Why a sabbatical is necessary time

Aaron Barlow, blogging at the Academe Blog, shared this Rhetoric Society of America video presentation from Dan Pink on motivation and work. I thought it was important enough and frankly, brilliant enough to also share here. Take a look at it now. You won’t regret it.

I think that those of who love writing, research, the creative arts, and yes, teaching, know what Pink asserts about motivation down to our souls and soles, but so much of this planet is “sold” on money as the primary and only motivator that other, more primary motivations are discounted.

I have taught, written, and researched now at Missouri State since 2005. Before that I sprinted a thrilling three years to an MFA and four to the Ph.D. Before that I worked as a Realtor, and trust me, no one does that just for the money. The reward has to be elsewhere, which for me was the mentoring through being a broker and aesthetic joy through making old things new (house flipping), something that I rarely got to do. At no time was money a motivator once basic needs were met. By the way, Missouri Legislators, for the vast majority of faculty at public universities, those basic needs are not yet met, but because we love what we do, because our motivations are elsewhere, we are incredibly easy to screw over. However, that’s actually not my focus here. Our current university president is working mightily to remedy past sins.

No, I want to do some thinking about the sabbatical. I have one this semester. I would have tried for a year since I have more than enough projects to fill that time, but a year-long sabbatical is at half-pay and I am neither married nor have a significant other who could help with that. I simply cannot live on half-pay. Because of that, I applied for a semester’s sabbatical for a book project and for professional development and research travel that will support the project. Sabbaticals are very competitive at my university, and I am grateful that I was awarded one on my second try. I am hoping that at the end of this time I will have the three chapters I outlined done and also be better able to make my software skills meet my artistic vision of digital poetry. Until I  learn some animation techniques and hone the Creative Suite skills I already have, my vision for digital poems will continue to be out of reach.

The first day for spring semester classes is Monday and I have not spent the last week on syllabi and other course prep. Instead, over the break I had two deadlines for already contracted articles, the second of which is due Wednesday. After that, I will do revisions on the first one, turn in a proposal for another book chapter (the second volume for an edited collection I participated in), then sometime in February the chapter work detailed in the sabbatical will begin. Also, while I continue work on these scholarly projects, I will continue the momentum from last semester, when my return to actively writing and sending out poems meant twelve accepted poems during that semester.

What I am finding out is that having unstructured time like this allows me to be more productive. Ironically, this “time off” means I could end up with double the publications I had planned. I detail this a little not to self-promote, but to stress the idea that unstructured time like this is not a luxury; it is a vital need, especially for writers and artists, and face it, if your faculty position has any research requirement at all, you are a writer (or at least play one at work). A sabbatical and the flexibility it gives should not be a luxury. It is an idea that could play out well for far more people. As long as those people are NOT motivated by money but are doing the work they do because they love to do it, time off like this will be magic time.

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Author of the poetry collection The Tethered Ground and Professor of English at Missouri State University. Contact me for readings or for workshops on writing/publishing and on teaching writing online.

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