Back in the 18th and 19th centuries, young European men of means would go on an educational rite of passage called The Grand Tour, visiting mostly France, Italy and sometimes Spain and other countries in search of art and culture. Research this a bit, and it sure looks like these guys had a grand time indeed!
Fast forward a later time: March, 1914. A 21 year old J. Paul Getty, who went on to become one of the richest Americans who ever lived, was finishing up his college education at Magdalen College, in Oxford, England. Apparently, part of the program apparently still included a version of a Grand Tour, as evidenced by this very entertaining letter I obtained a few years ago (further supporting accounts that he was quite the playboy):
What a hoot, no?
Fast forward again starting in the 1980’s through the present. I guess it’s fair to posit that the current version of The Grand Tour for kids is student abroad programs now offered at most colleges, no longer just at the Ivy Leagues!
But for post-college adults in corporate mainstream? Very difficult to pull off a Grand Tour:
I never had the cojones to truly take a sabbatical in the middle of the rat race as a way to refresh, rejuvenate and recharge the batteries. And perhaps most importantly, pursue a project or passion that I couldn’t otherwise do while in the thick of the corporate mainstream. Throughout my career, I increasingly lamented that other ‘loves’ were being put on the backburner because the intensity of my job prevented me from finding the time or putting forth the effort to pursue them. I can’t tell you how many times I said, “If I only had time to….” In my case, the blank could have been filled in as follows: compose songs, travel to Italy, go on lengthy birding trips and add species to my life list, improve my golf game, or get in serious shape.
When I became Director of Stores of Bullock’s in Los Angeles in 1988, I learned that the previous CEO, Allen Questrom, had taken a sabbatical with his wife Kelli, who I believe at the time was battling cancer. Their yearlong break took them, among other places, on a bike tour throughout Europe. Questrom returned, and continued his career as a highly successful retailer. I was very impressed with that at the time.
I had opportunities to take a true sabbatical. When I returned to the U.S. after a two-year stint with Hudson’s Bay Company, which didn’t end particularly well, I was in full career crisis mode, not sure what the heck I was doing—much less where we were going. I was pretty darn sure that I was ‘done’ with traditional department store retailing. I had some money in the bank and some runway to take some genuine R&R. It would have been a very, very good time to stop and take stock.
The announcement to my friends and family of my intent to take a sabbatical while I figured it all out was met with noticeable skepticism. They turned out to be right. It wasn’t long before I was back in the business world with a vengeance, trying to launch my new start-up, OnTrend Enterprises.
So here’s my take on sabbaticals: If you can pull it off with your employer, or if you have the moxie to do it when you don’t have a job, man, go for it, you’re a better person than I. It was just really too scary for me.
Rusinow, Jeff (2011-06-15). What I Really Think: The Business Chapters. ETR Publishing Group, LLC. Kindle Edition.
Fast forward to today: As the holiday song I’ve heard 50 times in the last month says: Baby, it’s cold outside! I’m ready to take some tours!
Photo: one year ago, Milford Sound, New Zealand