The One Month Sabbatical

Bora BoraI’m back after a one month sabbatical with Amy. We spent the month in Bora Bora, completely disconnected from everything. It is one of the best things I’ve ever done for myself.

At the beginning of 2014, my partners and I had a discussion about ways to sustain the pace of how we’ve been working. We were all tired and were searching for something to try. We decided to each take a one month sabbatical, completely off the grid, during the year. While one person was gone, the other three would cover for him on anything that needed to be taken care of or decided.

Seth went first and went to Europe and studied French with his family. Ryan went next, traveled all over Europe, and won the grand prize in a Lego-building competition. Jason went next, got married, and took a honeymoon for a month in Europe. Amy and I just returned from a month in Bora Bora.

I’ve had a fantasy for a long time about taking a month off. Since 2000, Amy and I take a week off the grid every quarter. It’s been a marriage saver for us. One week – just the two of us – no phone, no email, no work. But we’d never done it for longer than a week.

I’ve also had a fantasy about going to Bora Bora, staying in a hut over the water, and reading a book a day. I don’t know where Bora Bora came from, but the book a day was an easy one for me since I usually read about a half-dozen books on our week of the grid vacations.

I read 45 books since we left on November 7th. Our typical day looked like:

  • wake up
  • run (maybe)
  • eat breakfast
  • read
  • eat lunch
  • read
  • nap
  • lift weights (maybe) or get a massage (maybe)
  • eat dinner
  • read or watch TV

We did 30 days of this. We sprinkled plenty of adult entertainment into the mix, along with lots of long discussions about all kinds of things.

After a week, we were each a little restless. I ate something weird around day five and didn’t feel good for three days. But once we got into the middle of the second week we forgot that the world existed. We woke up each day, did our thing by the turquoise blue ocean, and went to bed at the end of the day.

We headed into week four feeling completely transformed.

I’ve never taken a month off before. During school, I always worked in the summer time. After I sold my first company (on a Friday), I went back to work first thing Monday morning. I’ve been investing ever since and when I stopped working at AmeriData full time, I already had more than a full time job worth of consulting to the startups I’d funded via Intensity Ventures lined up. While doing that, I started working at Softbank/Mobius, and while doing that co-founded Foundry Group.

I find it incomprehensible that I’ve never taken a break like this before. Given my comfort with one week off-the-grid vacations, it was easy to just disconnect and leave everything in my partners’ hands. I trust them completely and having already been through the one month off cycle with each of them earlier in the year, I knew that whenever something came up, good decisions would be made and things would be handled.

As a result, I feel like I’ve completely reset my brain. I read what I wanted – I had over 200 books on my Kindle – so I just picked randomly when I didn’t have “next book” in mind. Some of the business books were skimmers and I only dropped out of one fiction book a quarter way through because I lost interest. The rest was like being transported to the magical reading planet.

Amy and I never grew tired of being together. I could spend all day, every day, with her, all the time. I feel like we’ve mastered being together, but letting there be enough space when one of us needs it that we never get frustrated with each other. Sure, there are moments, but they are very short ones, and usually solved by laughter by one of us.

After 30 days, we are ready to be back. We miss our friends. I miss my partners. We both miss our work, which is something that neither of us has said out loud for a while. And most of all, we miss Brooks the wonder dog!

  • jkadis

    Great post, Brad! Care to share to reading list?

    • Posts about what I read are coming.

  • Elizabeth Kraus

    I think it’s so important to do things like this and it is so helpful to hear you talk about it. The more successful people do things like this and talk about it, the more “normal” it will become. Thank you.

    • Rick

      If it becomes normal then it will no longer be the thing successful people do. The 1% don’t do normal. That’s for the other 99%.
      .
      I think what’s most important today is eliminating wasted time. There is so much junk coming our way everyday that a person has trouble focusing on what’s effective.
      .
      Follow this approach:
      Define your objective.
      Do something to reach it.
      Then take the time to see if what you’re doing is working.
      If not eliminate the ineffective things and try something new.

  • Awesome. Welcome back! And Happy Belated Birthday!

  • congrats. hope you did some scuba diving.

    • I’m not a scuba diver. I like swimming but I don’t really like being UNDER the water.

      • Christina Roberts

        Hahahaha!. My husband looks at me funny when I tell him this. I don’t want to learn scuba because it’s UNDER the water. I love to snorkel though, ON TOP of the water.

  • So cool. Welcome back, your 1 month break sounds magical. I wish everyone gets a chance to do this.

  • Cool! Welcome back.
    Now you understand why Europeans have 4-6 weeks of holidays, and taking a 30 day annual vacation is a normal & recurring thing 😉

    • Rick

      Ever since I switched to objective based internet usage. I’ve been having much better days of work life balance. I left email behind too and that has been an even better boost to getting things done.
      .
      Email and the internet has been great for some things. But it has really made it easy to waste time on things that don’t matter. Email is great for one-way marketing/selling. But it’s all too easy to get caught up in wasted things. The internet is great for many things. But it’s becoming the foolishness of our age.

    • Yeah – the Europeans have definitely figured this out…

  • Sounds awesome – I dream about doing this too

  • Well done! Also, there should be a shared repo for programmatic days, written in the style of your bulleted list.

  • Chris Heivly

    Welcome back – we all missed you and my mornings are now back in sync with your posts returning. 🙂

  • Perfect.

    I do a week at a time and that is kinda my max.

    • Rick

      I haven’t seen you in months. Where have you been?

  • I was about to send out the search party…was missing your posts. What a wonderful work life balance – inspirational. If someone as busy and in demand as you can do it, we should all take note. Welcome back Brad 🙂 !

  • Brad… you should at least have tweeted once in the middle of it:
    “Don’t worry about me, I’m good and will be back in two weeks.”

    As of the one-month vacation – no surprise for anyone from Europe (as William noted). Why is America not getting that – I’m not sure. But it is not because (most) Americans can’t afford it. It’s a culture… not a good one.

    “Amy and I never grew tired of being together. I could spend all day, every day, with her, all the time.” – I can put my wife’s name at the beginning of this sentence.

    • Rick

      “Brad… you should at least have tweeted once in the middle of it”
      .
      lol

  • Rick

    Awesome! My guess was right.
    .
    I’m also glad to see you took my advice about spending time away from the internet. Now try writing with paper and a pen, like I suggested, and you’ll get a great boost from that too!
    .
    Just to fill you in. Everyone here was going crazy wondering where you were. Most are so disconnected from reality that they didn’t know what to do. Their smartphone didn’t have the answer so they were lost. It was a barrel of laughs!
    .
    Well… Glad to see you are refreshed and ready to go. I can get back to busting your balls now. 🙂

    • I actually tried to do some writing on paper with a pen. I found it really hard to do – I’d just sit there and stare are the paper. I then spent a lot of time thinking about why it was so hard and didn’t come up with a good answer.

      • Rick

        Hmm…
        .
        I know I’m not one to hack code. I think it through before typing anything into the compiler. So writing with pen and paper is natural for me. I think it through then write a nice sentence or two then I’m back to thinking. Maybe it’s because I’m always reminding myself of a quote that went something like this:
        .
        “A good writer uses just the right amount of words. No more and no less than is needed.” I don’t know who said that.
        .
        I’m also finding it a joy to use high quality hand made paper when writing. I don’t want to push you and then have you end up not getting the feeling I get from hand writing. But it’s so nice for me that I’ll suggest you start by hand writing a daily journal. You can limit it to one page per day. That will help you to think through what you *feel* is *right* for your journal entry *before* you start writing.

  • James Mitchell

    Next time, bring your dog.

    • He would have been a little too warm.

  • Brett DeWoody

    Great stuff! My personal belief is vacations less than 3 weeks in length defeat the purpose. It’s always been around day 14 where I finally let go and start enjoying the moment.

  • 45 books? I read five and listened to another three in our month off. You are a machine!!

    Glad to have you back though. I missed you and Amy being “around”

    • Glad to be back. It turns out that when I say “I could read all day every day” it happens to be true!

  • 3 notes –

    – I am reminded of the JP Morgan quote – “I can do a year’s work in nine months but not in twelve.”

    – And Bora Bora is SO awesome. My wife and I went crazy and did 4 days at Bora Bora as part of our honeymoon. Mindblowing experience!

    – Same as Fred – 45 books?!

  • Chris Kinsman

    Excellent! My wife and I started doing this 3 years ago. We didn’t think we could afford taking a month of work unpaid but we have now decided we can’t not afford to do it and make it happen. Our last three have been sailing around the Bahamas for a month with no Internet. Highly recommended. Will have to think about changing it up for Bora Bora…

    • If I liked boats, I’d definitely sail!

  • Welcome back 🙂

  • How much rainfall was there? What was your diet like? Any differences in your hair, skin etc.

    • It rained about five days out of 30 – usually at night. My diet was very different – we ate fish all the time. And yes – I have a tan.

  • inqurious

    Sounds great. Does this color your take on founders who disconnect for a while on principle?

  • Cynthia

    Welcome back your feld thoughts were missed. I was actually worried as it was so close to your bike accident. Glad to know all is well. As a voracious reader, would love to see your list and any thoughts you have about the books read.

  • Welcome back! Wonderful post (especially the romantic close – feel the same way about my hubby). Your location choice is superb and glad you got to enjoy “Island time” for a while. Exactly what I would do…one day!

  • Welcome back Brad. After 10 years on Wall Street and before launching CityRaven, my wife and I spend 3 weeks in Bora Bora in the Hilton Hotel, truly a magical place. It is critical for us mortals to find a way to center ourselves and disconnect from our everyday reality, it should not be a privilege it should be a right.

    • Well said! And it sounds like you got some of the Bora Bora magic – wow…

  • Sabbaticals aren’t just for professors. My wife and I did an 8 month one in 2013 and it was one of the best decisions we ever made. The payoff in energy, balance, and inspiration is incredible. Maybe next time you can up the ante and go for even longer than a month! Along with other commenters, I can’t wait to see the reading list from the trip…

    • Reading list coming…

      Amy and I feel like a full month disconnected each year, plus three “weeks off the grid”, is enough total disconnect time, at least for now. But we love working in different places (Alaska, Paris) and expect we’ll continue to do that a lot – maybe even more than we have.

  • Mike Farber

    Wow, inspired timing! Leave next week for a one month family sabbatical in New Zealand. Was going to bring my laptop as I’ll be going straight from a work trip. And part of our trip will be organic, so on the fly research could be good. Bad idea? Know you didn’t use devices, but did you bring any on your sabbatical?

    • New Zealand is on our list – I’ve only been there once but it was awesome.

      Since we were in basically one place (although two different hotels) and didn’t move around at all, I didn’t need anything for research. My partners – who traveled around Europe – didn’t take laptops but just used their phones when they needed something. But – they all completely turned OFF email syncing so they wouldn’t feel compelled to check – or accidentally end up in the “well – I’ll just look…” mode.

      The only device I brought was my Kindle Paperwhite. I never connected it to the hotel WiFi so it was just a giant book for me.

      The hotel had computers in the business center so if I really needed something, I had access to the Internet that way.

  • bethhartman

    Congratulations, welcome back, and thanks for sharing!

    • wakeel zaoq

      Well com my dear in desqus thanks for join us.

  • #jealous – I share your dedication to exercise. “You’re running on vacation?” Uh, yeah, I’m running, because your body needs daily exercise, like drinking water. I wish I could drop everything for a month and disconnect in Bora Bora. One day… and 45 books? Holy crap. You’re a machine.

  • welcome back. you earned it. we are in a workaholic culture.

    • I turned 49 on December 1st. I like to work and will continue to work hard, but I think I’m finally emotionally detaching from the idea and compulsion around working hard.

  • Rich Kwiat

    Sounds awesome. Welcome back!

  • Our startup OnBoardify owes me 30 days in this exotic paradise: ________! Loved the detailed description of your 30-days on the island. Had a similar experience between ventures, leaving a startup-to-IPO company which had grown long in the tooth. My 30 days in Bali (heaven on earth) catapulted me to take the leap from working in enterprise software to envisioning and running a SaaS analytics startup. It changed the course of many things, as we joined Keynote (remember Xaffire?) which we sold last year (last corpdev deal). This time though, I took off just 1 day and a weekend before our next startup OnBoardify, but it just couldn’t wait.

    • Of course I remember Xaffire – I remember all the good ones AND the ones that don’t work out. Xaffire had a bunch of tough and painful lessons for me.

      Congrats on the success and the new business.

  • nino

    could you pls share your top 5 books from trip? fiction? always enjoyed those from you.
    thanks!

    • I’m going to do a couple of posts about what I read – look for them soon.

  • I’m happy that you got a break. Selfishly, I’m glad you’re back. It was a month of disappointment seeing no updates to your blog feed for a month. Thanks for sharing as always.

  • Gregg Burgess

    Congratulations on doing the whole month! In 31 years of working I’ve never done that. Thank you for the inspiration.

  • National MicroScope

    Many many congrats and most welcome again.

  • JC

    Welcome home! I missed your blog.

  • So happy for you. Good for you. But I am glad you’re back. 🙂

  • Awesome, that’s quite the reboot. Hopefully you’ve put your email on auto-responder and won’t have 15,000 emails in your inbox! Otherwise “delete all” would probably look like a great option 🙂

    • I had just under 3,300. My autoresponder (that I had put up) said:

      “I’m on sabbatical and completely off the grid until 12/8/14.

      I will not be reading this email. When I return, I’m archiving everything and starting with an empty inbox.

      If this is urgent and needs to be dealt with by someone before 12/8, please send it to my assistant Mary ([email protected]). She’ll make sure it gets to the right person.

      If you want me to see it, please send it again after 12/8.”

      I’ve gotten about 50 of the 3,300 resent to me this week. Totally manageable if you set the right expectations!

      • Seems like the most sensible approach given the unreal volume of emails that comes your way.

        Bora-Bora is one of my fantasies too. I’m glad you could fulfill that deam for me!! LOL.

        I’ve had to settle for a mini version of that: my wife and I just came back from a nine-day trip to Sint Maarten in a villa away from tourists. It was quite lovely, actually. I’m ‘re-booted’ too.

  • Welcome back, sounds wonderful, my wife and I are looking at a couple weeks in Costa Rica, I wish a month but prob. not. It’s funny how we program ourselves and aren’t even aware of it sometimes (the restlessness) and how changing our behavior can reset us enough to make a huge difference.

    • Costa Rica is on our list for sure. I have no idea if we’ll ever do a month, but we’ll absolutely do one of our weeks off the grid there.

  • Kimberly Klemm

    I believe there is a reason that people hope to retire well, a one month sabbatical is an awesome idea for reconnecting with the planet and “getting out of the grind”. When it is time to “hang up your hat” in later years to come…well, you already know how wonderful life can be when we put down the work and enjoy.

    • A close friend had an aunt and uncle who very recently had a tragic “waiting to retire” story that I’ve seen happen a number of times over the years. The uncle worked hard his whole life with the goal of traveling the world with the aunt when he retired. He retired on a Friday just before Labor Day weekend. On Sunday, they were in a fatal car accident and both died.

      We don’t know when the lights go out, which is another reason to add on to you thought. Enjoy it now – don’t save it up.

  • Brad, that is so awesome! My wife and I left our six little ones with family and went to Hawaii for 10 days last September… our first vacation together. It was good to get recharged before launching my next startup in Downtown Vegas. FlightGear is all about getting inspired to go to new places, try new things, and getting equipped to live life to the fullest. Sounds like that’s what you and the team have been doing. It’s so important to take a break, and just experience life your own way without the pressure of work and everything else. If we’re feeling good, and living healthy lives it will enrich everything we do. Thanks for sharing your experience!

    • Love the vision for FlightGear. Six kids – wow – you definitely need some vacations from that!

      • Thanks Brad. It’s challenging to raise a family, but it’s good prep for a startup and kids are amazing. Plus, when you have a community like DTLV run by someone like Tony and his friends, life is better and there’s so much more hope and opportunity for everyone.

        Cheers, and don’t work too hard while you’re back!

  • Welcome back Brad and delighted you and Amy got a great getaway!

    • Thx Roy. I’ll travel a little this year and will likely come to LindzonPalooza so I hope our paths will cross.

  • Geetha Chathoth

    one month sabbatical is a great idea for the workholic culture. Out of one month u might have enjoyed 3 weeks what about last week ?

    • The last week was great, although we started to get restless after three weeks. I think a lot of the restlessness was very temporary (e.g. we felt restless for a few days, thought about coming home early, decided not to, and then were deeply relaxed.

      • Geetha Chathoth

        that is what i mentioned the last week is with mixed feelings the same relaxation and enjoyment what u are getting in the first 3 weeks u cannot get in the last week

  • Robin S

    What a great idea; esp since hubs and I co-founded our company. So after flogging this start-up to everyone for 2 flipping decades without a break and sitting there with the best software on earth with no where to use it we finally have the traction (income) to actually work on building the company. But now we can’t leave! Psssh. Oh well, it’s better to die trying. Then I’ll get a vacation. The *big* vacation, lol.

    • If you can’t do a month, or even a week, make sure you completely disconnect periodically for a day, or a weekend. Even one day a month of absolute and total disconnect will make a difference.

      Congrats on the progress!

  • That sounds like the perfect vacation, glad you had a great time! I used to work at a company where we got a 2-3 month sabbatical every 7 years and it felt great to get a break from the daily grind. You come back refreshed and recharged. Another side effect, everyone realized how dispensable we all were:)

    • Several companies I’m an investor in (including Rally and Return Path) have excellent sabbatical policies that are similar to what you described. It’s amazing and wonderful to hear the stories when people come back, and see how incredibly energized they are.

  • it’s a beautiful thing that bora2 is found by someone many years ago. It’s a beautiful place.

  • trchat72

    Sometimes I prefer calm and quiet place to deploy the human head. Human psychology and peaceful place to chat rest and is very important dialogue between real people.

  • trchat72

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