Take a break - Learning from an eight-month journey

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End 2018 was a great moment. My family and I decided to take an eight-month break in our professional life to explore other parts of ourselves together. Couple of months after the end of this journey, it’s time to put words on this and explain why it was such a great opportunity to experience this moment of life.

This project has been in our minds for a long time but postponed many times for wrong reasons. As explained in {Through-the-nozzle} in a nutshell, it was never the right moment. The fact we’ve always devoted a lot of time to our professional life and worked with envy was part of this excuse. But once my eyes opened to what I really wanted, a new period of time began where I could think in a different way.

This was the opportunity to analyze more deeply the feelings I felt and thus, get to know myself better. That changed my way of thinking from this moment. Recognizing our feelings to better understand a situation, to grasp its impact on you, to react in a more appropriate way. Understanding that my main brake to this project was the fear of experiencing something else, something deeply different, allowed me to transform this feeling into a strength throughout all the journey.

First of all, what were our motivations for this uncommon journey:

  • Have time to take a step back and get a higher view on subjects that matter
  • Be closer as a family and offer another kind of education to our children
  • Learn other ways of thinking, not only the european one
  • Open our mind, especially on culture, environment and society topics
  • Improve our English and learn other languages

Last element, but important for us regarding this project. Even if we were very lucky to make such a journey, it is not by chance as we have heard many times. We wanted to do it. It is a choice, which implies envy, decision and also sacrifices. And the most difficult part here is the decision.

First feelings after the first month

Once the journey started, first effects come pretty quickly. I thought it would take more time to move from a busy active life to a journey based on other concepts.

The first one can be called “Letting go”. I used to plan everything, to anticipate what could happen to be well prepared. This is pretty good for me, but it prevents unexpected events from happening. And these events can bring a lot of discoveries. I started to think it was really worth going out of our comfort zone. Do not plan any transport or host in advance and be surprised by what may happen. Meeting nice people or experiencing situations simply because we don’t “have to” because of the plan. And it worked! As a fabulous hitchhiking in a giant truck, or meeting this lady who helped us in the morning and found us in the middle of the city in the evening just to share some gifts with the children.

The second effect is the “openness towards the world around us”. We used to thing, act, see through our European mindset. It’s not easy to open up and let other ways of thinking come without the use of natural filters. But once we have let enough place for these differences, we get different behaviors. Take the time to understand and try to think differently before reacting. Follow new ways of doing things. Like this relationship to time, not chasing after and living with the present time.

What has changed in these 8 months

In addition to the pleasure of travelling around the globe, being together and discovering many new things, this journey has had a powerful impact on us. Some happened during the trip, some a couple of months after, and undoubtedly some will happen later on. Especially for our children who have forged a mentality that may help grow.

# Knowing of ourselves

One of the main impacts has been on our deepest self. We got the time to take a step back on the day to day life, allowing us to develop our thoughts without being disturbed by usual activities. To review our past actions, decisions and reactions, to analyze them, to understand them. Why did I react this way to this situation, what kind of feeling was it, how can I approach it in a different way. This allows us to have a better knowledge of ourselves, of our feelings, and gives us good means to deal with the different situations that can arise. One of the best examples is in the human relationship. We met many new people, entered into their daily lives, their homes, and faced many different feelings depending on how the host behaved. Sometimes we were destabilized by these behaviors and did not know how to react. Faced with these situations, we have learned to recognize the feelings that come into us, and then to adapt our reactions. We apprehended the feeling of destabilization to react in a different way. This was very powerful to adapt ourselves in every new situation. And undoubtedly, this changed my perspective on human relations and team management. Some reactions in teams management in the past would no longer be the same today.

Another exercise on ourselves was that we no longer had our usual “escape routes” to rest our minds such as sports or commute time. It was a family journey, and by family I do not mean a couple journey, but a family one … with children. And as wonderful as our children were during that journey, they needed a lot of attention, and we were together 24/7. This required a lot of energy and a real work on ourselves to manage the constant flow of solicitations. In difficult times, when fatigue has played an important role in our reactions, we have learned to analyze our feeling before reacting and adapt our responses. It was sometimes a complex exercise (it still is) and, for sure, we learned a lot with it and acquired better solicitations management skills.

# Adaptability

This is probably the most visible skill we have improved during this journey. Our choices about our way of travelling have led us to develop a very strong sense of adaptation as we used to plan quite nothing, to sleep in local houses, to share their daily lives and to choose the ways that facilitates encounters.

Each time we arrived into a new family, from a different culture, we had to understand their motivations for welcoming us, their way of thinking and their expectations. Do they host us just for the pleasure of exchanging, or do they have an interest? What are their rules inside the house, how can our actions or words seem inappropriate, how can we act without being embarrassed? We felt a little deprived at times but we quickly developed senses that helped us to face these situations, to quickly understand the environment and to act in an appropriate way.

  • The welcome in many countries where we felt embarrassed by so much generosity and started to think how we should react. What a great lesson we learned as the best way to respond was just to be ourselves.
  • The days spend with Alex, an old man in New Zealand who just wanted to share time with people, to receive human warmth. It was difficult to catch at first as the place was very small and he acted as the boss of the house. It was hard to find our place, we had to strictly follow the rules (early wake up, movies in the evening, …).
  • Our disappointment in Cambodia in this international school where we were hosted inside the school and discovered that we were being used as a communication vehicle to promote the school. There was no desire to share. We had a shared feeling between believing in this truth that we were being used or explaining this strange relationship by the cultural difference that we were not able to well identify. After a few days, we really understood that it was the first one. We learned a lot about human relationships during this journey!

Planning nothing also means a lot of surprises. We had to deal with different kinds of events and manage our feelings while we found a solution. Surprisingly, it has become quite easy to manage these events as we developed our adaptability.

  • Being at night without having a place to sleep. Amplified by the fact that the children asked “Where are we going to sleep …!”. So we therefore had to manage the finding and the kids’ worry.
  • Being late at night, on a gravel road in the middle of nowhere, without network. This is exactly the moment the car we were using chose to have a problem. Situation amplified by the children’s management :-)
  • And conversations only with smiles, where people always answered yes to our questions because they did not understand and politeness in the country is to answer yes. That leads to very nice misunderstandings.

Our way of doing things must also evolve. Once again, the children taught us to think differently. Like with homework. It was not the easiest part and we had to adapt, analyze their reactions, their behaviors and find the right pace, the right frequency and the right way. We needed several iterations before we could find the right formula. Pretty proud of the results!

Children vs team Management

I’m not used to draw a parallel between teamwork and children management, but during this journey, I’ve seen many similarities that deserve to be highlighted. This was not just a small change for our children. We changed their landmarks, brought them into an adventure that has nothing to do with the life they used to have, and with people who did not speak the same language. Close to a change management situation.

# Spread the vision
When we announced this project to the children, they were really enjoyed and happy to do it. We had taken care in advance to prepare material (map, video) to make the announcement during a nice dinner. All the conditions were there to well explain what we wanted to do, why, and what they will discover during this journey. And even with the fact they will be far from their friends, they were happy! We had to repeat many many many times the purpose of this journey during the journey itself. Even if they knew it well. It’s necessary to spread the vision as many time as necessary, especially during the difficult times.

# Find deep motivations
As much for the trip as for other moments of life such as homework for example, it’s necessary to well understand the motivations that feed our children in order to manage our discourse in the right way so that they support the project. I can say it was not an easy part to find the deep motivations to do homework over the days :-)

# Remove the constraints
It’s necessary for an effective team to have as few dependencies as possible and to remove external constraints. We did the same during the journey, trying to be as independent as possible. This may be counter-intuitive at first, but hitchhiking was a good way to do it. We did not need to book tickets, neither be dependent to a third-party company and find a way to get to the departure point. Even though we still needed some cars to stop, we removed a lot of constraints.

# Good work environment
To allow our children to fully participate in our journey, we had to provide them with a travel environment, by analogy with the work environment, as appropriate as possible so that this environment would not be an obstacle to our experience. That’s what we did, for example, with the travel bag. We tried (and succeeded) in travelling with as little equipment as possible, and therefore, with the smallest possible bag. This was a great thing not to have to worry about the weight of our bags during our moves.

# Adaptation
Unplanned events, or unplanned work for a team, are a real game changer. If you are not well prepared to deal with it, it could jeopardize everything you wanted to do. As explained above, we have learned to deal with it with all the capabilities we have developed.

# Family building
This was one of the goals of our journey, to spend time together, to live strong moments together, and to increase our complicity. And that worked, our children were real friends during the trip and we created real strong moments with them. This was essential to successfully build this incredible journey.

In addition to all this, this time we took for ourselves allowed us to read much of what was left of our reading list, to open ourselves on subjects that matter and … to put words on our thoughts by writing articles ^_^

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