They say that travel is the only thing you can spend your money on that makes you richer. While that may sound like a cheesy cliché, it’s steeped in truth. Exploring the world opens people up to new ideas and perspectives, while enabling us to hone empathy and curiosity.
Before I embarked on a worldwide expedition, I was the textbook definition of an entrepreneur. I was overworked, overstressed, under-rested and couldn’t go five minutes without harping on the problems facing my business. I was entirely consumed by my desire to build a robust business, impress my investors, and achieve financial success. Like many other entrepreneurs who find themselves entirely consumed by their businesses, I hit the point of no return. After months of living like an irritable zombie I was forced to take a break.
Many entrepreneurs have found immense success and personal fulfillment from stepping outside of the daily grind and traveling the world. Some have even managed to make ongoing travel a part of their professional livelihoods. However, I wasn’t convinced I’d experience the same positive result. But despite my better judgment, I amused them and agreed to a month-long sabbatical; no laptop, no tablet, no smartphone, no email, and no social media. A month away meant not just physically spending time outside of my office, but also forcefully cutting myself off from the devices that consumed my time and fueled my obsession.
It’s easy to get wrapped up in your work. Our culture seems to celebrate workaholics, but this non-stop, obsessive attitude can start to warp over time. I used to lose sleep worrying about potential typos in investor emails or difficult conversations with investors. These daily challenges began to feel like the end of the world. But after visiting remote parts and seeing people live and thrive with limited means, I realized how inconsequential one bad meeting or failed design really is in the grand scheme of things.
I learned that it’s far more valuable to focus on the process of building a company than the end result. When I returned I began to have actual conversations with my employees – not just about current projects or industry trends – but about them and their goals. I went out of my way to show my employees I care and cultivate an open environment that values team and relationship building above sales goals and business wins. As the leader of my company, I saw that when I projected curiosity and happiness, company morale, as a whole, grew. When I started to actively engage employees, they took the initiative to build deeper relationships with the company themselves, which sparked some of their best work. Their own engagement and enjoyment in their work grew exponentially. Taking a step back to gain perspective enabled me to ignite a ripple effect throughout my company.
Our screens and devices facilitate almost every facet of our lives: we manage our money through online bank accounts, stay in touch with friends through social media, and communicate with clients and coworkers via email. If our devices were to suddenly stop functioning, it would feel like the apocalypse. Yet, for all of the efficiency they provide, there’s also a downside.
We are so tuned in to our screens, that we have tuned out from the world around us. Before traveling the world, I had a difficult time focusing on one task. I would start an email to a client, then check in on a vendor update, message an associate, or edit an investor deck. It wasn’t unusual for one email to sit in my draft box for an entire workday. All of the shifting back and forth fogged up my mind and left me incapable of fully concentrating. My mind was constantly jumping back and forth between items on my to-do list, and when I would finally accomplish a task it was often half-baked because my mind was elsewhere.
Traveling forced me to unplug, and the longer I went without a screen, the more present I felt in each and every moment. I was able to read a book (and fully retain the plot) without worrying about quarterly sales. I sat down to rewrite my company’s mission over one four-hour period – no breaks and no jumping back and forth between activities. Disconnecting enabled me to fully reconnect.
Since returning, I’ve made a conscious effort to eliminate screen time when possible; when I’m at the office my smartphone stays in my bag. Today, I step away from the office on a more regular basis and prioritize relationship-building. Experiencing the vastness of the world outside the confines of my office made me realize that getting too caught up in stress inhibits anyone from really living – and leading – to the fullest.