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Four Sabbatical Lessons from Stefan Sagmeister

Stefan Sagmeister

Stefan Sagmeister

A good amount of attention has been paid to Stefan Sagmeister – on the social media sites, including the TED community – for his inspiring (although not unique, as we on this site know) year-long sabbaticals that he takes every seven years.

The famous designer has taken two year-long sabbaticals. The first was in 2001 at age 38. The second  began at age 46 and concluded just recently; he spent a year at Sagmeister Inc.’s Experimental Outcamp in Bali.

I’ve perused a number of those forums, including his TED videos and his interview with Print Magazine’s Steven Heller, and offer you this summary of Sagmeister’s sabbatical lessons:

  1. Fear that your career will suffer may occur before your first sabbatical. “I had all sorts of fears before the first year – that we will lose all our clients, that we will be forgotten, that we’ll have to start from scratch,” he said in his discussion with Heller. Yet none of these fears became realities – rather, ideas developed during his first sabbatical inspired some of his most successful design projects – and so he was free of worries when he began his second sabbatical.
  2. Even if your career doesn’t suffer, you might lose a really big opportunity. Like the chance to design a poster for the Obama campaign, which came to Sagmeister just before his second sabbatical. He said no. “I had sworn to myself that I would not take anything on, no matter how tempting.”
  3. Many people, including your clients, will envy you. Sagmeister warned his clients as much as two years in advance that his studio would be closing for a year. “Most were envious,” he said, adding that they were all “very respectful”.
  4. Sabbaticals are always more successful when you have a plan. Sagmeister didn’t have one for his first sabbatical, but he made sure not to make the same mistake again.

Ah, yes . . . a plan. We promote this concept regularly on this site and in our client work. Sagmeister may have gone to Bali, but he didn’t just sit on the beach for a year. In fact, he began his “daily schedule of little experiments” at 5 a.m. each morning “simply because it’s more exciting to start working than to turn around and sleep some more”.

How excited are you to start working each morning?


About Elizabeth Pagano

Founding Partner,

Elizabeth consults with organizations on leadership/talent development. She is co-author of THE TRANSPARENCY EDGE: How Credibility Can Make or Break You in Business (McGraw-Hill), which has been translated into four languages and is now in paperback. A former business journalist, articles by and about her have appeared in a wide array of business publications, including The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, CNN International, Outside Magazine,, Journal of Accountancy, CBS News, Web CPA, Business to Business, Talent Management, Employee Benefit News, Manage Smarter, and Canada’s Globe and Mail. You can find her book on Amazon:

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After 9/11, Elizabeth sailed with her mother on their family's 43-foot Beneteau, "Revival". To read more about their adventure at sea, go to Since their sailing sabbatical, Elizabeth and her mother have been working tirelessly to ensure that every career path includes a sabbatical or two.

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