In Summer 2016, I took a 6-week staff sabbatical in order to devote time to crafting my dissertation study. I worked really hard during this time to get the ball rolling on a study that is, unfortunately, still on-going. At the end of these 6 weeks, I felt I had learned more than just how to hound people to complete a study. This post is a reflection on life as a worker bee and finding flow.
Every day for the past few decades, I wake up knowing I am a worker. Even if I am taking a vacation, I still know about the work I left behind or the new work that awaits me when I return. Many of us workers haven’t had 6 weeks off from work intentionally in decades. Me included. Probably the most profound thing I learned is how addicted to work I am without even knowing it. Suddenly, 2 weeks in, knowing I didn’t have to go back to work for 4 more weeks was strangely startling. There were definite signs of withdrawal and it was scary.
During this time, I worked hard, and then not so hard. I dove right into my research knowing I only had 6 weeks. Then, I realized I had 6 weeks… and I started to take it easy. I woke up early and worked out. I gardened. I went on a hike nearly every day. I felt a lovely connection with nature. Suffering from work withdrawal, I still checked email and I plotted out a year’s worth of work for my new center. I was surprised at how much I was able to get done without an office. I produced some incredible and meaningful work for a job that I didn’t have to go to for 6 weeks.
The reason was flow. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a Hungarian psychologist known for work in creativity and flow, coined this term. Creative people need long, uninterrupted stretches to get work done. On this sabbatical, I hit uninterrupted states of Flow. How many of us find this state each week?
We buy offices, we heat them, we fill them with stuff. We gather together for ‘work moments’, to communicate via the Internet, and, hopefully, to do great work… Yet, many of us feel we have to get out of the office to do any meaningful work and we do this meaningful work, usually, outside of work hours. While meeting and hashing out some topics in person is a great idea for some meetings, most of us don’t need to be tied to our desks 9-5 to do great work. I get a ton of work done most days because I am fortunate. I have one co-worker and a very secluded office. I also have a whole campus to roam around and find secluded spaces in, if I need one. How many people have this luxury? Probably the same amount of people who find Flow each week.
Csikszentmihalyi discovered that people find genuine satisfaction, and even happiness, during a state of consciousness called Flow. On my first ride back into work at the end of a 6-week sabbatical, I realized how peaceful I felt. My body, my brain, and my eyes had experienced a profound state of calm. I had never felt that kind of peace driving into work before and I will probably never feel that way again.