I suppose I was thirteen or fourteen when I took my first proper break from the rest of the world. I’d been cycling off to my grandmothers’ houses on the other side of town, or to the woods in the hills around where I grew up but, when my dad bought a boat and moored it in a marina some twenty miles away, I began to truly escape, cycling off to spend days a time just sitting on the boat, reading books and chatting to whoever came by.
My dad took regular breaks from the mayhem of six kids and a music business. I remember he cleared off to the Moscow Olympics and some other random places, sometimes without telling my mother. She once came into my room and asked where my dad was. I told her he’d gone to Finland: that went down pretty well…
I often went along on his Irish escapes. One regular haunt was a monastery guest house on the side of a mountain in the middle of nowhere. We’d get up for vigils while it was still dark, walk to the church and sit listening to the monks singing psalms as the sun rose. The days were spent doing not very much: reading, talking to members of the community and doing a few odd jobs here and there. We went there on and off through my school years and it helped to unwind the mind.
After moving to London in the late 1980s, I continued to escape. Living in a camper for a year made it easy; I worked shifts on lengthy rotations, so could head to the south coast for up to five days at a time, parking by some quiet beach and just sitting there watching the sea until it was time to go back to work. Travels eventually ranged further afield and I discovered Spain and Spanish culture via the Canary Islands. Things were never the same again.
I suppose that part of the need to escape is the idea of recharging the creative batteries. There is also an element of setting one’s course: long-term goals change over time, so they need constant updating and tweaks at the helm. Regular reviews are important: it is too easy to drift through the years and end up a long way off-course. We all need to block out some time to plan where we want to be and chart a possible route to achieve that. For this to work properly, one has to keep checking one’s progress.
I’m currently back in Lanzarote on my customary December escape, with my Macbook and a pile of books I’ve saved up to read. In between writing the Tuthill Porsche Twelve Builds of Christmas and some other bits and pieces, I’ve been working my way through the books and binge-watching bookmarked documentaries.
One such documentary was “Inside Bill’s Brain: Decoding Bill Gates”: a three-part Netflix documentary “exploring the mind and motivations of the celebrated tech visionary, business leader and philanthropist”. I watched that last night and smiled when episode two followed Bill off to ‘Think Week’: a biannual break to a remote log cabin, where Bill ploughs through his own pile of books and considers the projects he will devote himself to in the long term.
The concept of Think Week was familiar. There is no doubt that the time spent removed from familiar surroundings, common distractions and the grind of routine can be beneficial to future planning and mindfulness. The rest of the series made excellent viewing but Think Week was the highlight for me.
Whenever I tell people that I take off alone for days at a time just to think, they often react in a slightly incredulous manner, as if it’s strange that anyone might want to do that and that someone could just drop their domestic responsibilities and disappear. I think it’s all about training those around you to accept it as part of your schedule, block out the time and get on with it.
Having done this for decades, I’m not sure I could function without it. While there’s no real sense of decompression or of things shifting in the time away, my notebooks certainly fill up with ideas and long walks in warmer temperatures allow great time to think and to process, with no underlying agenda.
You may have some holidays in your 2020 diary, but what about time just to think? The easiest way to make it happen is to put it in your diary: book the flights and start piling the books up. In the days before departure, your mind will try to convince you to abandon Think Week and stay at work instead, but, as James Clear puts it: “professionals stick to the schedule, amateurs let life get in the way.” When the time is blocked out and the flights and Airbnb are paid for, you just have to get on the plane. If Bill can do it, anyone can.
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