What Meghan Markle & Prince Harry's Sabbatical Can Teach Us About The Value Of Time Off

Updated: Jan 19

Three days ago news of the duke and duchess announcing their decision to step back as senior members of the royal family took the world by storm. Who would have thought that someone would think of royalty as undesirable, and come to think of it, optional? I mean. The British royal family is worth over $88 Billion!

To be fair, if you read into the details of this development, it tells you of a certain amount of privilege. Both of them are millionaires several times over. But it doesn’t take away from the audacity of the move. If you look beyond the privilege, there is a deeper insight into how millennials are redefining what they want from life and are no longer afraid to go for it.


In contrast to the average royal, both of them have a certain grounding in reality. Prince Harry served in the British army for 10 years, during which time he was stationed in Afghanistan twice. Meghan was an actress in a popular TV show. Add to that, a careful but somewhat irreverent take on rules. As the first black person to join the royal family, Meghan was already breaking norms. But, over time, the excessive media scrutiny (more ruthless on Meghan due to her black ancestry and a middle class background) wore them down and they admitted to feeling consistently unhappy and unfulfilled with their roles as senior members of the royal family.


Another insight lies in how they arrived at this decision - the value of time off.


In the run up to this decision, both of them had taken a 6 week sabbatical from their royal duties during which they spent time with their 5-month old son, traveled to the US to spend the holidays with Meghan’s mother and worked on launching the Sussex Royal Foundation - a charity they have founded - in the US. It was towards the end of this sabbatical that they decided to step back from their royal duties to become financially independent while continuing to work on the charity.


Whether it’s taking an extended period of time off to reevaluate your priorities and do things outside of your regular routine, some paid time off to go on a holiday or a day of ‘unsick leave’ to simply relax, taking time off every now and then can make you more productive and lead to potentially path-breaking ideas. There is now conclusive evidence that people who take more time off work have a better chance of getting a raise and promotion. What is it about taking a break, regardless of duration, that makes you better?


David Burkus of Harvard Business Review explains exactly why breaks lead to creative breakthroughs: "The researchers found that the group given a break to work on an unrelated task (the Myers-Briggs test) generated the most ideas. One possible explanation for these findings is that when you work on a problem continuously, you can become fixated on previous solutions. Taking a break from the problem and focusing on something else entirely gives the mind some time to release its fixation on the same solutions and let the old pathways fade from memory. Then, when you return to the original problem, your mind is more open to new possibilities - eureka moments."


Stefan Sagmeister, a designer who has made it a practice to shut his New York studio for a year every seven years, talks about the power of time-off in his Ted Talk. “I started the studio to combine my two passions - music and design. But I realized that for every single thing I love, I adapt to it and, over time, get bored. So I started noticing that all our work started to look similar. So I decided to shut shop for a year and the work I did during that time was so good that I decided to do it every seven years. We use this year to do experimental projects are too ambitious or difficult to pull off during regular working periods.”, he says.


He has created a model for himself that goes like this -

This is the usual trajectory of life. An average adult expects to study 25 years, work 40 years and retire for the last 15. What if you retire 5 years late, but intersperse your working years with extended breaks to keep your work fresh, insightful and inspiring?


Mark Beinoff, named the decade’s top innovator by Forbes, came up with the idea of his $140 billion dollar company Salesforce when on a three month sabbatical. At 26, the youngest person to become a Vice President at Oracle, Beinoff was starting to feel unhappy and unfulfilled when his boss, Oracle founder Larry Ellison suggested he take a sabbatical. So he and a friend traveled together to India on a trip that changed his life and planted the seeds of the idea that shaped up to form Salesforce.


Suffice to say that taking time off is dangerously underrated. No matter how short or long, taking breaks every now and then can be incredibly helpful.


As for the royal couple, we are excited to wait and watch what their next phase of life has to offer!

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