Stay grateful. I find that saying out loud every morning something I’m grateful for helps ground me at the moment, and reduce feelings of uncertainty and fear. It can be small things; today, I’m grateful for the cherry blossoms that are starting to bloom on my street.
Asa part of my series about the things we can do to develop serenity and support each other during anxious times, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jon Staff.
Jon Staff is the Founder and CEO of Getaway, a company that provides simple, unplugged escapes to tiny cabins outside of major cities across the United States. Getaway grew from Jon’s lifelong appreciation for the great outdoors, having grown up in the woods of rural northern Minnesota. He earned his A.B. and MBA from Harvard University and now lives in Brooklyn.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?
Hi, I’m Jon. I grew up in a small town in rural Minnesota and spent most of my childhood outdoors. As I got older and moved east for college, I found myself craving simpler times — outdoor time, not work time, no wifi time. I also burnt out before I turned 25. I grew weary of this trend towards having to be online and on top of my game all of the time. And that’s ultimately what brought me to found Getaway. We offer escapes to tiny cabins within 2 hours of major cities, where our guests can unplug and enjoy some solitude and peace in nature.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
The most meaningful thing that has happened is that people have made Getaway their own, and they’ve told us deeply personal stories about their lives and what they get out of taking some time and space to disconnect. We’ve hosted and heard about engagements and elopements, and deaths in the family and divorces. I am not under the illusion that Getaway uniquely unlocks these experiences, but I do think the realizations people come to at Getaway make the argument for all of us making regular time just for ourselves.
What advice would you suggest to your colleagues in your industry to thrive and avoid burnout?
The biggest challenge for me has been a boundary setting, but I think it’s the most crucial to avoid burnout. To me, it means everything from setting work hours and sticking to them (I usually don’t look at email before 9 AM, I usually don’t look at email after 7 PM), but also delegating things that in the past I would have wanted to take on, or saying no to more things that will be taxing. There’s a natural inclination that I have to try to work through burnout, but at the end of the day, I find that rooting myself back to the small things that bring me joy and serenity during my off time (going to nature, reading a book, doing a puzzle, taking a bath), are what replenish my work ethic and set me up to combat burnout.
What advice would you give to other leaders about how to create a fantastic work culture?
Creating a fantastic work culture is incredibly difficult, and takes a lot more than the person leading the company. Getting buy-in from the whole company on shared values and norms is the most important thing. For us at Getaway, a lot of it has been unlearning lessons from previous places we’ve worked — that sometimes we need to not necessarily optimize every moment in order to get the best results. So we focus very deeply on production time (that is, time spent focused on a given project without interruptions), and try to create a culture that fosters both collaboration and individual work. When we do come together for those collaborative moments, that’s where optimizing comes into play — we value each other’s time and come prepared to have amazing conversations.
In the end, I think it’s about respecting the ways in which we work best, and knowing that there are some universal truths there (i.e., everyone can’t work all the time, burnout, especially at startups, is real), but also that each and every one of us works best a little differently.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
I just read Evicted by Matthew Desmond. I wish I could assign it to the nation. The book tells the stories in great human detail of tenants experiencing eviction and the landlords doing the evicting. In addition to transforming my view of housing and poverty in America, the book also just filled me with so much respect for folks like Desmond who do the hard work of getting to the bottom of something and then communicating so compellingly about that truth. I felt similarly about Tara Westover’s Educated. I must have a thing for books about poverty that start with the letter E.
Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. The past 5 years have been filled with upheaval and political uncertainty. Many people have become anxious just from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The upcoming fears of an impending coronavirus pandemic have only heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. From your experience or research, what are five steps that each of us can take to develop serenity during such uncertain times? Can you please share a story or example for each.
- Limit your news intake. I try to read news from a reputable source (i.e., new CDC guidelines rather than what I see on Twitter) once a day, sometimes twice. Anything more than that can feel completely overwhelming, and it’s easy to find yourself in a downward spiral.
- Try to spend some time outside. There’s obviously a lot of encouragement to shelter in place, but for those who have backyards or balconies or patios or otherwise, make sure you’re spending at least 20 minutes outside a day. If you don’t have outdoor space at home, take a walk outside or at a nearby park, keeping social distance in mind.
- Find moments of escape. This one rings especially true to us at Getaway, but even if you’re at home. Find a moment away from your screens or work or obligations. Breathe deeply. Let yourself just be.
- Stay grateful. I find that saying out loud every morning something I’m grateful for helps ground me at the moment, and reduce feelings of uncertainty and fear. It can be small things; today, I’m grateful for the cherry blossoms that are starting to bloom on my street.
- Let go. I think a lot of the anxiety we’re fearing is just us trying to reorient back to old normals. Those aren’t there now, they won’t be here for a while. If we give in to the change rather than trying to resist it, it’ll make for a more comfortable transition while everything seems to be in flux.
From your experience or research, what are five steps that each of us can take to effectively offer support to those around us who are feeling anxious? Can you explain?
- Be present. Call and check in on friends, even if they don’t seem like they are having a hard time. Anxiety isn’t patterned or rational behavior, so it helps to be a friend who shows up.
- That being said, you can’t be everything to everybody. To be that friend who shows up fully to your friendships takes work, so check in with yourself on your own bandwidth. If that means tightening your circle, that may be the right call for you.
- Set up a routine. Turn a phone friend into a pen pal. Set up a regular brunch or trip together. Having something to look forward to and rely on can help give a friend a light at the end of the tunnel if they are going through a particularly anxious about.
- Be the example. Set good habits in motion: avoid the noise of social media during this tumultuous time, take an hour to just walk outside (with social distance), or meditate. Be a role model to those around you who may be in tougher times.
- Therapy. I’m a big believer in the power of therapy. I like professional guidance, I like that it is a set amount of time, I like that the other person has no other involvement in my life, and you simply vent or seek help or whatever it is you need to do in that session. While none of us can force someone into therapy, you can encourage a friend who is having a difficult time to seek help. For many people, they don’t know where to start, so offering suggestions of where and how to look for a therapist, perhaps the right questions to ask of a therapist can help immensely.
What are the best resources you would suggest to a person who is feeling anxious?
- As mentioned above, finding a great therapist to support you.
- Visiting local parks. I think we forget how amazing our local parks are in the city, as well as our incredible national parks, but there’s often an amazing green space within walking distance of your home.
- Apps like Calm or Headspace are good for even a 10-minute recharge.
- Or simply sitting through it. In my experience, anxiety grows the more you fear it, so sitting through it and allowing yourself to be uncomfortable can help you grow.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?
John Prine’s in the hospital, so I’ve been thinking about him. I am getting some comfort out of his song, “That’s the Way the World Goes Round.” The last verse is:
I was sitting in the bathtub counting my toes,
When the radiator broke, water all froze.
I got stuck in the ice without my clothes,
Naked as the eyes of a clown.
I was crying ice cubes hoping I’d croak,
When the sun comes through the window, the ice all broke.
I stood up and laughed thought it was a joke
That’s the way that the world goes ‘round.
On the surface, maybe those are insensitive lyrics to share right now. But I don’t think the message is that none of this matters — that we’re going to wake up one day and think COVID-19 was all a joke. I think the message is even when we humans live through times of tremendous pain, we still have this tremendous power of resilience. The sun doesn’t erase the pain of the cold, but the sun feels good nevertheless.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Sorry to be this guy, but I like to think that what we are doing with Getaway is bringing a lot of good to folks. Getting people away from the distractions of our day-to-day, from having to always be on, and allowing them some unplugged time to reconnect with themselves and their loved ones. And of course to bring them back to nature.
Outside of Getaway, I’d invent a ray gun that fills whoever it hits with an abundance of empathy.
pl’What is the best way our readers can follow you online?
You can follow me on Instagram at @jonstaff or on Twitter at @staffcommajon. You can follow Getaway on Instagram at @getawayhouse.