I've always been an introvert. But as a CEO, I somehow managed to build a life where I talk all day at work. As a father of six, I talk all evening at home. I occasionally get a 20-minute respite at the gym, but even then I'm often forced to take phone calls.
I'm not complaining. I'm fortunate that I've been blessed professionally and domestically and get to be with people I love. But even with all that love, I still find that I don't feel spiritually and emotionally whole unless I intentionally set aside time to be quiet.
For this reason, I started taking vacations by myself about four years ago. It was amazingly therapeutic to get out of the country and spend a few days diving, bungee jumping, and catching up on my reading.
Because of my experiences, I found it hard to join in the chorus of criticism when Jack Dorsey tweeted at length about his silent retreat to Myanmar. I knew in my heart where he was coming from; I knew his intentions were pure. When you're profoundly moved by an experience, you want to share it.
Today I believe that all CEOs--introverted or otherwise--should regularly seek out and embrace complete solitude. You'll be much better leaders, parents, spouses, and colleagues for it. Here are the reasons why:
1. You'll rediscover yourself.
As a CEO, you're always in meetings, planning meetings, inviting people to meet, or rejecting invitations to meet people. On the phone, in person, or on video, it's meet, meet, meet.
It can be challenging to maintain your individuality in that environment. It can be easy to stop thinking for yourself, accept group opinion as received wisdom, and move mechanically onto the next task on your list.
Isolation gently shakes you back into reality. As you sit on a mountaintop or beach, the problems that seemed inextricably complicated in the office start to unwind. And they do it without much prodding on your part.
2. You'll grow mentally stronger.
When I first began talking to people about my getaways, some of their reactions surprised me. They liked the idea of a vacation, but a vacation spent all on their lonesome was a different animal.
"You mean you're there totally by yourself? You don't just, like, separate from the group for the day and then hang out with them at night? Doesn't that stop being fun after a while?"
The short answer is, I try to cram my days with as much activity as possible. Motocross doesn't leave you with a ton of time for brooding. The long answer is, with practice, you stop requiring round-the-clock distractions after a while.
You're not in a state of excitement, but you're not in a state of boredom, either. You contentedly exist. It's like meditating with your eyes open, and the longer you do it, the stronger your sense of mastery over your thoughts and emotions.
3. You'll feel a creative burst.
Nikola Tesla, the wildly creative scientist and inventor, said "the mind is sharper and keener in seclusion and uninterrupted solitude. Originality thrives when it is free of outside influences. Be alone--that is the secret of invention. That is where ideas are born."
He's not alone in this opinion. It's a theme that great artists, writers, musicians, and thinkers throughout history have touched on time and again. Your best ideas will only approach you when you're. Only when you've left every other companion behind and can give of yourself freely.
4. It'll improve your relationships.
I spent my most recent solo vacation in Australia. When I was awake, my colleagues and family were asleep. When they were awake, I was snoring. Despite the distance and our conflicting schedules, I felt closer to them than ever before.
One reason for that, of course, is that absence makes the heart grow fonder. Not being able to have something increases your desire for it. Besides, it's hard to take your relationships for granted when they're 8,000 miles away.
Another reason--and one that's particularly germane to a CEO--is that you discover that the world won't end in your absence. You can trust the people back home to mind the store.
I told my executive team not to hesitate to text me in an emergency--they never did. Calmly and confidently, Nav moved forward with its mission to help small businesses without me.
I didn't feel unneeded; I felt elated. Knowing that the people and things you care about most are in good hands is invigorating. Not having to use your power because your colleagues are so adept at using theirs is paradoxically the most empowering feeling of all.