Why you should take a break from work every seven years

Life is short and we spend six months of it waiting in line. Take the leap now, says Natalie Campbell.

by Natalie Campbell
Last Updated: 07 Jul 2015

Life is comparatively short. A bleak start to this article, but it’s a fact that is important to put out there up front.

We spend a large portion of our lives working. We then spend a good chunk sleeping, eating, travelling (to work), waiting (for things to do with work). Then what time is left is ours for living and enjoying ourselves. Now, I know lots of you reading this will be thinking, ‘but I love my job’ or ‘my work feels like play’. If you’re in this happy work realm then good for you.

For the other 98%, life is short - so it’s worth figuring out how to make the most of the time you have while at work and building your career. Even so, employees and entrepreneurs alike, everyone needs a break. And could it be that the longer the break, the better the return?

Maybe, just maybe. I run my own business, but heck even I have days when anything else feels better than what I’m doing right now. So what to do?

One of my messages to the audience at the MT Live conference in Edinburgh today was this: close your business or retire once every seven years.

I can feel the collective chorus of ‘impossible’ being sent my way as each of you immediately come up with questions and reasons as to why you can’t do that.

‘Who will pay the bills?’, ‘The kids need new clothes every week and there’s that trip to pay for’, ‘How will I survive with no income for a year?’, ‘Living costs are so expensive I won’t be able to do anything in the year off’, ‘What will people think?’, ‘What will I do for a year?’

Here are more facts for you (if they are incorrect blame Google). You spend about 26 years sleeping. Six months waiting in line. Nearly 100,000 hours working (assuming you start at 20 and finish at 65 and only work 40-hours per week). 90% of your time if you work an office job or drive for work is spent indoors. You spend 11 years in front of the TV.

Sadly most people only spend about 14 days kissing and 115 days laughing.

Given these stats, is it impossible to think that one year out per seven years will change much aside from making us happier and able to put more into our work when we return. I have a Calvinist work ethic - work hard and work until you have nothing more to give. But I also hang with the Buddhists. It’s about yin and yang - take time out so you can give everything you’ve got when you’re working, not a half-assed attempt for 40-plus years save a holiday here and there.

I honestly believe if we knew we had breaks in our working lives we’d think more wisely about how we spend our money, who we spend it with, and so on. I know so many people that work to shop away their blues, or spend all of their spare income on activities that help them feel more alive. Either way, working or not they never have any money left at the end of the month.

But back to the topic at hand – take out some of that time you’re spending waiting on the phone or travelling to do an imaginary plan of how you’d fund a year out. Once you have a rough idea, what would you spend the time doing? Who would you spend the time with? How would you communicate it to clients and your staff or boss? For inspiration read The Four Hour Work Week by Tim Ferris or watch this much quoted talk by the idea’s inventor Stefan Sagmeister.

Once you’ve finished, if it’s even close to possible, why not give it a try? We can all be enterprising when we want to be. And life is short after all.

If you missed A Very Good Company founder Natalie Campbell at MT Live Edinburgh, catch her in Birmingham on March 18. Check out the programme and get 25% off tickets here.

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