Still Life

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Earlier this year, Rinne Allen mentioned to Athensmade that she was going to use the summer to recharge, which meant not working. Now that Rinne’s taken her self-declared Sabbatical, we talked to her about what she’s learned about herself and her work.

Photos by Kristin Karch

Mary Charles: This is Mary Charles Howard, the Executive Director of Athensmade here with Rinne Allen. I want to talk to Rinne about some personal care recommendations that she has through recent experience. Rinne recently took two months off this summer. I just want to discuss that time with her, her decisions, and how that's affected her. So, Rinne, thanks for being here.

Rinne: Thanks for having me.

Mary Charles: How long have you been thinking about taking time off?

Rinne: Well, I would say that when you're self employed, you really just work or think about work pretty much all the time. Or at least when you're a creative person who's self employed. So the idea ... I never really feel like I take time of in general. If I'm traveling, or on vacation, I'm still thinking about my creative projects. So I would say that when I became a mother 10 years ago and seven years ago, I went through a period of trying to figure out how I could mother my children and still pursue my creative work.

It took me many years to figure out what a new pace would be for my work and finding the time I wanted to give to my children. I would say that I didn't always do that gracefully, and I didn't always do that well. Sometimes I committed to too much work, and mothering would demand more time than I expected or understood. So, I would say that about two years ago I realized that I wanted to shift things. It took me a while to realize how I needed to shift them.

I would say, just through talking to friends, I have friends in the Academic world that are given regular Sabbaticals as part of their job. The academic institution allows them to take a semester off just to kind of regenerate and work on their own projects and ideas. From talking to people like that, it made me think I just need to do that for myself. But when you're your own boss, it's hard to figure out how to structure that or how to do it.

I would say it took me a couple years to realize I needed it. Then, it took me some time to figure out actually how to do it. Really, I just decided I was gonna do it. I just jumped in and said this is the time. I sort of looked at my calendar, I knew I didn't have a lot of work coming up. It just felt like it was time.

Mary Charles: You said earlier, you were talking about how you had some friends who already had Sabbatical built in and how beautiful that is. But then also, some friends in the corporate world who wish they could just take time off. They felt like they were getting burnt out. Will you just talk about that a little bit?

Rinne: Yeah, so it just so happened that I, over the last few years, have had conversations with friends who work in jobs that are very demanding and very creatively demanding. Their vacation time is very structured. They want a break, but don't know how to work in a break in the corporate world structure.

Rinne: So one of them, I've been encouraging to go to their employer and suggest starting a Sabbatical program. Even for a month, or six or eight weeks. Just so the employee could, again, recharge their batteries, sort of recalibrate. Then, rejoin the company after that time with a fresh perspective.

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it may be the difference between someone leaving the company permanently or staying, but feeling burnt out, or resentful, or not having the best ideas because they’re worn out.

Whether it's just getting enough sleep, or new ideas. I wish there were more businesses out there that could offer that to their employees because it may be the difference between someone leaving the company permanently or staying, but feeling burnt out, or resentful, or not having the best ideas because they're worn out. It just hit me that, wow, I'm my own boss. So I should just give myself this Sabbatical and try it.

Mary Charles: As you were thinking about doing this, how did you financially plan for this (taking time off)?

Rinne: So it's risky. But the way my business works is, I often get paid 30 to 60 days post ... for after my job. My income cycle is a little different than a normal job. So, it means that I have a tendency to look at my income over a span of ... like what I'm bringing in over a span of months, rather than month by month.

While that's hard sometimes, because financially it's hard to plan like that, that's how it's been for me for over a decade, so I'm used to it now. When I was deciding to take the time off, I knew I was going to have some income coming in from previous work. Then, I crossed my fingers that there would be work at the end of the time off.

But I just really reigned in my spending. I didn't make any large business expenditures during that time. I just tried to kind of hold steady, and I wasn't trying to do anything related to any sort of expansion. I will also add that I also have a little bit of an income stream from another side business that I'm involved in that gives me some passive income, so I have that as a fall back if I needed it.

Mary Charles: If you decided to go more than two months?

Rinne: Yeah, exactly, exactly.

Mary Charles: So I don't know if you mentioned that, yet. About when you got started, did you know how long you were going to go on this break?

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I did not know how long I was gonna go. I just was gonna go until I felt better, I think.

Rinne:  I did not know how long I was gonna go. I just was gonna go until I felt better, I think. So I started this spring, and I just slowly wound down my work commitments. I didn't make a big announcement, I didn't really even tell that many people. I just wanted to start and see what happened. What I found was that it took me a week or two to sort of get in this new pace. I did turn away some work or send it to friends. I passed on a lot of work during that time.

I also talked to some of the people I collaborate with about postponing the work. So instead of doing it immediately, I said, "Hey, can we do that in six weeks?" Some people were like, "Sure, we can wait." Some people couldn't, and that's when I tried to help them find others that could do it for them.

I sort of had an arbitrary idea of how long it would last based on some travel that I had this summer. I thought, "Well, I'll just do it until that travel time happens." Something that was already previously planned. It ended up, that was about just what I needed. It was just right around two months.

I did come into my studio some, and I did some work that was more things I kept pushing aside. Like, I worked on freshening up my website, I redid some of my accounting systems. But it felt kind of enjoyable, rather than a chore because it was free of the distraction of other deadlines for other people. Which, don't get me wrong, I enjoy. But the only deadlines were the ones I set.

Mary Charles: I like what you said about how it took you two weeks to sort of get in the groove. Most of us who are in sort of a more corporate structure, I mean, I think it is everyone who is not working for themselves. I think the max you could take would be two weeks without people thinking they just quit and they're never coming back.

Rinne: Yeah, yeah.

Mary Charles: You know, so ... and it really does take about two weeks to wind down. If you go on a one week vacation, especially if you're with your children or with a bunch of people, that's not even a break. So I think that is really important to take these long breaks and really devote that time to yourself. Because just in two weeks, you're just getting started.

Rinne: Yeah, yeah. I would say it takes about one week to kind of relax, then it took me a week to literally sit on my hands, almost. Not cultivate work, because the type of work I do ... I have to generate a lot of it and it takes a lot of output from me. I had to almost unwind my habits from doing that and say, "I'm not gonna do that right now." So it took me an extra week, at least, to do that.

Mary Charles: Now, what kind of lessons did you learn through the experience of taking time off? Then, how are you implementing those lessons now that you're back at work?

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I got a lot of creative inspiration... from allowing my brain a little more space.

Rinne: Well, I would say that in my case, I got a lot of creative inspiration. Mainly, from just allowing my brain a little more space. I also feel like ... because I did a little bit on the organizational side for my business, I'm able to kind of jump back in now knowing it's done, and tended to, and it's not sort of weighing on my shoulders or ... nagging at me because it was sort of starting to nag at me.

Then, I will also say the biggest thing is I feel like I've figured out what pace I should be working at now. What is sustainable, and healthy, and good for everyone in my life, as well as myself. I would say it's working a little less than I was before the break. I have also learned that it is so important to give yourself permission to take a break. Whether it's an afternoon off, or a month off.

Overtime, I think, most people get worn down. Running your own business, being self employed, again it being a creative business on top of that. It's a lot of ... you need a lot of stamina. I have a lot, but my batteries were running low.

Mary Charles: Well, what recommendations do you have for others thinking about doing this? What were the really scary parts? So, we talked about financials. Then, the most rewarding pieces that you've gotten. You took this break this summer, and now we're in November, so you've had some time to reflect on what that really did for your heart, and soul, and mind.

Rinne: Yeah, yeah. Well, I would say for others ... the financial piece is, of course, so important, and it was a little scary. But what happened to me, and this I feel like was the universe looking out for me, is when I felt ready to go back to work in August, I had three really interesting, amazing projects literally fall in my lap, like out of nowhere. Nothing I had tried to cultivate, they just appeared.

I feel like that reassured me that there will be work after a break like this, that I'm not just gonna fall off people's radar. But I also feel like ... I would encourage others maybe contemplating something similar is, it should be looked at just as important to your business as creating a business plan, or creating ideas for expansion.

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I will also say, it gave me time to look back on what I have done up to this point and really think about where I want to go from here.

I just don't know that every person is meant to plug away this hard every day after day and not give themselves time to step back and look at what they've done. I will also say, it gave me time to look back on what I have done up to this point and really think about where I want to go from here. That was hard to do within the day to day demands of just life, and mothering, and running a business. It was hard to get perspective on where I want to go. I think I got a much clearer perspective.

Mary Charles: Well, thanks, Rinne. Thanks for sharing your experience with us.

Rinne: Thanks for listening.

Mary Charles Howard