The Six (And A Bit) Year Itch


This was one of the first photos I took when I got to India in 2008. I had just sold most of my stuff, quit my job, and left England to travel the world for a year with one girl I'd only known for 6 months, and another girl I didn't know at all. I'd spent most of the 9 hour flight to Delhi wondering if I was doing the right thing, most of the 4 hour taxi journey to Agra waking up the narcoleptic driver, and somewhere in between I'd managed to get vicious food poisoning.

I bought this bottle of water from a kid in the street as soon as I arrived in Agra. I looked at the YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES wrapper and instantly felt better. As a person who doesn't usually believe in fate it felt weird and stupid to let this bottle of water answer the big question that was circling round my brain. But that's what I did. What followed was easily the best year of my life — which I'll write more about some other time — but that was six years ago.

I recently watched Stefan Sagmeister's old TED talk about the power of time off. Every seven years Sagmeister shuts his studio and takes a year long sabbatical to "experiment". He talks about how his work and ideas become stagnant, and explains how a year of experimenting rejuvenates and refreshes him. That reminded me how creatively productive I was in the couple of years after I got back to the UK. Everything I started in 2009-10 has lead to me being where I am now, and it all came from taking that year out to see the world.

Lately I've been starting to feel that stagnancy Sagmeister talks about. But in general life more than my work and ideas. I watched his talk and thought about how I was ready to do something similar again, a seven year gap feels about right. I don't want to stop working or anything like that, I'd just like to be in motion while I'm working I suppose.

My dream life has always been to have a base somewhere, and to travel around working from different places until I'm ready to move onto the next or come home. That's more achievable than ever these days; all I really need is a laptop, a pencil case, and somewhere with free wi-fi and I'm set. I can't afford that life yet, I'm not even close. But living it on a smaller scale every seven years feels more realistic and achievable.

The last six years of "real life" have tried to beat those pre-travelling views back into me . . . that people who travel often are lucky, and that sabbaticals are much easier for people like Sagmeister than they are for most of us. But neither of those things are true. Like everything it comes down to your priorities and what you want from life. The hardest part is always that initial YES.

Sagmeister says the first time he did it he made the decision, put it in his calendar, and told as many people as he could about it so he couldn't chicken out. That's pretty much what I did last time too, and I guess that's what I'm doing now. I'm not sure exactly what kind of seven year "sabbatical" I want to take yet, and I've still got a year or so to figure that out. But I'm writing this post as a reminder to myself (and everyone else) that the first part of living the life you want to is saying YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES YES.