By Ben Way, president of The Rainmakers, LTD
Taking time away from business is never easy. But for me, sabbaticals are an integral part of my success as an entrepreneur; one of the “X factors” that keeps me thriving. And, like many things entrepreneurial, I came across this realization by accident.
After the dot-com crash, I had been reduced from a pioneer in my industry to a rather humble, lost, poor teenager. I had a long, hard think about what I truly wanted. Having spent most of my young life engaged in some kind of business, I realized I had left out a significant part of my childhood. I decided I was still young enough to have fun and explore the world.
Because I can’t do anything “small,” I pursued and was chosen to be on one of the first reality TV shows in the United Kingdom. The show sent us across the globe for 11 weeks, visiting 11 different countries and encountering 11 unique challenges. We served as our own camera crew, which made the trip even more entertaining, and we experienced everything the world had to offer, including living with a Reggae artist in Jamaica and trying beef burger ice cream in Venezuela. (And yes, the dessert was as disgusting as it sounds.)
Though I got to travel the world, what this sabbatical really taught me was that disengaging your mind for a few months has significant benefits. Like all entrepreneurs my mind never stops; it is always taking in information, processing it and making decisions. The human mind was never designed for this kind of workload. Tens of thousands of years ago, the only decisions our ancestors had to make were based on meeting the basic needs of survival and comfort. Today, we have to make those decisions, as well as hundreds more. Years and years of decision-making takes its toll in the form of stress.
I can do about three to five years of hard work before I approach a state of burnout or stagnation, so I try to plan a sabbatical every three years. By no means is this easy. The first thing I have to do before going on sabbatical is to decide who is going to be my key decision and communications gatekeeper. This must be a person I trust completely, who can make small decisions on my behalf and knows when to contact me. After that, it’s really a matter of putting in place people and processes that allow me the freedom to travel without worrying.
I have now had four sabbaticals in my life, and each time I came back with renewed energy and a head full of new ideas. The real benefit of going on sabbatical is being able to separate the wood from the trees, as well as appreciate the time it takes to develop ideas. Within four weeks of returning from my last sabbatical, I started three businesses. I would not have had the energy or thinking time to develop them had I not taken a break from it all. There is no point in working all your life if you can’t enjoy it at the same time.
Personally, the way I enjoy life may sound like hell on earth for some people. I love collecting strange hobbies and extreme sports; everything from fire breathing in Thailand to the flying trapeze in Australia. But I also think taking these risks and trying new things helps my business. I feel that by doing extreme things, it allows me to push my risk profile even further in business. In turn, I potentially increase my chances of a high-risk, high-reward event. Then again, it also increases my chances of losing everything. But hey, that’s the very definition of risk, and at least I can take a break from it all every so often.