The Importance of “Fallow Time” aka Sabbaticals and Extended Breaks

I took my first major break in early 2012 after a 10 and half year stint at Yahoo! I was exhausted & needed to rest & recover. (As a data point, I was doing 180,000–200,000 miles of travel a year at least).

I was also lucky to be pretty flush at that time, as I had saved some $$ from my quarterly bonuses, RSUs and stock options. So I did not have to work for a few years. (Although looking back I should add, I grossly mis-managed all this after. But story for another day).

I spent a lot of time with my 2 year old daughter at that time and read a lot (50+ books). I took the family to Asia for the summer and traveled through Japan and Taiwan. I also spent time in Europe traveling by myself. I attended close to 54 conferences in media, tech, startups, investing and even random things like programming, architecture and whatever struck my interest in 2012. I even got to do exotic grand tour by visiting Georgia (the country), Iran and Belarus, & Azerbaijan as well as revisiting Russia, Ukraine, Japan and the Baltic states of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia.

Additionally, in my ongoing quest to become the Asian “Jason Bourne”, I took classes (thank you Groupon and Livingsocial) to rewire my brain. Classes ranged from wilderness survival, cooking, copywriting, bartending, archery, shooting, sailing, Russian language studies etc. It was good if not expensive fun. Also a great topic for cocktail party conversations. :)

I vividly remember heading down to Los Angeles for an Agriculture conference in the latter part of 2012. I met up with a couple of old friends of mine for an amazing dinner. As I was recounting what I was doing that year, my friend said, “oh, you are doing a fallow year.”

She was spot on and I’ve used this term since then. In farming, fallow land is left to rest and regenerate. A fallow field is taken out of crop rotation for a specific period of time. There is a lesson here for all people in business or whatever creative field you are in.

I never understood friends who jumped right into a new job or role the next day or week without taking some break. Breaks like this are important to rest and reflect on your experience. It helps you make sense of what happened and you can draw out valuable lessons for your life and work. It is also a critical step to help you to prepare for your next big work adventure whatever it is.

Looking back, I can honestly say that the 2 year break I took was one of the best things I’ve done personally and professionally. It’s key to long term performance. This is also why I am taking another “Fallow year” in 2020. “Resting ethic” is just as important as “Work Ethic.”

Written by

Ever curious: Tsundoku, Reader, Aspiring Shokunin, World traveller, Investor & Tech/Media exec interested in almost everything! www.marvinliao.com

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