Today, it's nearly impossible for most professionals to enjoy such intellectual freedom. In the always-on economy, taking months or a year for unstructured exploration has become extinct. Two weeks of hurried vacation is the norm, if you're lucky.
And we’re paying the price. Creativity has stagnated across industries. The few who escape enjoy epiphanies like Einstein in 1905. The always-on economy has robbed most professionals of this gift. Isaac Newton did some of his most important work during the year Cambridge closed for the Great Plague in 1665-66, producing the principles of calculus, optics and gravitational theory. Albert Einstein worked at the patent office for 7 years after college before his "miracle year" of breakthroughs in 1905. Charles Darwin spent 5 years traveling the world on the Beagle voyage, crucially important for formulating his theories of evolution. Marie Curie took a break from her studies to tutor and study independently, and this started her on research that led to Nobel prizes.
a spiritual crisis and immersed himself in studying religion, eventually ending in writing Anna Karenina. Joseph Heller took a year off after writing Catch-22 to travel and reflect. Paul McCartney, not one to make lesser songs and known for his incredible work ethic, took a break to spend time on his farm.
It also happens in entrepreneurship, especially in tech, where people start companies after taking breaks from selling their previous ones. Brian Acton comes to mind, where he took a year off to travel after leaving Yahoo and then came up with WhatsApp. Drew Houston wrote the code for Dropbox during travels too.
The answer, as in many things, lies in the Bible, which introduces the concept of rest as a pillar of productivity.
It helped when they were brilliant of course, like Charles Darwin taking a 5 year voyage on the Beagle, or Stephen Hawking taking a year off to focus on A Brief History of Time, or the many breaks of Noam Chomsky. Darwin called his time on the Beagle "by far the most important event in my life and has determined my whole career.”
Academia aside, even in specific fields like pharma or clinical science, academia, or more generally on business, the research broadly states that it’s beneficial for people in all of them to have a sabbatical.
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