Seth Barham Design
Minimal and effective design, inspired by culture.

Spartan Wanderer

Ramblings from the road, gear reviews, design trends, and whatever else happens to be on my mind.

The Value of Sabbaticals

As my time comes to an end in China, I'm making the preparations to work as a freelancer full-time. It's sort of the perfect time to bet on myself and if I don't do it now, I never will. Business has been good, actually. One of the main benefits of teaching English in China is the obscene amount of free time you have. Some fill this with their hobbies, others fill it with booze. I've been writing, building websites and doing some copy-editing on the side. Although my teaching contract is for 25 hours/week, I've probably been doing closer to 40 with all this extra stuff. 

Not that I'm complaining. But I do want to get the most out of this last month in China, so I'm taking a brief sabbatical from my design work. Why take a break when I’m ahead? I promise it’s not to just play video games, although I might do a little bit of that. I think sabbaticals are one of the best things anyone in a creative profession can do for themselves if they find themselves at a juncture in life where it’s possible to take time off, which I understand is not a luxury for everyone. I don’t know when my next opportunity will be after leaving China. 

So, I’m taking it now, and these are some of the benefits I hope to gain from it. 

1. It will boost my creativity.

Designers must follow parameters set by clients if they actually want to get hired. Some are more strict than others. So, sabbaticals are great for an injection of creative freedom. Every creative has got that side project on the back burner, but may not necessarily have time to work on it. A break from paid work is the ideal time to focus on personal endeavors that need to be addressed. Client work is great, but there are things that can arise in the back of a designer’s brain like a persistent itch that will eventually drive them insane if they don’t scratch it. Tackling these ideas can flex those creative muscles that don’t have an opportunity to be used within project parameters, in turn creating positive momentum that can be redirected towards clients in the future. 

2. I can come back with a fresh pair of eyes. 

Our brains like to make connections. If you play the same song on the guitar for a week, you’ll improve as your brain makes connections that serve muscle memory. If you have chronic pain, it’s possible for the brain to form connections around this as well, causing you to continue to feel pain even after an injury is repaired. Similarly, if you think about something the same way long enough, it will be harder to consider alternatives. A sabbatical can snap you out of feedback loops like these and give you a fresh perspective on your projects. System resets like these can be very effective at preventing creative blocks before they seem like insurmountable obstacles. 

3. It can prevent a burnout. 

It doesn’t matter how passionate you are about something; if you spin your wheels too often in the same spot, you’ll get stuck. This is why we have vacations in the first place. If you're feeling a lack of motivation, constant stress and exhaustion in any profession, it is time to step away for a bit if you have the chance. Burnouts can be caused by a lot of things - poor routines, lack of sleep, unhealthy diet and overworking. Stop, zoom out and address these areas before going forward. Even if a sabbatical only allows you enough time to fix one thing that isn't completely desirable about yourself or your daily workflow, it's worth it. 

4. I can learn a new skill. 

A sabbatical is the perfect time to dabble in something new that you can bring back to your professional life. You can take that time to explore a new program in Adobe’s Creative Suite or start learning a new programming language. I’ll probably brush up on my HTML and CSS while I’m taking this break as not adding that valuable web component to my skill set has always bothered me. I'm going to go through HTML & CSS: Design and Build Websites from start to finish and make a site where I can store helpful Chinese words and phrases for new foreigners in China. It’s kind of an idea I’ve been playing around with for a while, and a sabbatical is a good opportunity to start improving these skills while producing something in the process. 

I want to start things right

For myself personally, there are a few projects that I want to finish before going balls to the wall in a freelance capacity. I’ve got an ebook I’ve been working on for ages, a couple of new T-shirt ideas and there are some areas of Daqing I still want to explore and take some snaps before I leave. Having all of this locked down and out of my head before I start taking clients en masse would be ideal. It sort of relates to minimalism - which I often preach about - in that I want to declutter my mind before moving on to a different chapter of my life. China has been my home for 3.5 years and a sabbatical grants me extra time to say goodbye while getting into the right frame of mind for my future endeavors. 

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