Sean McCabe is a hand lettering artist, writer, podcaster, musician, and successful entrepreneur who has helped thousands of people around the world to discover what they are truly passionate about.

Through his popular podcast, Youtube show, online courses, and private online community, Sean provides practical advice for creative professionals and digital entrepreneurs seeking to turn their passions into sources of additional income and even stand-alone businesses.

In a recent conversation on my podcast, Sean gave me a peek into one of the most radical experiments in work-life balance I've ever heard of: Week-long sabbaticals that he and his team take every seven weeks to pursue what he calls "secondary passions."

Headed for burnout

"I tend to be an all-on or all-off guy. If I'm going to do something I'm going to do it fully, or I just completely don't care.  

It's taken a long time to get here, it's been quite a journey, but I've got to the point where I wake up and I do what I love to do.

You can't tell when I'm done with work because even when I'm done with the things I have to do, if you peek into my office and ask what I'm doing, I'll say, 'I'm having a blast! that's what i'm doing!'

It's good to do what you love and it's good to enjoy your work. But you can't just be all-on, all the time. It's just not sustainable. It took too long to realize this about myself.

18-hour days were very normal for me. I realized I was going to burnout. Fortunately, it didn't get to that point. But I decided if I'm going to prevent burnout, I'm going to have to go all-in on a break."

The TED Talk that changed everything

"I had seen this TED Talk by Stefan Sagmeister. He was talking about taking a seventh year off, doing a sabbatical. I was fascinated by this idea: Taking an entire year off. 

Well, we take a day off every week, and here's this guy talking about taking a year off every seven years, and I was like, 'Why don't we have something in-between? Why don't we have a small-scale sabbatical?'

The idea was: Why don't we take a week off every seventh week. It sounded absurd at first, but I decided I was going to try it.

The first week I took off, it happened to coincide with a trip we were taking to Colorado. It was refreshing, but it also coincided with a trip. The next seven weeks came around, and I thought, 'I can't take a sabbatical week, I can't take this off!'

But I had made a public commitment, I had told people already. It was really hard, but I powered through it. But once I got through that, I haven't looked back ever since."

Taking every seventh week off has been "revolutionary"

"Taking a seventh week off has just been revolutionary. It has changed everything for me. I cannot imagine my life without it.

The way I explain it to people: 'Imagine if your life was Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and if that just repeated forever: No weekends, no light at the end of the tunnel."

I have no idea how we used to work as hard as we did for six weeks and not stop, have no end in sight, no breaks, no checkpoints, no milestones, no steps back, and no chance to re-evaluate where we are and what we're focusing on."

Everyone gets a sabbatical

"At that time it was just me, my company was just myself, and it was an easy decision for me to make. Gradually, I hired more people and we have seven full-time people now including myself. 

And when I first started hiring people I thought, how am I going to keep them busy while I'm on a break? But then I said, 'No! Do I believe in this concept or not? Do I believe in the break or not?' Well, I believe in it. It's incredible. We take the same week off every seventh week. 

They get a paid week off every seven weeks, and they still get weekends off; it's not just a transfer of days. 

Now it's the heartbeat of our organization.

Pursuing "secondary passions"

"The main purpose of the sabbatical is two-fold: One is to rest, but it's also to pursue secondary passions. For me, I like producing music.

I've seen the benefits of focusing on one thing at a time, one season at a time, and the results that come from that.

The difficulty that comes with having a lot of passions or skills or talents, is when you focus on one thing, you're not doing all of the other things you could be doing. 

So the sabbatical is the time I'm going to dedicate to producing music, which normally I'm not allowing myself to do."

Listen to the complete conversation with Sean on my podcast, Write With Impact.

Published on: Apr 19, 2016