Take a Breakwith Jason Fried, Adeline Koh, and Rachel Winard
Smell ya later! Shaun and Wailin are taking off the month of August. Before they left, they interviewed three business owners about sabbaticals. In this episode: Adeline Koh of Sabbatical Beauty shares the story of how she ended up starting a business while on leave from a different job; Jason Fried explains why Basecamp offers paid sabbaticals as an employee benefit; and Rachel Winard of Soapwalla talks about what it’s like to go on sabbatical when you’re the boss.
- Rework made its podcast debut with an episode called "Sell Your By-products in August 2017 - 00:37
- A list of employee benefits at Basecamp - 00:51
- Adeline Koh is the founder of Sabbatical Beauty and you'll also find her in the company's very friendly and welcoming Facebook group - 1:45
- Adeline's essay on starting a business while on academic sabbatical - 1:59
- A primer on Korean beauty - 4:20
- Jason Fried - 14:08
- Jason and DHH's upcoming book about calm company practices - 16:19
- Soapwalla - 23:01
- Rachel Winard's original cleanser and moisturizer are still sold today - 24:13
- Rachel's blog post about taking sabbatical - 24:34
The Full Transcript:
Rachel: [00:00:00] You know, when we’re kids, we get this too. Like in school, we get a sabbatical. Once you start working it’s like, well I guess I work until I die with no break. So, I really am a huge proponent of, you know, whatever the term you want to call it, vacation, holiday, sabbatical, time away. But it really does a body, a soul and a mind good.
[00:00:26] Broken By Design by Clip Art plays.
Wailin: [00:00:28] Welcome to Rework, a podcast by Basecamp about the better way to work and run your business. I’m Wailin Wong.
Shaun: [00:00:34] And I’m Shaun Hildner. You know, we launched Rework in August of last year and we’ve released new episodes every other week without taking any breaks and I could really use a long vacation.
Wailin: [00:00:43] Me Too. Good thing we work for a company that offers sabbaticals as a perk.
Shaun: [00:00:49] That’s right. At Basecamp, but we can take a month-long paid sabbatical every three years and you and I are going on our sabbaticals at the same time. So this will be our last episode before signing off.
Wailin: [00:01:00] Today is somewhat of a supersized episode and it’s all about taking a break from your job. We’ll be looking at sabbaticals from a few different perspectives. First, I talked to someone who unexpectedly started a business while on leave from a different job.
Shaun: [00:01:14] And I talked to Basecamp CEO Jason Fried about how we came to offer sabbaticals to employees and what the company gets out of offering these long breaks.
Wailin: [00:01:22] And then I talked to Rachel Winard. She’s the person you heard at the very beginning of the episode and she’ll talk about how to take a break when you’re the boss. But first, here’s my conversation with a former professor who created a skincare business while on sabbatical from a job that she had become disillusioned with.
Adeline: [00:01:44] Hi, my name is Adeline Koh, and I’m the founder of Sabbatical Beauty, which is small batch, natural, high-end, Korean beauty-influenced skincare line.
Wailin: [00:01:57] You had written an essay on Medium back in February of 2016 and there was a line in there that really struck me where you said, in essence, academia is toxic. It’s so toxic that taking the risks of starting a small business in a recovering US economy seemed like a less toxic option.
Adeline: [00:02:17] Yep.
Wailin: [00:02:17] Which, like, I was astounded by that assertion. So, I was wondering maybe if you wanted to start there and talk about kind of what the state of your academic career was like and how you came to start a company as a result of that.
Adeline: [00:02:31] It was a big dream of mine for a long time to be an academic. And those are the listeners who aren’t familiar with the humanities job market in academia. It’s really, really, really, really bad. I would say maybe like 30% of people who graduate with PhDs actually end up being hired as professors, as full-time professors. And that’s just not because… It’s not because they don’t have the qualifications. It’s just because there aren’t any jobs. But at the same time, graduate schools continue taking more people than they know will actually get jobs. So, there’s a huge overproduction of PhDs and as part of the toxicity of academia that I hinted at in my Medium post, where academia has been kind of compared to a Ponzi scheme. People want to have graduate students because the more graduate students you have, the more you can further your name in the field, the more power you can accumulate. But, these students can’t get jobs at the end.
[00:03:39] So, I mean, that’s just one aspect of the toxicity of academia. So, I spent really long time doing it. And I was, I was pretty successful. I got tenure pretty early. I did all these fancy fellowships at Penn and Duke and stuff and I was really, really, really burned out. I had originally gone into academia because I wanted to make the world a better place. I didn’t really feel that what I did was actually making the world any better of a place. I’d try to find things that would help me regain a sense of myself. And when I discovered Korean beauty, I really, really got into it because there was a very calming self-care aspect to it because of the ritual involved, because of all the steps involved
Wailin: [00:04:28] As Adeline was getting into Korean beauty, she got the opportunity to go on academic sabbatical.
Adeline: [00:04:34] I was granted sabbatical. I was supposed to be writing a book on sabbatical and I was really not wanting to write the book because I was really burned out with academia. But, I’m still a really big nerd. I still like learning things a lot. And so, what happened was that I was supposed to be researching one thing. I started researching DIY skincare instead and then I decided to, like, I finished a chapter or something. I say okay, I’m going to buy to chemistry equipment. And I bought the chemistry equipment. And then I started experimenting with my own stuff, and then my friends saw the difference in my skin from making my own stuff and then they demanded that I make stuff for them as well. They told me that I needed to put the stuff on the internet and because their friends were asking where they could get this stuff. And then I realized it possibly might be a viable business and I started crash… Doing all these crash courses in business and marketing.
Wailin: [00:05:28] Oh, just online, 0r?
Adeline: [00:05:29] Online, yeah.
Wailin: [00:05:31] Okay.
Adeline: [00:05:32] People always keep… Like, other academics keep asking me like, “Why don’t you do an MBA?” And I’m like, I know what this system is like.
Wailin: [00:05:41] You’re like, fool me once academic system.
Adeline: [00:05:42] Exactly. And so, like, I can learn this on my own, and I did. So we hit six figures at first year and then I asked for a leave of absence without pay for my second year to see if I could actually continue with it. And we grew 10% in a second year. And this is the third year we’re in business and this year we’ve really found our stride and we’re projected to double growth from last year.
Wailin: [00:06:07] So, your first sabbatical that was granted, that was for one year, that was supposed to be one year?
Adeline: [00:06:12] Yes.
Wailin: [00:06:12] Okay, and I don’t know that much about how academic sabbaticals work. Did you have to check in and tell anyone what you were up to and was it okay that you were working on this other thing?
Adeline: [00:06:23] In general, no. No, you don’t check in with anybody, you escape. You hide. You go to—a lot of people go to a different town or city, so they don’t need to go to—see their colleagues and do meetings or whatever. So yeah, it’s generally very, very hands off. And you don’t, and a lot of people actually come back from a sabbatical doing nothing. Some, a lot of people come back and doing a lot of things as well, but that’s, some people will come back doing nothing other than having relaxed.
Wailin: [00:06:53] So then, when you asked for the second leave of absence to work on your business, were your administrators really surprised?
Adeline: [00:07:01] They really surprised and they were really not happy with me. I think because I’m not, I was not supposed to quit that job. I mean, I was not supposed to leave academia. Like, when I announced it, everybody was shocked. I had tenure. I had offers from other places if I wanted to move. Like it was good. I was in a good position. My husband was like, why don’t you just do your business and just like phone it in as a professor for the rest of your life and you can get paid twice. And I’m like, I can’t do that.
Wailin: [00:07:37] So then you started doing this business full time and as you got going, how would you compare the stress and the pressures of running a small business, especially one that would uphold the values that you wanted to put in it about sustainability and taking care of people and taking care of yourself and being responsible about ingredients… How would you compare the stress and the pressure of that job with the stress and the pressure of academia?
Adeline: [00:08:02] They’re both stressful. Being an entrepreneur is very stressful because I hire people and so people’s livelihoods depend on me. I can’t pay people at the end of the day of I don’t do well enough. And so that’s very, very stressful. But it’s also stressful in a more fulfilling way because I can make changes and I can see the effects of changes immediately. And in terms of helping to design people’s work lives, I have the opportunity to imagine a workplace that isn’t just hierarchical, that doesn’t just seem exploitative. One that isn’t alienating or tries not to be alienating. And that’s not something I could ever have done in academia.
[00:08:49] Being an academic, I felt like I was a cog in this big machine and no matter, really, what I did, I would not really change very much. And whatever I changed could just be swept aside with the next regime change. But with making my own company or building my own company, I feel like I can really make a difference in the lives of the people who work with me. I can really make a difference that I can see, I can produce. It just is a lot more fulfilling than being a professor.
Wailin: [00:09:19] And what are some of the policies you put in place, or some of the aspects of corporate culture you set up that you did mindfully to prevent the same kinds of issues that you had seen in academia?
Adeline: [00:09:32] One of the things that I found, I thought to be very important, is I didn’t want the people who worked for me and worked with me to just be like I would give them a directive and they would carry it out. I consider their points of view really important. Especially the people who are now doing production, because I don’t do to the production anymore. They do the production. So, anytime that they have an idea about changing something, I usually… I’ll ask them to set aside time to implement the change. And then we implement the change and we have a discussion about it and we see whether it’s actually worked for the better or for the worse. And every time they suggested making a change, it’s made processes a lot better. I don’t see Sabbatical Beauty just as a manifestation of my dream. I want Sabbatical Beauty to be a manifestation of the dream of the people who work for the company as well.
Wailin: [00:10:31] How do you kind of manage your own mental health as a CEO and you know, recognizing when you might need to take a step back or take a break. You know, do you give yourself… Do you grant yourself a sabbatical now if you feel like you need one or how does that work?
Adeline: [00:10:46] As the company is growing and as I hire more people to help out with the company, this is becoming more and more possible. I haven’t ever really taken a true sabbatical from Sabbatical Beauty because every time I feel like I’m away from it or I’m not 100% committed for a few days, something slips. And so I feel like I have to be really involved with the business still. But, I am able to not worry about the day to day minutiae, or with like the people who are taking care of that and work on the bigger strategic planning.
Wailin: [00:11:24] Do you have a culture at your company, among the employees where people take care of each other and kind of check in on each other to make sure they’re all, you know, feeling like they’re good at work and they’re not getting burned out too.
Adeline: [00:11:37] We had a really nice company retreat a few months… in April, end of April, and that was our first one and I was really happy with it. So, what I did is that we flew all the remote employees in and we all got together at a Beach House on the Jersey shore and it was really nice because basically all we did was like eat and drink a lot.
Wailin: [00:11:56] Sounds perfect.
Adeline: [00:11:59] And I got a mobile spa to come over to the house and so everybody got a massage and foot reflexology. They were there. And tomorrow actually I’m taking my staff that works in Philly, we’re going to a bar class together and then we’re going to go out for dinner. So that’s going to be on the company as well.
Wailin: [00:12:22] One of Adeline’s longer term goals is to help other burned out academics find new careers.
Adeline: [00:12:28] I mean, even before I left, I had an Evernote folder called escape plan from academia and I had that folder since 2010, which is when I started that job that I got tenure in.
Wailin: [00:12:40] Wow.
Adeline: [00:12:41] Yeah. So, as in, what I am doing is not uncommon. A lot… my desire is not uncommon, a lot of people want to do that. There are a lot of issues in academia where you feel that this is the only thing you’re trained for, you have no value outside the workplace. And that’s really, really—outside academia— and that’s really, really untrue. And as I can make Sabbatical Beauty run more 0n itself, I want to actually develop some kind of program to help ex-humanities academics transition out of humanities academia so they feel like they have a choice. I kind of wanted to help tailor a program to show how the skills that we learn are actually really important. It can translate to other things, because I taught them to myself. So I kind of want to do that for other academics, but this is still a pipe dream because of Sabbatical Beauty takes up a lot of my time.
Shaun: [00:13:37] That is one of the dangers. Sending someone on sabbatical, you may run the risk that they won’t come back.
Wailin: [00:13:40] I think the idea of offering sabbatical as a corporate policy has to be part of a larger philosophy around fostering a healthy relationship with work. So if you’re an employer with a totally toxic work environment and you offer sabbatical, it’ll be hard to retain that person. But if the sabbatical is one of several policies or benefits that make a workplace calm and fulfilling then the break becomes a creative and personal recharge.
Shaun: [00:14:08] And as you’ll hear Jason Fried say in a little bit, breaks can make you excited to come back. I talked to him about how Basecamp started offering sabbaticals and why he’s never taken one himself.
Jason: [00:14:22] Yeah, we have, let’s see, gosh, years ago. That’s as accurate as I can be, maybe seven, something like that. We had an employee, who was doing great work but had some personal issues to deal with. And we were trying to figure out how to deal with that. And, you know, how could we help him with that, basically. So we, at the time we had vacation policy and everything, but it seemed like you needed more time than just a vacation. So we decided to try this idea of a sabbatical, although we didn’t call that at the time. It’s just like, hey, why don’t you take a month off? We’ll pay you like paid month off and take care of the things you need to take care of and then come back and let’s see how things are going. And so it worked out really well.
[00:15:01] It turned out that that was kind of what he needed at the time and what we needed as a company at the time. And we eventually said we should standardize this and make this available to everybody. So now we do 30-day paid sabbatical every three years, no matter what role you’re in or what salary or what job you’re in. So, it’s been pretty popular.
Shaun: [00:15:17] And have you noticed an impact on the staff when they come back from sabbatical?
Jason: [00:15:21] You know, I’ve always wondered, I was like, you give someone 30 days off, paid, like are they going to go, oh, that was kind of nice. Maybe I should just not work for a while. If I can afford to, maybe I shouldn’t do that for a while. But so far everyone’s pretty much come back refreshed and excited and appreciative of the benefit, which feels great for everybody.
[00:15:41] Have you taken one at all yet?
Shaun: [00:15:41] Not yet.
Jason: [00:15:42] Okay. So we’ll see how that feels with you when you come back.
Shaun: [00:15:44] I’ll let you know.
Jason: [00:15:44] Yeah, but I think it’s, it’s hard to not like one. I’m more interested in what people do during them. So some people go on vacation, some people do things that they’ve never done before, other people just stayed home and like kinda just tinker around. Like if you have a house, like touch up some stuff in the house or just hang out. I don’t know what percentage of people go into it with plans and which percent don’t. But I think most people that I’ve talked to have something in mind to do that they wouldn’t have ever had a chance to do. And I think that’s what’s really kind of cool about it.
Shaun: [00:16:14] Dedicated listeners or longtime Basecamp followers will recognize this mindset as falling into that calm company ethos we talk about a lot.
Jason: [00:16:21] I mean, the idea is besides giving people time away, it’s just like, it sort of also suggests that things can wait, in general. Like, technically, there’s never a good time to say, hey, take a month off and there’s always work to do, right? And this is probably the thing you’ll hear from other companies who don’t do this, which is like we couldn’t afford to give people a month off. And I understand that like, depending on the definition of afford, I can understand where they’re coming from on that.
[00:16:47] But it also seems like why couldn’t you and why haven’t you tried and like, does the world end if you do kind of thing. And anybody here is allowed to take one and that we can work around that and we should be able to work around that. Even if we were a small company when we were, when this first started, we were like, we worked around that.
[00:17:04] I think it’s just a good reminder that things can wait and that not everything is immediately urgent. And, like, hey, a month is a long time to be off in a sense. But in the whole scheme of things, it’s not that long. So like if we have to push something off a month, like big deal, you know, of course, unless there’s some deadline that’s like there’s a trade show coming up, there’s all that kind of stuff. And so the way we work it here is that, you know, if you want to go on sabbatical, it’s about you talking to your team and figuring it out amongst the team. Like is it cool if I go in August or is it cool? Do I need to wait until September because something’s happening in August? You just kind of work it out with the people that you work with and then you take it so you don’t have to go to a person and ask permission to take it. You just work it out amongst people you’re working with.
[00:17:45] And then, it just goes to show that most things can be dealt with.
Shaun: [00:17:48] Even from the beginning, were you surprised how easy it was to have someone gone for a month? Like, nothing’s started on fire.
Jason: [00:17:54] Before you do something like this, before you give somebody a month off… By the way, it’s not even about the paid part. Don’t care about that. It’s like a month off is a long time off for an individual.
Shaun: [00:18:06] Can you continue working?
Jason: [00:18:05] Yeah, if someone’s responsible for something.
Shaun: [00:18:07] Producing whatever you’re making.
Jason: [00:18:07] Yeah. And you know, the first time you do it you’re like, well some things are going to have to go on hold. Like this person is an expert in this area and he’s the only person we have in this area. So we’re not going to do that kind of work. And for a moment you’re like, eeeh. But then you realize, of course we can afford to do that. Like what’s the difference? You know?
[00:18:28] I think that the key though is that, especially among teams, you have to coordinate them well. So, it probably wouldn’t work to have, unless like in your case with and Wailin, like if you can take a month off of the show together, like that’s actually good to do it together. In some cases, if you’re building… if you’re building product work, having two people gone at the same time would be really difficult on the same team. That would basically mean the team wouldn’t be functional. So that wouldn’t really, that’d be a problem for the other person who’s on the team. They wouldn’t have anything to do.
[00:18:57] So, I don’t know. I think, initially, as with most things you’re like, I don’t know how it’s gonna work, but you find out that most things are fine, like this is the same thing I hear from people who want to work remotely. They’d never allowed an employee to work remotely.
[00:19:10] Or when we encourage people to kind of do like one day a month quiet at the office, you know, people are like, oh my God, but we, what if we have to talk to each other? I’m like, yeah, you just have to try it and you’ll find out that you probably didn’t have to talk to each other. And in fact, you’re probably going to get other things done that you couldn’t get done before. You just have to do it to try it. But of course this trepidation before because it’s a whole new thing and you’re not used to it and it’s just sort of a wrench in the system. But I think that’s pretty healthy for most people, most places.
Shaun: [00:19:33] That seems to be a lot of the Rework ideas. Like everything is super scary until you try it and find out that nothing bad happened.
Jason: [00:19:39] Yeah, almost nothing bad ever happens when it comes to like… So, give someone some time off or do something or let someone do something they haven’t done before. It’s fine. It’s all pretty much going to always be fine. And I think if it’s not, then it’s sort of a sign that there’s some fragility in the organization that probably isn’t healthy. And again, this doesn’t always apply. Like if you’re three people or two people, you know, and one person’s gone.
Shaun: [00:19:59] A third of your company takes the month off, yeah.
Jason: [00:20:03] That probably doesn’t work very well, right? But once you get to a certain point, let’s call it five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, maybe seven and above or something like that. You can probably afford to do this more frequently, but not, for example, if like, you know, you have one accountant, and that accountant’s, taking off in April, probably the wrong time. So, of course this is something people would know. But there’s a point where you get to get to a certain size where if you’re that fragile that someone cannot be out for a little bit of time or a lot of time, there’s a problem.
[00:20:30] Same thing with, with maternity and paternity leave, you know, like that’s even longer than a sabbatical for us. And so you’d have to deal with it and you just deal with it and everything works out. You either train someone else up, you bring a temp in, you do something else. You just figure it out. And I think it’s healthy for the system to pull something out of it and to still be able to run.
Shaun: [00:20:46] Have you taken a sabbatical?
Jason: [00:20:48] No, I have not. I should though. I haven’t, and I don’t know why I haven’t. I’d like to, I just haven’t.
Shaun: [00:20:56] But you’ve taken shorter times off and you took some paternity leave off, if I remember right.
Jason: [00:20:59] Yeah, I took paternity leave off, took six weeks off.
[00:21:02] And we spent last winter in California for a few months, which I was working, but I was working maybe a little bit less than I normally work. So it’s sort of like a sabbatical spread across many months in a sense. I just, let’s take maybe, you know, a few fewer hours a day kind of thing. And so I kind of have done that. But yeah, I’d like to, I don’t know. We have another kid coming soon so maybe I’ll take an extra couple of weeks or something. I don’t know. We’ll have to see how it shakes out, but I don’t think David’s taken one and I haven’t taken one. It’s weird.
Shaun: [00:21:30] Practice what you preach.
Jason: [00:21:31] Yeah, I know. It’s not actually a good idea for us not to take them because I think it might send the message that you shouldn’t, but that hasn’t been the case. But still, we should probably do that.
[00:21:39] I think when I do though, I’m going to experiment with like let’s try like a six month sabbatical and see all that goes.
Shaun: [00:21:43] Oh yeah. Just let me know.
Jason: [00:21:44] Yeah. Let me try that first.
Shaun: [00:21:47] How that works out. What do you personally get out of taking time off?
Jason: [00:21:50] It’s nice to clear my mind. It takes me like a couple days to clear my mind, like away from just stuff that I’m thinking about all the time. So for me it takes a few days to get into it and then I feel very refreshed. And then I also… the other thing I like about it is sort of the desire towards the end to get back. And to remember that I do have that desire to get back is really healthy too. So, it’s good to get away and it’s also good to feel the pull of the return. Like, you know, I’m kind of itching to do something here and I can’t do it on this vacation.
[00:22:18] So I think there’s those things. And then also just finding time, like extended time to try something new too, to read a book, which is kind of what I’ve been doing lately. It’s like, I’ve had a hard time finding time to read books, so taking some time off, traveling a bit, just even being on a plane for a few hours is like the moment where I can read a book. So that’s been healthy. And then, you know, the chance to see new stuff. So like we went to Iceland recently, which was just an amazing thing to do.
Shaun: [00:22:41] Isn’t it incredible?
Jason: [00:22:41] It’s just an incredible place. And so those opportunities, of course, and this isn’t a revelation, of course. That’s what vacation is supposed to be about, but it feels good. It’s good for the soul for sure to get away.
[00:22:53] Broken By Design by Clip Art plays.
Shaun: [00:22:53] Even though Jason hasn’t taken his own sabbatical yet, it is important for managers and CEOs to take time for themselves.
Wailin: [00:23:00] I talked to Rachel Winard, the founder of a soap and skin care company. This is a conversation about what you do when you’re the boss in need of a break, which I think can feel like a pretty lonely and difficult place.
Rachel: [00:23:16] Hi, I’m Rachel. I am the founder of Soapwalla, which is a natural skincare company based in Brooklyn, New York.
[00:23:24] I started creating skincare for myself really out of necessity. I was diagnosed with systemic Lupus Erythematosus. Lupus is a chronic autoimmune illness. So, really, it’s a fancy way of saying that your body gets a little confused. Your cells start attacking you, thinking that your own cells are foreign bodies. So literally overnight I went from being totally healthy to very, very sick and my skin went from being completely normal… Like, I never had any issues. I didn’t even have acne as a teenager, to… highly reactive. So, out of sheer desperation, late one night I thought, okay, well if I can’t find it, I guess I’m just going to have to make it. And I started off with two products, a cleanser and a moisturizer. I figured that’s basic. Like that’s what I needed to make my skin happy. And those really saved me. I don’t know if you’ve ever had extreme skin issues.
Wailin: [00:24:21] I have actually.
Rachel: [00:24:23] Yeah. It makes you a special kind of crazy.
Wailin: [00:24:26] The reason I found you is because I read your blog post from March of 2016 about going on sabbatical. And in that post you mentioned that you had been working this really rigorous schedule, 65 hours a week, and you have been answering work emails every day, even when it was the weekend or you were allegedly on vacation, you were still answering email.
Rachel: [00:24:47] Yep.
Wailin: [00:24:47] Can you talk about how you got to that point? Had you planned for it to be that way since you were running a small business and you wanted to be really hands on? Or did it kind of creep up on you gradually that this is the schedule that you found yourself in?
Rachel: [00:25:03] We’ve always been really lean. So one of the ways that we were lean is that we made sure never to over-hire. I never wanted the situation where I had to let someone go because we didn’t have enough work for them. But what that ends up meaning sometimes is that I take on two positions. And that was definitely the case when I wrote that post.
[00:25:26] I’d known for probably six months that I was overworking myself and it can be so hard to stop that sort of freight train that’s going out of control. My body had told me with a couple of smaller flares and some illnesses that I really needed to take it easy and I was really just kind of rationalizing the amount of work I was doing until I really, really hurt myself. And then I knew I had to take a break.
Wailin: [00:25:56] In early 2016, Rachel injured her leg pretty badly, and it was the clearest sign yet that she needed some time off. Before she left, she prepared her employees to keep things at Soapwalla running in her absence.
Rachel: [00:26:09] I had to teach these things that had only been in my head. So, I had to really go through systems. Like, you have to craft a system before you leave. That’s fantastic for a business that is growing. It’s something that I think often gets put by the wayside and especially when you’re a one-person show, you don’t really need that. But as you grow, it’s incredible. Like it’s this year, all of that work that I had done like a year and a half ago, two years ago now has really come into play as we’re hiring more people and we’re sort of restructuring.
[00:26:42] So, it takes a little bit of forethought and really mapping out exactly what you do and why you do it and having another set of eyes and ears ask you questions about it. So, you also may tighten up some of your systems because somebody else sees things a little differently.
[00:27:03] So, I spent two months making sure everyone felt good with everything. And then my first week of my sabbatical they could… Once a day, they could call me and ask me any questions. So, they’d save them up for that first week for anything that we just were like, oh no, we never asked about this. And then for the five weeks I was off. So, I was off for six weeks, but the first week I was sort of on call and then for the last five weeks it was like I was invisible.
Wailin: [00:27:35] And where did you go?
Rachel: [00:27:37] I stayed. I stayed home. I really debated. I was like, do I want to travel? Do I want to go upstate? Do I want to go here? Do I want to go there? And I was so tired and my body was like physically recovering that I… like, I got exhausted thinking about planning a travel itinerary.
[00:27:56] So I thought, well, this is ridiculous. I’m not going to stress myself out to go on sabbatical. And staying… So, I live in Brooklyn and staying in the city and being a tourist in my own city during the summer was awesome. I went to museums, I went to parks. I just went for walks. I did all that stuff, that busy New Yorkers are like excited that we have here and never go visit. So it was great. It was really, really great.
Wailin: [00:28:23] How did you manage your gadgets and technology and phone, email stuff during sabbatical?
Rachel: [00:28:30] I deleted it all from my phone, so I deleted my work email and deleted my work Instagram account. It was great. I am so thankful for technology because I have a business because of it. But boy, oh boy, you’re tethered. And it felt really freeing to delete those from my phone.
Wailin: [00:28:48] When Rachel came back, her workload was different. Before sabbatical, about 40% of her time was spent on managing Soapwalla’s wholesale accounts. The employees who handled that in her absence took over that role so she could focus on other things.
Rachel: [00:29:01] Then I could really work on the sort of big picture things that a company needs for its president to do, you know, like really make sure that the way that the business is moving is in line with the vision. And that the way we grow makes sense and is sustainable and make sure that everybody underneath me is also supported. So that’s, that’s what I’ve spent my time really focused on.
[00:29:29] I came back refreshed and when I came into this space I was renewed and I saw things and I felt more creative and more innovative. I hadn’t felt that in a while because I was so bogged down by all the tiny details and just like dragging my body from place to place. So it felt great to come back.
Wailin: [00:29:48] And when you came back, did you have any policies that you put in place, whether it was in a formal way or just as a mental thing for yourself to say, okay, this is what I’m going to do from this day forward to make sure that I don’t get into a really bad place again?
Rachel: [00:30:06] Nothing formal, exactly. But, I’m in the space physically much less now. Yes. Which has helped a lot because if I’m here, I’m working and I’m working really, really hard. Because that’s just how it is, like the space makes me want to work. Not in a bad way. Just like if I’m here, I really want to get stuff done, I can see it and I want to get it, you know, move to the next level.
[00:30:29] So,I’m physically not in the space as much and I’ve sort of mapped out my days differently. So I have a day where I’ll do a lot of phone meetings instead of like interspersed throughout the week. I sort of try to focus activities on specific days, which feels much more efficient.
[00:30:47] And then my two non-negotiables are yoga and boxing. They’re both things that I did before that I continue and we actually have a double-end bag in the space. One, I’m a real big proponent of teaching women how to punch. I think women don’t learn how to punch and it’s an incredibly, self-esteem-building activity and also is a great way to blow off steam. It’s a great exercise and it’s very focused. It really has to be a true, true emergency for me to miss either one of those practices.
Wailin: [00:31:21] And then did you put some boundaries around your email and technology time too?
Rachel: [00:31:25] I’m still working on that one. It’s so hard because, what people have realized is if they email me and I don’t respond, they text me and texting makes me really anxious, like in a way that email doesn’t. When I get that little bing, I’m like, oh no, no, no, no, no, no. I have to answer that right now. And I’m like, why? Why am I doing that? That is an ongoing project. We were actually just having a conversation in the space before you and I started chatting, about… I read an article in Harvard Business Review about, a really unusual out-of-office message from somebody. I don’t remember which company it was, but the person said, “I’ll be out of the office from this date to this date. Every email that I received during this time will be permanently deleted from the system after eight hours. So please write back after I get back or write this person, this person, this person, if you need an answer sooner.” And I was like, that’s brilliant. I mean it’s a little aggressive, but it’s also like it’s on them. Like they need to reach out to you. You’re not available. You know, they can reach out once you’ve gotten back or they can go to somebody else who can help them in the meantime, which is almost always what everyone’s out of office says, but no one reads it.
[00:32:40] So I thought that was… I might employ something similar to that the next time I’m out of the office.
Wailin: [00:32:47] Yeah, that’s so interesting because it is a little aggressive, but at the same time, I think a lot of why maybe we get into this situation is no one is direct. And then therefore you’re always like, whenever anyone emails you or pings you, you’re like, okay, I’ll respond. And I don’t know. I don’t know if you feel like as women you’re kind of like overly socialized to like be accommodating—
Rachel: [00:33:09] Oh, very much.
Wailin: [00:33:09] —and like respond to everything and take care of everyone at all times. So it’s like maybe it’s good to practice being a little more forceful or direct than you normally would be. I mean, I think I would benefit from that.
Rachel: [00:33:19] I do too. It’s funny you say that. That’s exactly what I thought. I thought. Oh yeah, it’s really short and sweet and to the point. I think I think it’s a little aggressive because I am socialized to make sure everyone feels loved and well taken care of and immediately heard and there’s something really freeing about, I’m not gonna read this. These are the parameters, you know? I look forward to figuring out or having you figure out what’s the best for you until I get back.
Wailin: [00:33:50] Rachel did something else too as an added defense against burnout and isolation.
Rachel: [00:33:54] After the sabbatical, I created sort of a group of fellow business owners who I could speak with about these issues because they understand the unique position you’re in as a business owner. And that’s been really helpful, especially because we are, we do not compete, we’re not in the same industries. We span like every possible industry, so you can really be free with each other. And that’s been so helpful. That’s been really, really incredibly helpful as a sort of lens to make sure that I don’t get back into that situation again. Realized that we all tend to do that as business owners. We were all kind of like go-getters and workaholics in our own way and we can keep each other in check.
Wailin: [00:34:44] And have any of your employees come to you and asked for a sabbatical or something similar?
Rachel: [00:34:48] No, but I have sent employees on vacation. Like, if I really feel like they’re close to burnout, I will strongly suggest that they take a week getting a change of pace, a change of scenery and getting away and coming back. It’s so beneficial. It’s beneficial to them. It’s beneficial to me as their friend, but also me as their employer. You know, they will see things differently. They will be excited to be back in the space. They’ll be truly refreshed. Yeah, it’s a win-win.
Wailin: [00:35:20] What advice do you have for a fellow CEO or a business owner, especially someone who maybe runs a small company, a lean company like you’re running, who is feeling like they’re either burned out or getting to that point and they want to step away, but they’re feeling super nervous about doing it? What are your top tips for that person?
Rachel: [00:35:42] One, I totally acknowledge that it’s scary. Spend the time, starting now. Like the second you feel this way until whatever time frame you pick. One week from now, one month from now, six months from now, this time next year. Prepare yourself, your employees, your business and potentially your clients for the fact that you’ll be away and then do it.
[00:36:05] Like put it down in big red marker somewhere on paper and know that that’s a non-negotiable start date. And you’ll be surprised. A lot of stuff falls into place, but you really have to commit.
[00:36:20] Broken By Design by Clip Art plays.
Wailin: [00:36:23] Rework is produced by Shaun Hildner, and me, Wailin Wong. Our theme music is Broken By Design by Clip Art. Special thanks to Khrista Rypl for her help with this episode.
[00:36:33] You can find Sabbatical Beauty at SabbaticalBeauty.com and Soapwalla at SoapwallaKitchen.com. Both Adeline and Rachel have written very eloquently about burnout and taking time off, so a link to their essays in the show notes for this episode, which you can find at rework.fm.
Shaun: [00:36:49] This is our, I believe, fourth, now beauty and bath product companies we’ve covered.
Wailin: [00:36:56] Yeah, I only like to interview people who run soap makers.
Shaun: [00:37:02] As we said at the top of the show, Wailin and I are both going on vacation, but we’re not going completely dark in August. We have some fun bonus stuff lined up for you while we’re out.
Wailin: [00:37:10] And we’ll be back in September. Hopefully refreshed and recharged with brand new episodes of Rework.
Shaun: [00:37:36] Wailin, where are you going on vacation?
Wailin: [00:37:38] We are going to be traveling. I have this mom friend who once described traveling with children as parenting in a different location. So, I’m going to be parenting in different locations for four weeks. It’s going to be a little east coast, a little west coast.
Shaun: [00:37:57] Good to mix it up.
Wailin: [00:38:00] And a little Europe in the middle. We’re going to Andorra.
Shaun: [00:38:02] Ooh, fun.
Wailin: [00:38:03] It is a… it’s not even a country. I think Wikipedia says it’s a principality, but it is a tiny little place nestled in the mountains between Spain and France.
Shaun: [00:38:14] How Fun.
Wailin: [00:38:16] Yeah. Where are you going?
Shaun: [00:38:18] I’m going to the definite countries of Sweden and Finland with that weird stopover in Iceland.
Wailin: [00:38:23] Nice.
Shaun: [00:38:24] Yeah. Spend a couple of weeks in a sauna. Sounds perfect.
Wailin: [00:38:27] Oh. And then we can talk about it on the skincare podcast.
Shaun: [00:38:30] I will bring home some Swedish skincare nonsense.
Wailin: [00:38:33] Will you really?
Shaun: [00:38:34] Yeah, yeah.
Wailin: [00:38:34] Can I bring back ham and cheese or is that…
Shaun: [00:38:37] I mean this is all depending on what you get caught with.
Wailin: [00:38:40] Yeah.
Shaun: [00:38:40] You can bring back anything you want.
Wailin: [00:38:44] Are you going to come bail me out?
Shaun: [00:38:46] I will. As long as I have a recorder with me. You’re not a real podcast unless you have one episode from prison.
Wailin: [00:38:53] That’s true.
Shaun: [00:38:54] Will you accept a call from the Cook County Correctional Facility?
Wailin: [00:38:57] Yeah, or like, customs. Some dark room at O’hare where I’m caught trying to get through customs.
Shaun: [00:39:02] With ham.
Wailin: [00:39:03] Although if you delete the Basecamp app from your phone, then you’re not going to see the notification for me that I need your immediate assistance.
Shaun: [00:39:14] You would ask for bail over Basecamp? Why not just call?
Wailin: [00:39:19] All right. I’ll call. I have your phone number.