learn from each other all the time. From our children, our parents, colleagues, clients and friends. Even Donald Trump has taught us a thing or two – the perils of fake tan and trying to tame hair in later life. He has also reminded us to trust our instincts. 

When The Donald was in The White House there never was a grand plan as some commentators had us hope. There was no higher dimension, no 3-D chess. Trump was clear about his approach to life thirty-four years ago, since he wrote this in his book, The Art of the Deal:  “Most people are surprised by the way I work. I play it very loose… I prefer to come to work each day and just see what develops.”

There’s advice all around us if we choose to listen. We need to be open to guidance whenever or wherever it shows up. David is one of my coaching clients and he’s teaching me about The Art of the Break. I’m not sure he will like being stuffed in a drawer with Trump. However, David and Donald do have one thing in common, a love of Scotland.

David spends as much time as he can in the sea, the mountains and exploring for hours with his dog, whatever the weather. The problem is that David works too hard. He’s always on the go and the life-affirming stuff takes a back seat. He has a long list of other activities he’s always wanted to do but never has the time. Like learning to make surfboards, playing the cello, becoming a mountain leader and improving his open water swimming personal best.  

David’s dog after working on his open water swimming. 

David has an idea though – one he’s borrowed from Stefan Sagmeister. Some years ago Stefan was worried he was losing his edge. He was running a design studio in New York but felt his work was getting stale – churning out the same stuff again and again for his clients and he didn’t know what to do. It seemed to him that life was a series of blocks. Twenty-five years of learning, followed by 40 years of working, 15 years tacked on to the end of life for retirement, then time to pop your clogs.  

What if Stefan mixed it up a bit instead? Could he borrow five years at the end and use them earlier in his life? Rather than working and working, then stopping and dying, what about a different rhythm – working, pausing, working, pausing? He concocted a plan to take 12 months off every seven years. He would close the studio, re-energise, re-boot and learn new things. He tried it and a year later came back refreshed. The time away paid huge dividends with his work too. The designs he developed were much more creative and the spring in his step brought in new clients, so he increased his fees. The time away from the drudge helped him fall in love with the world of design again. 

My client David wants to re-create this but can’t take a whole year out. So instead, he will pause on and off for six months; periodically taking breaks to think, to try things out and fall in love with life again. For him it’s a road trip – a direction of travel in mind but the actual roads he will travel still uncertain. 

In our last exchange, this plan was already having an impact on David. Even the idea of it was unleashing a seam of creativity for him. “I’ve just agreed to rent my daughter’s shed from her – we gave it to her as a den but it’s now unused.” He’s going to turn it into storage so his partner can have an outbuilding as a pottery studio. “I’m really pleased with this solution – projects for all: me doing things for the family, my daughter’s first business, my partner getting back into making her pottery.” This is before he’s even taken any time off. “Oh and I’m joining my daughter on her riding lesson tomorrow.” You can hear the fizz in David’s words. 

Sometimes when we help others we forget to help ourselves. Working with David has encouraged me to stop and think about my own life. I’ve been writing this blog since early 2020 – 72 posts in a row. I normally love writing and can lose myself in it for aeons. But over the last few weeks I’ve been hacking at it a little, enjoying it a bit less than I normally do. I knew it really but didn’t trust my instincts – I didn’t know when to stop. I’m in a Sagmeister Situation – I need to take a break. 

Next week will be my last post for a while as I will take a few weeks off. Like David I’m not sure which roads I’ll take or where I’ll pop up in the autumn. But in the meantime, I want to thank you for travelling with me on this road trip around our careers and lives. 


This is part of a series called Spoon by Spoon — a project I’ve run interviewing 100 people going through career, relationship and wider life changes. If you’re looking for support with your own career or life change find out more here.

Why not also take a look at my latest venture:  The Tyranny of the Shoulds podcast on The Room Psy and my new blog“Killing Ourselves for Work”on the same site. 

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