Nobody comes back from a journey the way they started it.
I was incredibly fortunate to ring in the New Year at the swanky Sumaq Hotel in Aguas Calientes at the base of Machu Picchu in Peru. A mere seven hours later, my 20-year-old daughter, Julia, and I were at the base of Huayna Picchu (the mountain often shown rising up behind the lost city) to be part of a limited group that would hike to the summit that day. This capped days of travelling the Sacred Valley and interacting with as many native Peruvians as we could.
What do travel and time off have to do with leadership, you may be wondering. Only everything.
Being in a new place, with new sights, smells, tastes, and sounds is one of the ways we wake up from our daily lives. We have the opportunity to look at ourselves and the world with fresh eyes. Being in a different environment brings new questions to our consciousness. Who are you in that place? How does it compare to how you experience, or are experienced, in your natural habitat?
And the even bigger questions we can forget or avoid: Who are you now? What do you really want?
Master the art of checking out, so that when you check back in you do so with new thoughts and ideas, increased energy, and greater commitment.
I used to work with a coach on the West Coast who takes off one week every month—yes, every month! As an author, public speaker, coach to ultra-high-achievers, as well as a dad, he focuses on his work for the first three weeks of the month, then takes the last week off to focus on his own growth and renewal. Sometimes he travels to his native UK. Sometimes he spends time writing, hiking, or being in nature. Often he is off to explore the globe.
Choosing to immerse yourself in unfamiliar places and situations expands your thinking and broadens your perspective.
A technology CEO who took his company public last year is always traveling to new places and pushing his physical edge—snowboarding, hiking, biking, and running. He recently completed a multi-day run through the Sahara Desert. His ability to create space for this in his life has been hard won, yet he has learned over the years that doubling down on work when he is running out of gas can make his fuel burn all the faster.
International travel can spark new synapses in the brain, increasing neuroplasticity, and revitalizing the mind.
The science is there. Adam Galinsky, a professor at Columbia Business School, has authored numerous studies on the connection between international travel and creativity. Foreign experience, particularly when immersive, increases cognitive flexibility and “tends to change the way we approach the world” making our minds more open and able to “make connections between disparate forms.” Spending time reflecting on your experiences is also key to getting the most benefit, says Galinsky.
Last May I attended a yoga, wine tasting, and meditation retreat in Tuscany—I kid you not. While there, I had lots of time to just ‘be’ in my surroundings, to watch the sky change colors outside my window, to smell unfamiliar flowers as they were beginning to bloom—not to mention the ‘fresh scents’ of the nearby stable. And don’t get me started on the meals that came straight from the kitchen garden, or the best olive oil and Chianti that have ever passed my lips. What I am able to re-imagine most however, is the warmth and kindness of our Italian hosts, and the international group that quickly bonded and shared their hearts deep into the night.
Returning home, we are the same person and yet changed. We know more about ourselves, and the broader world we live in. We have greater tolerance and compassion. We are more hopeful, creative, and open to possibility.
My recent experiences in Peru and Italy, along with all of the places I have visited have enhanced me in ways that are hard to quantify or explain, but they are deep and true, and contribute to who I am today in immeasurable ways.
Where are you headed next? How will you see and lead and with new eyes?
I’m thinking Portugal.