By: Yussef Hafez
Last year, I took a break from work — a long one — traveling over 31,000 kilometers through 30 cities across North America and over 100 days on a motorcycle – alone. I left my home in Toronto and headed across Canada, up to Alaska, down to Arizona, across to Louisiana, and back up to Toronto – with a few extended stops in between. It was epic in every sense of the word. Let me tell you, in that time I had come to see the connection between travelling solo and work.
Though I enjoyed it immensely, travelling on my own, like any life path you choose, had its trade-offs. On the plus side, I was the master of my own schedule; I saw what I wanted to see, did what I wanted to do and stayed as long as I wanted to stay. I decided where to sleep, what to eat and which direction to go. But traveling solo, for all its inherent freedoms, also entails some hardships. I missed having someone to share in the adventures, or relive the actions of the day with. I lived and could have died by my own sword, so to speak.
I realize now, that travelling solo provided experiences, lessons and personal skills that are also invaluable at work — experiences I had not learned in a boardroom. Here’s what my epic road trip taught me.
Seek The Counsel of Others
Taking stock of your skills and experience or lack thereof may be a sobering task, but understanding what you can and can’t do on a solo trip is imperative. I wanted to camp at many of the gorgeous national parks this continent had to offer, and as you can imagine, there is limited space on a motorcycle to pack for a 100+ day road trip. I needed to educate myself on solo camping, so I enlisted the help of those more knowledgeable than I. The result meant, I only brought the equipment necessary (tent, sleeping bag, stove, camera and laptop), eschewed the unnecessary pieces (like a portable camping kitchen sink? Really? I wouldn’t need one?), and after a few great nights under the stars, gained the confidence I needed. And the reward was more than worth it.
After a self-assessment, seek out those that have greater experience and leverage their expertise. In the workplace, finding those that can further a project based on their experience and skill set is a must.
Change Is Inevitable
Although I planned every detail of my trip, things still went awry from time to time. Having a solid plan still requires flexibility in order to adjust and embrace unforeseen circumstances – this adaptability can set you up for success when you least expect it. Like the time I passed up the chance to stay at a hotel and instead slept under a gas station canopy — in a camp chair, wearing a mosquito net and rain suit. Why? Because my bike was low on gas and the station (the only one for another 150 km) was closed until 7 am. Predictably I slept little, but I awoke that morning to have one of the best diner breakfasts ever!
Successfully adapting to change builds your resilience. Creating successful personal experiences from unfortunate situations is something you will draw upon – to remind yourself that you have the courage and ability to overcome adversity and succeed (and thanks to my mosquito net) relatively unscathed.
Pay Attention to the Little Things
Big picture thinking is necessary, sure. In many cases avoiding the ‘weeds’ can really maintain your sanity, while at the same time allowing you to focus on the destination. But, when you’re on your own, pay attention to the details since there’s no one else to do it for you. As you execute on the day–to-day of your job, you have the dual role of maintaining the course (big picture thinking) while requiring the occasional dive into the weeds (seeing the detail) — for the details make up the big picture, and it’s imperative to understand both. Had I missed the little clues along the Merced River, I’d never have found the small trail that led me to capture this beautiful shot of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park.
Ignite the Fire Within
Taking time off to indulge in your passions outside of work can reignite your passion for work. Unplugging the phone, disabling email notifications, and truly embracing your passions, can leave you more energized and focused when you do return to work. It can stimulate how you approach things, and change your perspective — thereby making you a more effective contributor.
And – mine was magnificent!
Having survived this incredible solo experience, and happily back at work for the next while, the only decision I have now is – where to go next?
For the complete story, click to see my photography for more inspiration: