Smell the Roses—To Creativity, Passion & Joy

Productive-Creative-MindMake that the cactus flowers, and they are GORGEOUS. It was an absolute joy to be surrounded by them when I was in the Sonoran Desert recently with my family, taking some time to relax and rejuvenate.

I crave more nourishment like this…open space that gives my mind and soul time to rest, reflect and recharge. But that opportunity is all too rare for me, and probably for you in our always-connected 21st century

That’s why I was particularly intrigued when my friend Sarah Durham, founder of Big Duck, suggested we focus our session at the Nonprofit Technology Conference (#14NTC) on The Work Behind Your Work—the methods and tools you use to stay focused, productive and happy on the job (or the barriers that keep you from getting there). And that’s why I extended the conversation as the topic of the Nonprofit Blog Carnival I recently hosted. Here’s my next step:

After many years of being my driven self—working hard build Getting and serve client orgs, while trying to be the best mom, wife  daughter and friend I can, I took on managing my aging dad’s life. Now, several years later, he has dementia and it’s tough for all of us.

I have more responsibilities that I can handle right now, on all fronts, and I’m depleted. Frankly, no matter one’s personal life, a mid-career break is probably sorely needed by all of us, especially with the horizon of working till we’re 80.

And me? I’m taking what’s for me a radical action—I’m putting financial concerns aside to take a two-month sabbatical from work this July and August.

My self-definition has always been as a doer. In fact, I’m such a hard worker (grind?), that my goal with this sabbatical is to avoid  goals—to zig (NOT do), rather than zag. I know that’s my path to restoring my energy, passion and joy—and being able to share that in full once again with my family, friends plus colleagues like you and  other clients, coachees and folks I train.

Over the past few months, I’ve brought my family and closest friends into planning my sabbatical, to make sure I do it. Now I’m sharing my news with you. So I can’t turn back. Keep me honest, okay?

I’m hoping this experience will help me master the work behind my work. I’ll let you know—in September.

How do you grab nourishment, a small bite or a big gulp, to keep you strong, satisfied and productive in your work (and the rest of your life)? Please share your approach here.

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Nancy Schwartz on April 24, 2014 in Professional Development | 40 comments
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  • Tatiana Lyons

    I totally support your sabbatical! One big way for me to renew and recharge is to ensure that I work out – -body and mind. Not only does it provide great physical benefits, endorphins, and all that stuff that we constantly hear about to prove it’s “good for you,” but it provides massive positive reinforcement for me in other areas of my life, during the day. For instance, if I did yoga today, I can remember that later that day if I get discouraged about something. It reminds me that I’m awesome.Then, I move forward with much more joy in my step. Blessings, Nancy!

  • Tatiana, thanks for sharing your strategies. Working out is a restorer for me as well—the physical work seems to release all kinds of tension for me as well. Definitely going to do more of that during the sabbatical!

  • Amy Eisenstein

    Congratulations. Sounds fantastic! Will you put on an autoresponder letting people know that you won’t be answering their emails? I might even go as far as to make a folder that emails go into, so you don’t even see them. Final thought – I know this might seem counterproductive, but I would plan out my sabbatical – books I want to read, things I want to do, places I want to see. Hope that helps. Enjoy!

  • MarleneO

    Nancy, congratulations on making the decision to take a sabbatical – I’m sure it was quite a plunge to take!

    I’m inspired to follow suit soon. Right now, acknowledging my current hectic pace AND my need for replenishment and productivity-boosting, my micro-strategy is walking – and lots of it. I’m making sure to fit several short walks into each day (10-30 minutes each) to step away from it all and allow some breathing room. It’s amazing what clarity and ideas can arise during these walks – all while I’m out there enjoying the arrival of spring. And now…time for a walk!

  • Kathleen Kennedy

    Welcome to the Sonoran Desert! (I’m writing from Tucson.) I don’t do any work in the mornings until I actually get to work. By starting my day quietly and getting some things done at home first (along with taking care of my three kids and getting them ready), I feel settled and energized when I actually sit down at my desk. I also agree with everyone else about taking walks and exercising, so good for my physical and mental health. Lastly, when I’m on vacation, I’m on vacation. I really check out totally, often taking a complete break from computers, and that is so restorative for me.

  • Yay Nancy – proud of you and will do my part to keep you honest! :)

  • You are so awesome, Nancy — and sooo deserving of this sabbatical.

    I tend to take one or two days off during the week to just goof off. I’ll head out to Chester County and visit my favorite small town and used bookstore, or spend the day at Chanticleer.


  • Amy-Yes on deflecting email! I’m right now adding a personal email address and changing my biz one (a process) and I’ll have my mgr. getting & filtering my email.

    Thanks too for your advice on the planning. Knowing your immaculate and productive planning, no surprise there. But for me, planning on various fronts is absolutely counterproductive because those goals are so ingrained in me (and drive me). I have to strive NOT to plan—to quiet my drive a bit right now to open myself up to new ideas, people, influences!

  • Thank you, dear friend. You exemplify the greatest benefit I get from my work—the smart, sassy, funny, wonderful people I get to know.

  • Kathleen, thanks for sharing what works for you. A home office (for more than 15 years now!) makes it hard to start slow, as does the fact I’m a morning person. But I think your core idea of making space for oneself—whenever its right/one can—is so important.

    Your vacation protection program should be part of employment (and self-employment) law! Otherwise, how can we ever stay energized and most productive? Thanks, from your pal in the desert.

  • You seem so good at self-care, Pam, and I am hoping to learn from you. Why do we, especially us women, neglect that so much? I am totally guilty (fear driven, I’m sure) of taking that time.

    To a day at Chanticleer!

  • MarleneO (is that like Jackie O?), your micro-strategy approach reminds me of Kivi’s focus on little bets. I try to do the same via midday exercise but you’ve inspired me to do better. It ALWAYS is a boost.

    Thank you for sharing your secret sauce!

  • Haha. Why, yes it is! Cheering you on as I walk!

  • Wow – amazing step, Nancy! This IS part of work: having the emotional and mental reserves necessary to deliver the best results for clients is a hidden secret (not so hidden now, eh?) to success. Congrats on stepping back and moving your health to the forefront.

    As a mother, wife, friend and colleague, I also struggle to find the time to take care of myself. It’s one of those not-talked-about issues for consultants and employees — the responsibility squeeze. Add on taking care of elderly parents and what really happens is that the things that revitalize you and feed your soul tend to disappear because one does not have the time, energy, and emotional space to dedicate to them anymore.

    I wish you all the best with your sabbatical and hope that you find the rejuvenation you are looking for during the summer.

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  • Nancy Schwartz

    Thanks much, Debra, for your thoughtful good wishes.

    Seeking not only emotional and mental balance but re-infusion on the creative & intellectual energy/force fronts. May be a lot to seek but that’s me. I’ll keep you posted!

  • n2zsm

    Hi Nancy — I can definitely relate! I work from home and also work to try and be the best aunt, daughter, sister, friend I can be, and also take care of my aging Dad. I agree that walking is one of the best ways I’ve found to ‘take a breath’ and rejuvenate/refocus. My next favorite is to visit the Happiness Project blog — has some great, thought-provoking ideas that I find are easily put into practice in my daily life, make my life happier and more productive, and allow me to come back and focus on your great advice with a clearer head and a lighter heart. Add that to your exploration list!

  • Cyndy Warnier

    Dear Nancy, I LIVE in the Sonoran Desert in Arizona and I work at a non-profit retreat center which welcomes people to do exactly what you did! We get folks from all over, individuals, groups, church groups, business offices–everyone needs that time away and in the desert where it is beautifully blooming in spring and quiet, it hits the mark for them all. You asked what keeps me sane as one who works in a non-profit doing marketing/fund development–well, as a hobby photographer, I film the desert–in fact the state of Arizona as it is so diverse from desert to 13,000′ mountains! It gives me perspective; face it–it gives me pictures for marketing!–but most of all it is a release for my creative side that corporate creativity often bookends. This July my husband (who also works here) and I pack up the RV for almost the month; it is a time of growing, relaxing, hiking, I am a chaplain for the NPS so teaching folks from all over the world–it relaxes me, and doing my photography. I hope during your sabbatical you can let the spirit renew you through and through; that you find a new joy to return to the talents you have and share with us all, and most of all, that you are rejuvenated and experience personal wellbeing. Enjoy the time my friend!

  • Cyndy, next time (or retreat) I hope to meet up. Love your method of focusing on your creative side on the personal front, which shores up your professional creativity as well.

    Thanks so much for your best wishes. And keep me posted on your own path!

  • I will…next time you need a break in the desert let me know. You are most welcome here!

  • Susan Guthrie

    Trust yourself and life. You are being true to yourself and all will be well. When in doubt, say boldly to yourself with a smile, “I trust life!” It works!

  • Ritu Sharma

    Congratulations Nancy! I am considering something similar, although, can’t make it happen till after this series ends on October 29th. I hope the space allows you rest, relaxation and rejuvenation. See you in two months!

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  • I think we learn best from our mistakes. Your plan sounds really good, and I think two months is truly enough time to achieve something meaningful. You may find the transition to that place harder than you expect, so there may be frustration or restlessness where it makes no sense. I predict that your second month will prove to be the most deeply rewarding.

  • annamarie

    I am glad for you that you are able to do this I wish I was financially able to do this

  • Dorothy H Farley

    We are all learning that quiet and slow are not all that bad. One day at a time with extended moments of stillness.

  • Thank you, James! Some say three, but two is what I got so it’ll work!

  • Thanks so much, Ritu. I’ll be reporting back on the other end and hope that’ll be helpful to you.

  • :-) Trying!

  • I’ll add that to the list, and thanks so much!

  • Debra, you are one of my friends/colleagues who inspires and supports me always. Thank you, and thank you for your note.

  • So true, Dorothy, yet so challenging to remember and act on. I hope to build a more reliable practice on that front during the sabbatical, so it’s easier to return to in the thick of things.

  • Annmarie,I am so lucky that the risk is not catastrophic for us. It IS a financial risk and challenge for sure for us, but there’s no choice. It’s a risk I have to take.

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  • Julie Brown

    Bon voyage! We can’t wait to hear about your adventures. Be well.

  • Dee

    I feel the same way. Over and over I’ve said to myself how I *need* a month off to clear away the grit and grime. But my husband has been out of work for 6 months and was underemployed before that. He is starting a new stint of underemployment – working part-time at a store. No sabbaticals on the horizon. But cheers to Nancy (or anyone!) for being able to make it happen.

  • Sarah Weissman

    Respites are necessary and actually DO help our work! Hope it’s wonderful.

  • Thank so much, Sarah. How do you shape your respites?

  • urbanexile

    Funny we’re doing this at the same time, more or less. Well, I have gone to a limited residency graduate school program to pursue my MFA in Creative Writing. It’s a funny kind of sabbatical, because it’s LOTS of work! But it’s different from what I usually do: I turn from teacher to student, from householder to dorm resident, from wife to monk. Just changing up my routines is great, and certainly learning new things is invigorating. I hope you have a great sabbatical, Nancy. xo

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