After five weeks traveling with my partner through Southeast Asia, I returned to normal life recalibrated, refocused and re-energized in a way that only comes when you break from the norm. Many of my takeaways from the trip translate into lessons for me as a business owner.
Here are 5 reflections from my 5 weeks abroad that you can benefit from too, no matter where in the world you are:
1. We hold the key to being present
In Chiang Mai, Thailand, we had the opportunity to chat with a monk. He asked us, “What about life are you most curious about? What do you wonder about?” Jeff and I found ourselves speechless. The question was so deep and profound that we struggled to formulate a response.
After some time, I asked him about something I have struggled with profoundly: presence. “How do you stay in the moment, not being pulled to the past or future, and just be in the here and now?” I asked. He told me that there is a way and asked me what it was, implying that I already knew. I was stumped, but on the edge of my seat, anticipating the golden nugget that he was surely going to pass along.
We got into a fascinating conversation about past and present, quiet, breath, and ultimately, “not going with thought.” He explained that thought is necessary, and thinking is part of what we need to do as humans. But, he said, when we feel led down a negative path of thought, or get angry or frustrated about the past or future — “going with thought” — we should instead bring it back to the present. Even for 10 minutes a day. We should embrace the quiet, breathe and “not go with thought.”
It’s harder said than done, but even having that mantra, and practicing little by little, seems to make a difference.
When you find yourself dwelling on the past or dreaming/worrying about the future, come back to the present and remind yourself to “not go with thought.”
2. Slowing down is OK; in fact, it’s necessary
We’re accustomed to living in a country where the predominant message is to work harder, go faster, push more. And so we listen. Because those are the behaviors that we’re told drive success. And riches. And happiness.
Upon arriving in Southeast Asia, we found ourselves in 95-degree heat with 70 percent humidity. Coming from mild and dry Colorado, this hit us like a slap in the face. But there was so much to see and do. So we pressed on. Our first few days in Thailand, we visited temple after temple, market after market, and museum after museum, stopping at nothing to do everything we could possibly fit in. By day three, we were toast: completely melted down, sitting on the side of the road, guzzling from liter water bottles, unable to move a step more. We had to adjust. To avoid passing out and really enjoy ourselves, we had to stop rushing. And pushing. We had to slow down.
We started to look at the day in two chunks – morning to midday and late afternoon to evening. We got more selective about what we were going to see and do. And we rested midday. It’s a wonder what can happen when you honor the circumstances, and yourself. We found that we enjoyed what we saw and did more, because we weren’t crabby or exhausted. We took in what we could and left the rest.
Instead of calling a midday nap “lazy” or a day off “lucky,” embrace the blend of activity and inactivity, and make that the norm.
3. History is to be remembered and honored, but not dwelt on
In the late 1970s, over the course of nearly four years, a fanatical Cambodian dictator and his Khmer Rouge brutally tortured and murdered 25 percent of the country’s population. The lives of 3 million artists, musicians, intellectuals and purveyors of Western culture were lost. It was a dark time that leaves marks on the country to this day.
We visited the Killing Fields, where over 1 million bodies lay, as well as the S-21 prison, where prisoners were tortured into forced confessions. These places are haunting and sobering. Cambodian children also visit these places to learn about their nation’s past. Today, these same children are presented with the opportunities to learn music, practice theater or dance. There are individuals bringing culture and the arts back to Cambodia. It’s profound to see these two realities coexist: the dark past and the bright future.
Where we’ve been personally and professionally is important. It formulates memories and learnings and helps inform the future. But it does not dictate the future. That’s up to each of us to create.
Evolve, pivot, and maybe find the art again, to get to where you want to be.
4. Perspective is everything
In the day-to-day of building a business and a life, we find ourselves often putting our heads down and just getting it done. Doing what needs to be done in that moment to survive. To get the next client, to make the appointment, to scarf down the meal. We make the best decision at that moment to move forward.
Being out of my space, my work, my habits and routines allowed me to look at them as if from above, as separate from them. It was like an ostrich picking up his head and really looking around, surveying the landscape and plotting his next move. I was able to ask myself questions like, “Why?” and to see — really see — what in work and life was serving me and what was not. From this, a few resolutions emerged:
- To maintain my sanity and my life, sticking to strict working hours is imperative.
- For my satisfaction and fulfillment, and the future of my business, focus is the name of the game. One thing, not 12.
- I feel much better when I’m moving, so move every day. Without exception.
Get out of your norm, your zone of comfort, your space and your routine. Pick your head up, and see what you discover.
5. Your way is not the only way
If for your entire life you’ve taken as truth that cars and motorcycles abide by traffic signals, stopping at red lights to allow pedestrians to pass, and that it’s dangerous (and overall a bad idea) to walk into oncoming traffic, you would never cross the street in Vietnam. We quickly learned that to get from one side of the street to the other in Ho Chi Minh City or Hanoi, you walk slow and steady straight into traffic as it weaves around you, regardless of the color of the light.
It’s not right or wrong; it’s simply the way there. It’s normal. But different is uncomfortable and scary (especially when you feel like your life is hanging in the balance with scooters zooming around you). But do it enough, and what was once odd and new and foreign, becomes normal. And it may even prove to be better than the way you did it before.
Stay open to new ideas, methods and ways of doing things. You never know what greatness can come from a shift in thinking or experience.
If you feel weighed down or uninspired, or lack clarity, it’s probably time to do something outside of your norm. Even if a five-week vacation isn’t available to you right now, go for a hike, unplug for the weekend or get out of your comfort zone and try that new thing you’ve been wanting to but that freaks you out when you think about it. Change your scenery and your pace. Get out of where you are and what you’re doing that’s making you feel stuck. You might surprise yourself with the business and personal reflections that emerge.
If you aren’t sure what your next business move should be or lack direction, contact Kleriti Business Solutions. We can help you achieve your goals through focused action.
What are some of the biggest aha moments you’ve had when you’ve gotten out of your daily grind? Tell us in the comments below!