What is a sabbatical?

Sabbaticals are planned breaks to explore other interests, to try new things and stretch boundaries. They are a sure-fire method of recharging depleted creative batteries and resetting one’s personal compass. But today few professionals outside academe can afford to take a long retreat for study, travel or reinventing themselves. Nor is the traditional summer holiday a panacea: a surprising 54% of Americans report that vacationing leaves them tired (“Harper’s Index”, October 2002).

Why are sabbaticals increasingly relevant today?

Throughout the industrial world burnout is becoming an epidemic as work hours and tasks expand. Harvard economist Juliet Schor has documented that between the 1970s and 1990s the typical American adult lost over a month of leisure time annually (The Overworked American, Basic Books, 1993). This phenomenon is spreading across the developed world as organizations restructure to maintain global competitiveness. Serious consequences of our contemporary “time deficit” are already visible. Yale University political scientist Robert Lane has linked the epidemic of clinical depression among the inhabitants of the world’s richest societies to lack of time for friendship and recreation (The Loss of Happiness in Market Economies, Yale University Press, 2001). The extreme case today is Japan, where executive suicide is alarmingly commonplace (TIME Asia, 20 October, 2000).

What makes the Arete Sabbatical distinct?

Ironically, at no time in history has there been more knowledge — based on scientific research — to help besieged individuals handle the whirlwind pace of modern life, and thrive. Unfortunately, few people are exposed to this research through formal education, and fewer still have an opportunity to take a needed pause to begin integrating these sensible ideas and habits into their lives. The Arete Sabbatical in Prague is designed to accomplish that, and in a time frame manageable for most working professionals.


“Radical Sabbaticals” Fast Company, November 1998. fastcompany.com

Time Off From Work: Using Sabbaticals To Enhance Your Life While Keeping Your Career On Track, by Lisa Rogak (John Wiley & Sons, 1994) Amazon

Clarity Quest: How to Take a Sabbatical Without Taking More Than a Week Off, by Pamela Ammondson (Fireside, 1999) Amazon

“How to Move Forward When You’re Between Jobs: Learn how to transform a layoff into a savvy sabbatical” Fast Company, June 2001. fastcompany.com


The Loss of Happiness in Market Economies, by Robert E. Lane, Yale University Press, 2001). Amazon

The Overworked American: The Unexpected Decline of Leisure, by Juliet Schor (Basic Books, 1993) Amazon

Work Without End, by Benjamin Hunnicutt (Temple University Press, 2002) Amazon

Bowling Alone, by Robert D. Putnam (Touchstone, 2001) Amazon

Work Addiction: Hidden Legacies of Adult Children, by Dr. Bryan Robinson (Health Communications, 1989) Amazon

“Letter from Japan: Death of a Salaryman” TIME Asia, 20 October 2000 time.com

“The Big Lie: A member of Harvard Medical School's Department of Psychiatry offers five strategies to avoid burnout” INC. Magazine, 1 March 1996 inc.com

“America the Blue” Utne Reader, October 2000 utne.com


The Creative Age: Awakening Human Potential in the Second Half of Life, by Gene D. Cohen, M.D., Ph.D. (Avon Books, 2000) Amazon

Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention, by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (HarperCollins, 1996) Amazon

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi bio

Finding Flow: The Psychology of Engagement With Everyday Life, by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (Basic Books, 1997) Amazon

“The Most Creative Man in Silicon Valley: Stanford Graduate School of Business Professor Michael Ray” Fast Company, June 2000 fastcompany.com

“Michael Ray: Teaching Entrepreneurs How to Cut Loose” Chronicle of Higher Education, 20 October 2000

The Path of the Everyday Hero, by Lora Catford, Ph.D. and Michael Ray, Ph.D. (Tarcher/Putnam, 1991) Amazon

Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind & Your Life, by Martin E. Seligman (Pocket Books, 1998) Amazon

The Aspen Institute’s Executive Seminar aspeninstitute.org


Prague Information Center

The Prague Post


Specifically, it’s designed for well-educated people at a mid-point in their lives who are ready for a major break – to take stock of where they are and where they are going. It’s meant to jump-start that valuable process, and open up new possibilities in participants’ professional and personal futures.


Areté (pronounced ah-rhet-uh) is a classical Greek noun meaning the elements which comprise good character.


The Sabbatical was designed as a completely new kind of learning experience – tailored for professionals shouldering the burden of today’s unprecedented work and personal pressures. It entails a radical break from routine plus a carefully choreographed daily dosage of the timeless requisites of maximum aliveness, creativity and happiness. These elements include intellectual challenge, physical movement, immersion in creative expression, and, not least of all, a supportive learning community. There is also unstructured time for rest and reflection, and, of course, for absorbing the inspirational ambience of Prague, one of the world’s architectural and cultural wonders.

Unlike typical professional training programs, the Arete Sabbatical is not about passively sitting in a classroom. The curriculum synthesizes elements from several fertile precedents, among them the “Personal Creativity in Business” course at Stanford, and the equally renowned “Executive Seminar” at The Aspen Institute. In line with classic Greek ideals, our aim is to focus on the whole human being, with the net result that participants attain better balance in their lives. Sabbatical graduates should not merely be happier and refreshed, but better able to access natural creativity and impact their environment in more positive ways.


We can definitely start the process, and give participants the tools they need to keep growing. To begin with, the ideas and exercises we draw upon from Professor Michael Ray’s creativity course at the Stanford University Graduate School of Business do an excellent job of assisting talented people unblock their abilities, by helping them look within. Dr. Ray has taught his course for two decades, and it is credited by hundreds of successful alumni as having enhanced their work and personal lives. Two years ago I spent six weeks in Palo Alto observing Dr. Ray’s course, and saw for myself the immense impact it has on students at the world’s top-rated MBA school.

The multiple dimensions of Arete’s Sabbatical are designed to be strongly mutually reinforcing. The Classical Greek ideal of areté, from which we take our name, holds that becoming a balanced person means not merely that you perfect your intellectual, physical and artistic talents, but that you also engage the world. With that in mind, Arete’s Sabbatical borrows from other inspirations, including The Aspen Institute, whose seminars assemble leaders from varied walks of life for a week devoted to discussion and reflection on enduring questions from philosophy and literature. Aspen’s seminars employ a Socratic format, which spurs participants to look outside themselves and actively connect with others. That is a very healthy and also enjoyable thing.

The Sabbatical involves a series of novel experiences, but there is also a text-based syllabus precisely as with a university course. Participants are not only in for a marvelous week, they will go home with a half-dozen terrific books to help keep them on the path of continued growth.


Prague is an enchanting city with exquisite cultural resources that are exceptionally affordable. Secondly, burnout isn’t caused just by stress but also by boredom. For this reason a week at the beach, though nice, isn’t particularly helpful at changing one’s long-term outlook on life and work. Thus when it came to designing a program meant to inspire and reinvigorate participants, we opted for taking full advantage of a context that is enormously different from what most people experience day-to-day. There are literally hundreds of extraordinary venues to choose from in Prague for holding various Sabbatical sessions, and hundreds of world-class thinkers and artists to host them. We have made Prague an integral part of participants’ Sabbatical experience. Anyone who associates seminars with enduring a neon-lit conference room in a hotel or office building is in for a pleasant surprise.


One of our guiding beliefs in establishing Arete Institute is that useful and credible answers exist which can help individuals better understand and deal with the stresses and opportunities of modernity. We aim to be an innovative forum for sharing these answers, and through the most powerful and satisfying means of communication available to human beings — face-to-face conversation.

In modern society, the vast majority of one’s life is carefully directed and strictly planned. This is truest for high achievers — those who attain leadership and professional roles. Most professionals and managers are monitored and rigidly scheduled throughout their working lives, which means 40 years of stress with minimal opportunity for self-reflection and creative expression. Considering how school is a rigorous and regimented socialization process, and that there is almost no formal teaching of life skills, it is hardly a wonder that professional life — in many respects a continuation of school — turns out to be, for many, a dissatisfying gauntlet. It is also not surprising that corporations are spending billions on what amounts to remedial training — albeit often without squarely addressing the core issue of what makes for creative excellence and good character.

Few people get exposure to leading-edge research about creativity, wellness or happiness through our existing institutions. In general, schools tend to be rather conservative. I’ll give an illustration. The “Personal Creativity in Business” course at Stanford, which I mentioned earlier, has a 20-year track record — numerous business leaders and entrepreneurs claim that the course was the jewel in the crown of their MBA studies. Nevertheless, I know of no other major business school that takes cultivating creativity seriously. This indicates how tradition overrules effectiveness even in an educational sector that prides itself on practicality.

Another reason for founding Arete Institute is that even though mass media and the internet are making information available with unprecedented ease, contexts for people to share and discuss ideas are disappearing — as Harvard’s Robert Putnam has chillingly documented in Bowling Alone. The past century and a half has transformed not only our material conditions but our way of relating to each other: After tens of thousands of years of taking guidance from each other and from nature, our species suddenly inhabits an electronic, “virtual” environment. It is hardly surprising that many people today feel isolated, as if they were spectators rather than participants in their own lives. One of the primary aims of Arete Institute is to offset the resultant social vacuum by promoting the sharing of ideas in the way human beings were designed for, i.e., in person.


It’s the culmination of a long process. Ever since I started college teaching in the late 80s I have felt that educational institutions are failing to contribute all they might. Higher education nowadays promotes intense specialization, divides reality into academic fiefdoms, and basically does a poor job of helping us fit all the pieces together — which is what human beings need. Education also tends to stop at a point in the life cycle when people could really begin to use it, i.e., adulthood. We tend to overlook that very few people have sorted their life out by age 25, and fewer yet have gotten useful advice by that juncture about how to lead an excellent life. There are of course so many exceptional high achievers who succeed despite all handicaps that we tend to overlook that many people are capable of more.

During the 1980s I was an international banker, working in San Francisco and Bangkok. I had always wanted to teach, so I eventually went back to get my doctorate at Brown. I found that most of my students were searching for more than they were getting out of the university’s curriculum, despite Brown’s being overall a wonderful place to study. This put the seed in my mind that genuine learning, or at least learning how to be a human being, requires more than abstract intellectual exercises and the apparatus of credits and grade points. From that point onward I have integrated a bit of self-exploration into all my university courses. Via my teaching at Brown, Holy Cross, and other universities I have also observed that the students who are most willing to undergo self-exploration almost inevitably become leaders — whether as charter school principals, by writing path-breaking poetry, or as public servants.

In 1997 I got the opportunity to come to Prague to take up a professorship teaching MBA students and leading executive education seminars. Owing to the dislocations in the post-communist economies, I found myself teaching the cream of Eastern Europe’s young professionals — physicians, scientists, engineers, lawyers and public officials. As at Brown, I found that many of them were looking for more than they were finding in an academic curriculum. Many of my students dreaded working for large organizations upon graduation and sought my help identifying entrepreneurial outlets for their personal interests. It became increasingly clear to me that there was room for new kinds of synthetic learning experiences which address people’s needs in respect to creating meaningful and maximally productive lives. This started me on a search which eventually took me to the Stanford Business School.

Around the time I went to Stanford at the invitation of Professor Ray to observe his Personal Creativity in Business course, one of my former MBA students, Richard Furych, persuaded me to co-found with him Arete Institute. Richard had already had some high-powered corporate experience behind him and wanted a more creative and personally fulfilling arena. Two years later, after a lot of hard work, here we are.

Douglas H. Pressman, Ph.D. earned his B.A. degree at Colgate University and holds masters degrees from both Brown University and American Graduate School of International Management (Thunderbird). Prior to earning a Ph.D. in Sociology at Brown University (1993), Dr. Pressman worked six years with the international division of the Bank of California, where he was responsible for institutional lending and country risk assessment in Latin America and Southeast Asia. During 1981-1984 he was based in the bank’s Bangkok branch as Deputy Regional Manager. Prior to moving to Prague, Dr. Pressman held visiting professorships at Holy Cross College and the University of Oregon, where he taught international studies on a Fulbright grant. In 1997 he was appointed to the MBA faculty of the Czech Management Center, where he taught cross-cultural management, comparative sociology, and supervised executive education. For three consecutive years he won the "Best Professor Award" from the school’s MBA graduates. In 2002 Dr. Pressman joined the faculty of Charles University, where he lectures in Central European Studies. He has been the recipient of numerous academic fellowships and honors and is a founding member of the Institute for the Analysis of Contemporary Society, based at the New School for Social Research in New York City.

Man is so made that he can only find relaxation from one kind of labor by taking up another.

Anatole France, novelist, essayist, Nobel laureate (1844-1924)

Hunnicutt: “Relaxation Critical” (Atlanta Journal-Constitution, August 10, 2002.) Avoiding boredom is what drives America’s economy and our gigabyte lifestyles, but such stimulation addiction is also what drives millions of us to anxiety disorders, depression, exhaustion, even suicide, experts say. ‘There’s an awful emptiness, because we work so much,’ says Benjamin Hunnicutt, a professor at the University of Iowa and author of Work Without End (Temple University Press, 2002). ‘The human animal is a meaning-seeking animal, and leisure provides a time to look for meaning and purpose, a spiritual quest... But we need to relax to search for such meaning.’ Hunnicutt says that if more of us took time to be bored or found ways to do nothing, fewer people would be depressed, stressed, overworried, overscheduled or obese. But few of us know how to chill without popping pills or turning to alcohol or drugs or food, all of which can develop into dangerous habits. Relaxation, though, is critical, he says, because it gives us time to use our imaginations, to get in touch with inner thoughts, to seek some sort of spirituality or inner peace, whether through religious belief, meditation, or exercise.”

reproduced from University of Iowa Alumni Association e-mail newsletter, @Iowa , September 2002 Edition, page 2

"If cults were typically founded in response to disaster or plague, why are cults proliferating today? What calamity is driving people into them? The answer seems to be a general aporia: a loss of meaning or of nerve, a thirst for simple answers in the face of overwhelming complexity."

Daniel Dennett, “Appraising Grace”, Sciences (New York), Jan./Feb. 1997.

“I believe we are undergoing a far greater evolution than what is being paid lip service to. I believe we’re seeing the very rudiments and beginnings of that change. I do not expect many of our institutions will exist 100 years from now. I don’t say that apocalyptically, only in that I believe they will be abandoned and replaced as people vote with their hearts and feet. The unversity, the church, and the government have all failed to provide the knowledge, inspiration, and leadership people need to move coherently as a society to a social good.”

Paul Hawken, author of Natural Capitalism: Creating the Next Industrial Revolution (Little, Brown,1999) and The Ecology of Commerce (Harperbusiness, 1993) — in an interview with Sarah Ruth van Gelder in Saying yes!:Conversations on a World that Works for All, © Positive Futures Network, 2000.

“In 1953, Ray Bradbury published Fahrenheit 451 — later made into a movie by Francois Truffaut — which depicts a future society in which intelligence has largely collapsed and the reading of books is forbidden by law. People sit around interacting with screens (referred to as 'the family') and taking tranquilizers. Today, nearly five decades later, isn't this largely the point at which we have arrived?. The majority of citizens on the eve of the twenty-first century watch an average of four hours of TV a day, pop Prozac and its derivatives like candy, and perhaps read a Danlelle Steel novel once a year."

Morris Berman, The Twilight of American Culture (W.W. Norton, 1999)

“The dissonance of modern life — in particular that manifested in the improvement of technique in every area and the simultaneous deep dissatisfaction with technical progress — is caused in large part by the fact that things are becoming more and more cultivated, while men are less able to gain from the perfection of objects a perfection of the subjective life.” -

Georg Simmel (“Subjective Culture” [1908]).

Prague-based institute launches an antidote to burnout — a one-week “sabbatical” to inspire and reinvigorate leaders and professionals — with the marvels of Prague as backdrop.

The Sabbatical for Leaders and Professionals™ is a completely new kind of learning experience — indispensable for people bearing the brunt of today’s unprecedented work and personal pressures. It entails a radical break from routine plus carefully choreographed dosages of the timeless ingredients of maximum creativity and happiness: intellectual challenge, artistic expression, and physical movement. There is also unstructured time for rest and reflection, and for absorbing the breathtaking ambience of Prague — one of the world’s architectural treasures.

Sabbaticals are planned breaks to explore other interests, to try new things and stretch boundaries. They are a sure-fire method of recharging depleted creative batteries and resetting one’s personal compass. Sabbaticals are valuable not only those who take them, but their employers and colleagues also profit. The Arete Institute’s program is designed to assist working professionals obtain many of the benefits of a long time-out, but in a time frame which does not disrupt their careers.

The Arete Institute is an educational organization based in Prague, Czech Republic, which sponsors innovative learning experiences focused on promoting social creativity and visionary leadership.