Why Every Executive Should ‘Get Off the Grid’ From Time to Time

It’s easy to get trapped in the always-on, make-yourself-better world of corporate life. But as Managing Editor Frank Kalman recently discovered, sometimes letting yourself go and completely disconnecting in a far-away place is the only way to bring calm and clarity to your perspective. Your performance upon return will be better for it.

If you’ve been wondering where my columns have been these past few weeks (maybe you didn’t notice; that’s OK), it’s because I was out of the office vacationing in the Hawaiian Islands as part of my honeymoon following my wedding in late October.

It was an incredible trip, not just because I got to spend two weeks in paradise with my new wife, but because it allowed me the chance to do something most people don’t get to do in this day and age — completely unplug and get off the grid.

Well, maybe not completely off the grid. I’d be lying if I told you I threw my smartphone in the Pacific Ocean the second we got off the plane, never to check Twitter, email or Facebook again for two weeks. But I promise you I made a concerted effort to only look at the internet a few times a day.

It was truly a privilege to have the time to embark on a two-week vacation to three of Hawaii’s beautiful islands — Oahu, Maui and Kauai. Each has its own unique characteristics.

The funny thing about Hawaii is it’s so far west of the mainland and most of the functioning world, that by the time you wake up in the morning half of everyone else’s day is already complete. This makes losing touch with the news and the typical hustle and bustle of the business world easy to do.

Outside of spending plenty of time exploring the islands, laying by the pool or beach and swimming in the ocean, the trip provided a great opportunity to get out of my normal day-to-day grind and into a world where the things are completely different. Even though Hawaii is part of the United States, there were many times where I had to remind myself that we weren’t in a different country.

Yes, there are many things in Hawaii that are typical to the U.S. — we drove past plenty of McDonald’s and Starbucks; there was even a Carl’s Jr. Still, in another sense, there is plenty about the islands and the people that live there — not to mention the state’s unique cultural history — that are completely foreign to most of the country.

Consider, for instance, an element that I often take for granted, probably because I’ve become so accustomed to living in a big city — the Earth.

So many people in Hawaii center their lives not around the latest market movers or business management trends but being in the ocean or hiking Hawaii’s gorgeous mountains and terrain. To them, being in nature is monumentally more important than obsessing over climbing the corporate ladder, a trap that I think folks in other parts of the country easily fall into, including me.

I know I sound like a big city snob as I say this — probably because I am a big city snob — but it’s true: I found great relief and interest in observing how Hawaiian locals took to being with their environment in ways that are different from the many of us on the mainland.

On the north shore of Oahu, for example, I remember sitting on the beach early one morning near a popular surfing spot as people pulled their cars over on the side of the road, grabbed their surf boards and ran into the ocean for hours of just them and the waves. It is so natural for people there to do, but something I think a lot of workaholics often take for granted or don’t even notice, probably because they’re preoccupied with corporate life.

To be sure, surfing isn’t unique to Hawaii; I could say the same about people living in California or folks in other parts of the country taking part in activities native to where they live, like skiing in Colorado or fishing in Montana.

The point is that, at a time when so many people are easily stuck in a world where business and corporate life is at the center of everything they do, it was nice to see a side of the world where that wasn’t the case. It also reminded me of the importance of disconnecting from that world from time to time.

I don’t mean taking the weekend off from work. I mean getting entirely “off the grid,” or at least as much as possible, and immersing yourself in a completely foreign place for an extended period of time.

Certainly there are places more foreign to visit than Hawaii. But, for me, that change in environment for two weeks was enough of a departure from the world I typically operate in, one that is consumed with a fast-paced, business-first lifestyle.

In a larger sense, the whole trip almost felt like taking one giant breath. For executives who feel like their worlds are starting to lose touch with a sense of peace, calm and clarity, it might be worth considering a similar off-the-grid experience.

And if you can’t travel and truly get away, so to speak, maybe try throwing your phone in an ocean or large body of water — or even just turning it off from time to time. That should do the trick.

Frank Kalman is Talent Economy’s managing editor. To comment, email editor@talenteconomy.io.