THE BLOG

Why Is Running Away to the Beach Not the Solution?

17/03/2014 11:47 GMT | Updated 15/05/2014 10:59 BST
WALTER ZERLA via Getty Images

His surfboard danced with the waves and as I watched him I started remembering how blissfully simple life can be out here in New Zealand - especially when you're in rural pockets like Raglan, a surf town about an hour's drive from Auckland. Here, there's only sunshine and ocean and you.

While I was there last week, I thought about all the burned-out corporate professionals who had confided in me over the years in London; how the dance in big cities often involves schmoozing, boozing, and winning.

Being from a place like New Zealand, where work-life balance is embedded into the culture, I always noticed with fascination that workaholism is somewhat glorified among young professionals in cities like London.

The scary truth is that this collective workaholism was one of the things that drew me to London - it's still one of the things that I most love about the place - the opportunity to stretch your limits on intense projects, where the output expectation is so high and intense that sometimes you have to spend the weekends at the office, or wake up at 5am, or stay past midnight, just to keep up with what is expected of you.

When Escape members tell me that they feel busy but not important, present but not there - I totally get it. When they tell me that the way they're operating is not healthy or sustainable - I know what they mean.

Deep down, we all have a radar for when we're not being true to ourselves. We all have a compass that tells us when we're heading in the wrong direction. A lot of the time, it's just easier to ignore that compass.

When you feel like you might be going down the wrong road, a common instinct is to U-turn - for example, there have been countless members who chuck in their high-flying jobs really thinking about what comes next.

What typically happens once the pressure has been lifted - once the job has been quit - there is a vast emptiness. Suddenly, they don't have to be anywhere. Their schedules are empty. That can be terrifying.

So, more often than not, they travel. They go absorb beautiful parts of our planet and they feel their spirits lift and they connect with whatever they felt disconnected from before - that sense of wonder and beauty, that reminder of a universe beyond their former daily routine.

Once the high of the travel ends, there's a comedown, because now they have to deal with all the things that they never had to previously deal with. Before, they were too busy working. Then they were too busy traveling. Now... there's nothing to distract them from themselves.

This is the point at which I often recommend members speak to a coach, therapist, or some other trained professional who is skilled at helping to reflect back what might really be going on.

Like any industry, there are charlatans and frauds, but there are also excellent practitioners. The excellent ones can help you cross the chasm from feeling unstructured and shapeless into feeling strong and purposeful again.

While a holiday or sabbatical can be a powerful catalyst in kick-starting the career change process, the long-term solution is not about relying on rest, relaxation, and getting back in tune with nature.

When I was watching the surfers last week, I thought - sure, we could all move to Raglan and be full-time beach bums. But what would we be chasing? What would we be improving or creating?

The ideal, I suspect, is not to pursue endless pleasure but is to experience getting paid well to do what you love.

We live in a much more complex, global world than our parents (and their parents) did - in this day and age, our careers are ours to construct. We can't just escape from the challenges of this construction. Effective long-term solutions involve reorienting ourselves by re-educating ourselves.

This can be done through creating a network of like-minded peers or re-training or attending courses and events that teach us everything we didn't learn in school.

It can also involve creating space in our lives to experiment, so that we can find out what makes us feel what Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls 'flow' - a state of complete absorption with the activity at hand.

Turning flow into a well-paid career is rarely an easy process. Sometimes that journey has to involve doing the wrong thing first so that we know how to spot the right thing later.

In his book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, Daniel Pink talks about the three things we need in order in satisfying work.

Firstly, we need autonomy, or the desire to have control over ourselves and our days. Secondly, we need mastery, or to keep getting better at something that's meaningful to us. Thirdly, Pink talks about purpose: the sense that what we do helps to serve something important beyond than ourselves.

The questions of mastery and purpose were running through my mind as I watched the surfers in Raglan.

Few things make me feel better than ocean swims. But I know that if I swam in the ocean all day long, the very thing that once relaxed me would soon become a prison in itself. I need ways to escape from frustration, but I need a challenge to escape from and to throw myself back into, to feel satisfied with life in general.

Being in Raglan reminded me that while running away off the grid can give renewed energy to begin career construction, escapism will never be a construction in itself.

A longer version of post can also be seen on The Escape School.