A grounding year

Doing nothing particular for a while might be a good step. It may provide just enough resources for a major breakthrough, If you happened to spend a couple of years doing nothing in particular, you might be in the perfect spot to try doing something great.


I am not a very religious person, yet I respect wisdom when I recognize it.  In the Jewish religion, there is a concept of Saturday which appears to be very annoying. Every seventh day of the week a person needs to stop working and spend some time with his loved ones and doing some spiritual activity. There is a similar law for agriculture, called “shnat shmita” which means that every seventh year the ground needs to rest and recover from crops.

How do we know it worked? Consider the nearest states of Egypt and Babylon (Iraq). Their people in those countries are tired, and the ground is not very fertile due to overuse. Basically, the way people used agriculture thousands of years ago raises the salt level of the groud and made those countries desert. The way people worked, they left marvelous material culture but not as much spiritual effect as the small Jewish state nearby. And Israel is not just a high-tech state: it feeds half of Europe with its agricultural products.

Take fractal breaks

For most activities that we do, Pomodoro breaks are just fine. We work 25 min and recuperate 5 or learn 45 min and rest 15, or spend 3 hours in a flow state and then another hour relaxing.

We still get tired and need to spend a day every week on “something else”. This could be errands with family, home chores, or blog writing. It needs to be different from what we do every other day. This way we “restart” and come with new ideas every week, spend time doing something other than work/study and generally enjoy.

Once or twice per year, we should probably take a vacation and travel. It is good to change the scenery and get out of the routine. We also learn to appreciate what we have from new perspectives.

And then there is an idea of taking a sabbatical, and doing something entirely different for an entire year! Typically sabbaticals are reserved for educators who need to exchange knowledge and do some research in different laboratories, but it might be a great idea for everybody!

Forced sabbaticals

In Jewish tradition, every 7th year from your birthday is your personal sabbatical. I once tried to raise money from a religious investor and he denied me: “You are 35 years old. This is your personal sabbatical year. Not a good time to start a new business. Come to me next year and we will talk.” He was kind of right. That particular year was not a good year for new beginnings.

Now the number 7 from your birthday is an arbitrary or archetypal number. You could choose some other number, say 8 from the day you turn 21. The result would be similar. You could take a sabbatical not because you choose to, but due to economic crisis or personal issues. It does not really matter. A sabbatical is good for you if you do it correctly. Even if you do not really want one, consider having it anyway.

What to do on the “grounding year”

On sabbaticals, the academical community spends its time in different countries and institutions, researching new ideas. I am not a member of this community anymore, so I suggest a different activity which I call “grounding”.

Do not start anything new or grand, but instead let your creative forces build up. Spend time on nature, feeling the plants, weather, games of light and animals. Be with your loved ones and make their lives better. Try using all senses: touch, smell, sound. Make your homes more comfortable and find new ways to conserve energy. Search how you can spend less and remove the unnecessary things.  Be more natural, traditional and closer to the ground than your usual self.

The expected effect is a tremendous build-up of personal resources that can be spent the next year on something HUGE.

Once rested, do not look back

The best vacations tend to be special one-of-a-kind experiences. Do not spend on the vacation more than you need. Eventually, this may cause a disorienting effect similar to oversleeping. Instead, once rested, try something that requires your creative resources.

You can learn new things, build new businesses, acquire new habits. When rested we tend to be both more creative and more resilient. I would say more resourceful.

Our willpower is a resource that we do not respect and often overstrain. A year of “grounding” allows this resource to replenish. Our ability to step out of the comfort zone improves after a long period of comfort. The decisions we make after a good rest tend to be less impulsive, and less influenced by fear and greed.

My personal experience

I do not do “grounding years” simply because I choose to. Typically I am forced by some economical situations: poverty at age 15, being drafted after completion of the university at age 22, burnout at my second job at age 29, inability to raise money for my startup at age 35, not finding the job I want at age 42,… Each time, I did not particularly want to spend the year “grounding”. I resented everything it represented. Yet each time after the “grounding” I  felt a major breakthrough. So now I start thinking: maybe everyone needs a sabbatical once in a while?

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