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Bar News - December 14, 2007

Work-Life Balance
Taking a Break: Profile of a Sabbatical


Steve Winer and daughter Hannah on their cycling trip

When you think of an extended break from work what comes to mind?  The opportunity to take on a challenge or re-charge your batteries?  Time to write a book, travel to a new place, sleep in, or landscape your yard?  Your answer is likely to reflect your desires, orientation and values.

For Steven Winer, a partner with Orr & Reno with a focus on employment and immigration law, a sabbatical offered the chance to spend time with and deepen connections with his family.  Orr & Reno has a sabbatical policy that allows anyone who has been a partner for 12 years to take a three-and-a-half-month sabbatical, with the possibility of a second one after another 11 years. 


Winer notes that while providing this benefit obviously requires juggling on the part of the firm, The bottom line is that it is feasible from an economic perspective.  A successful sabbatical program needs a group that takes the longer view, with an understanding that others will pitch in to give the economic support that is necessary and that the tables will turn and [someday] youll have the advantage.  From a practical standpoint, a sabbatical policy is a nice retention tool and a benefit for both the employer and employee.


Steve was delighted to find his children, ages 15 to 22, excited about spending one-on-one time with him during his four months away from the office this past summer.  The only challenge involved, he reports, was choosing among the overwhelming array of options.  He also took the opportunity to travel with his wife, Margaret Landsman.


I really enjoyed everything I did, Winer notes.  The last time he had had an extended break like his sabbatical was in seventh grade. Ive been either working or going to school for the last 35 years, he said.


I did a bit of planning and thinking ahead of time.  I knew that I wanted to travel some and was aware that the time was running short for spending extended time with my kids, as they are quickly growing up.  During my sabbatical, I traveled about half the time, taking a series of short trips.  In between I was at home, and traveled a little, visiting family and friends.


For each of his children, Steve developed a trip around a shared interest. 

His oldest child, daughter Hannah, age 22, had just graduated from college.  Since she is an experienced cyclist, they took a week-long bicycling trip around northwestern Vermont.  Going from inn-to-inn with the support of maps and planned routes gave him plenty of time to ride and talk with his daughter while meeting people in the group and doing some sightseeing.  I got in reasonable shape for that, he said.


My son Max, age 20, had just finished his junior year in college.  As a music fan, he suggested we attend a week-long bluegrass festival in Telluride, Colorado.  After flying into Denver, we drove west to Telluride, to the first festival that I had been to in many years.  We also took advantage of the mountains to do some hiking.  It was just great, aside from needing doses of Advil for sitting on a blanket for days on end. 


My son, Ben, who is 15, had just finished his freshman year in high school.  He likes golf, so we went to Ashville, NC for a week.  We took in some of the cultural offerings and did some hiking in the Smoky Mountains.  I saw an old friend, too. 


As part of a trip through national parks that I took with Margaret, we decided to go to the north rim of the Grand Canyon; wed been to the south rim. We also visited Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks, while traveling through Utah, Arizona and Nevada.  As it was mid-August, it was very hot and we learned to drink a lot of water.  Margaret also spent time visiting family in Cincinnati and Kentucky.


In reflecting on the sabbatical, Winer says I can remember moments I spent with each of my three children, Hannah, Max and Ben, and with my wife, Margaret, at some beautiful spot, alone together, able to enjoy and be in that moment.  Its a rare treat, especially with children, to have those times.


When asked what advice he would give to those contemplating sabbaticals, he said I would urge them to grab the opportunity, if it is given to them.  The challenges of day-to-day life create distractions from doing things you enjoy and a sabbatical provides the space to do so.  Everyone has his/her own ideas about how to spend time and this may include a challenge of some kind, perhaps a physical feat, but I recommend using the time to connect in a different way with members of your family.


Asked about challenges presented during his sabbatical, Winer laughed and said, I didnt try to row a dinghy across the ocean.  Since he chose a more leisurely array of activities, it was easy to relax and enjoy the time off.


In looking ahead, Winer hopes to capitalize on and try to keep up some of the enhanced connections that my family and I created while I was off.  Without a sabbatical, Ill need to carve out shorter times.  Hopefully I will do that.    


Winer returned to work renewed and refreshed in mid-September.  I enjoy my job, so it wasnt difficult to come back.  I missed a number of my colleagues.  But returning to a more rigid schedule of day-to-day work life did take some getting used to. 


Would he do it again?  You bet!


Betsy Black, J.D., A.C.C., is an accredited life coach who specializes in working with lawyers seeking greater satisfaction in their work and personal lives.  Please direct your thoughts, questions and requests for future topics for this monthly column to her at or call 603/228-6195.





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