I sought my pilot’s license as a means to unwind

Why I decided to pursue flying as a hobby, what the experience has taught me, and why every business leader can benefit from discovering a passion outside of his or her work life.

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Rich with his Beechcraft

My work is very important to me, certainly, but I have learned that to be the best I can be, at work and beyond, I must find time to unplug. This might sound obvious or easy, but for me, it has usually been a challenge. Over the years, despite my best intentions, I have found myself drowning in my business, failing to find time to step away. I always felt “too busy.”

My workload hasn’t changed, but my mindset has. I run a growing digital marketing firm with clients all over the world. There is always something I should be, or could be, doing. My co-founder is my wife, Beth. She is probably even busier than I am. You’d think running a company together would mean we get to see each other more, but between our hectic work schedules and our four children, quality time is hard to come by.

For me, one of the keys to making downtime and family time happen has been the pursuit of an unlikely hobby—flying.

Father/son bonding and next-level date nights

I first tried to pursue my pilot’s license in 2001 while living in New York, but life took over. I got busy, we moved to Delaware, and I put my lessons aside.

Over the years, I spoke frequently about my desire to take up flying again, but I never did anything about it. In 2013, Beth made sure that changed. She gave me flying lessons for Christmas, leaving me no choice but to pursue my passion.

Around that same time, my son, Turner, who was 14 at the time, expressed interest in aviation, too. My wife and I soon decided to get him a starter-pack for licensing. He loved it as much as I did, and together, we pursued the hours we needed for certification, which proved a wonderful and unique father/son bonding experience.

That journey in and of itself was invaluable. It gave me a new purpose—something to pursue that had absolutely nothing to do with the business. It reminded me of how rewarding it is to set a goal and achieve it. There are no shortcuts with certification. My professional success had no bearing on how I fared in the sky. I had to put the time in and learn my skill.

The certification was also a means to a wonderful end. Now I have a shared hobby with my son and a way to clear my mind. When I fly, I have to focus entirely on the task at hand – keeping that airplane in the sky. I can’t think about what is going on in the office or elsewhere. Flying also allows me to use different parts of my brain, which gives me a mental clarity that, once I’ve landed, helps me to plow through work-related issues.

Flying also allows me to whisk my wife away at a moment’s notice. OK, let’s be realistic—to make sure these excursions happen, we schedule them in. As long as the weather cooperates, we fly somewhere at least once a week. We’ll fly from our hometown of Middletown, Delaware, to Atlantic City for the night, or even just to a new area for dinner.

The business case for unplugging

I knew my wife and I would benefit from more frequent time away. What I didn’t anticipate was the tremendous ways in which the business would benefit, too. My team knows “fly breaks” and family time are serious commitments, to be treated like any other meeting on my calendar. When I am out of office, it helps me to refocus and reenergize, which allows me to support my staff better, too.

When I step away, it forces my team to step up. Admittedly, truly unplugging is hard for me. I am invested in my business, and I am one of those business owners who likes to have a hand in every pocket of the company. In the past, when I took time off, something inevitably went wrong. It was actually a running joke in my office. We are talking serious business hiccups, with consequences–an employee would quit or a client or vendor issue would arise.

Usually, these problems didn’t crop up because I had left. They were things that would have happened anyway. It felt like bad timing. But I didn’t waiver in my commitment to finding work/life balance. My team and I would diagnose what went wrong and work together to solve it. Dealing with those fires was actually invaluable training for my senior staff.

I now truly trust the team in place. We are at the point where when I step away, I am confident things will run smoothly. If for some reason they didn’t, my team would know what to do. They are more than equipped to handle any issue that might come up, without running to me for advice. This lessens my stress while I am away. In fact, my family and I are traveling to Italy for two weeks next summer. Should a legitimate emergency arise, my team will know how to find me, but I suspect things will go just fine.

There is tremendous value in unplugging and in discovering a passion outside of the office. Flying has shown me that. I encourage all business leaders to find their own way to clear their minds and to step away from day-to-day operations. You will benefit, and your business will, too.

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