​Make time to disconnect

In the Summer of 2022, my company nexxworks curated an e-book with life advice: it asked some fantastic international authors and keynote speakers like Carlota Perez and Dave Snowden to look back to what they learned along the way in their life’s journey and what they would advise their younger selves, knowing what they know today. This is my own piece, but check the link below if you want to download the e-book for free.

Warren Wong Wukit Usjrg Y Unsplash

In one of my all-time favorite movies, 'Back to the Future', the antagonist bully Biff Tannen smuggles a copy of 'Grays Sports Almanac' statistics to his younger self. I would not even need to give my younger version a whole book when it comes to financial advice, just two pivotal moments: "Buy Apple Stock in 2000, and buy Bitcoin in 2009." My future self would be set for life.

But honestly, if I would have the extreme luxury and opportunity to pass on any knowledge or wisdom, I probably wouldn't give financial advice. The older I become, the more I find that personal quality time might very well be the most important ingredient to remain mentally sane. It’s an antidote for depression as well as the recipe to stay open for serendipitous encounters, ideas and friendships.

After launching and managing three different startups back-to-back - exploits which were extremely intoxicating in terms of business excitement, professional passion and experiences - I now realize I was quite close to a complete burn-out. But I did not recognize this at the time. In fact, I would have mindlessly jumped into a fourth startup, had my personal entourage not countered that move. In a military analogy, I was like the Vietnam veteran, with three tours of duty and only now do I understand that a fourth tour in 'Nam might have pushed me off the cliff.

I made a complete switch in life after that moment, and decided to spend more time with my family, certainly during the kids’ holidays. I even indulged in two-month long vacations during summer. Had I chosen a career as a teacher, I would have had that luxury as well, so it seemed almost logical to me that I too could copy that approach. It was the best decision of my life. The summer months were wonderful, and spending time with my children had an amazing effect. Before that, I usually took about two weeks off: I needed a whole first week to 'detox' from the business stress and routine, and that by the second week I was already getting into the 'I have to get back to the office, my God how much e-mails will there be waiting for me' mode. But when you program longer periods of rest, that whole paradigm changes. In the beginning I did it for the kids, and the older I get, the more I realize I was doing it for myself.

I use those periods to engage in completely different activities. I ride my bike or my tractor. I work on our farm. And I lose myself in woodworking. In fact, over the years I've gotten extremely passionate about working with timber as there will always be things on our farm that need mending. For me, few things can match the joy of turning a piece of raw wood into a functional item with my trusted tools.

Above all, when I'm on my tractor, or working with my miter saw, my mind will completely clear and empty itself from all day-to-day observations and worries. This really allows me to open up my mind and connect the dots that had previously been drifting in my mind.

So, if there is one thing I would urge my younger self, it is to start that routine earlier. There is often such a rush after finishing your studies, to start working immediately. And then you lose yourself in a rat-race, either in startups or traditional careers. But the truth is that you are often 'led' from one milestone to another, dragged from one engagement to another. And that’s ok, because sometimes, there’s no other way. But just realize that finding, crafting, making the time to 'detox' is just as essential.

Maybe I would even have been more passionately involved in my startups, had I had the opportunity to take extended periods of disconnectedness between them, instead of rushing straight into the next one.

So, for me, next to Apple and Bitcoin, I have just one advice: "Take the time to completely disconnect, and that time will pay itself back a hundredfold."

If you want to receive more life advice from fantastic people like Carlota Perez, Dave Snowden, Pascal Coppens, Julie Vens - De Vos, Heather E. McGowan, Carol Sanford, Kosta Peric, Laetitia Vitaud, Raya Bidshahri and David C. Krakauer (of the Santa Fe Institute), you can download nexxworks' e-book here for free.