Solitude gives birth to the original in us, to beauty, unfamiliar and perilous….
– Thomas Mann
We have become used to a world that floods our senses and keeps us entertained 24/7. Think back to a time before radio and TV, perhaps even before books. Besides working to increase the population, what did people do? They thought, and pondered, and created new ideas. They learned about others and themselves. We’ve lost some of that ability.
When we’re alone, with just ourselves and even when not overtly meditating, our thoughts gel and reassembly into priorities and actionable concepts. What used to be a jumble begins to make sense. Conflicting priorities give way to clear direction. Insurmountable obstacles regain their proper perspective. Most of us have experienced this, either alone or perhaps when our team is at an offsite meeting – in solitude as a team.
As I described in the Introduction, the power of solitude was my first experience with Zen. In the midst of the personal and professional chaos I was dealing with, I flew myself to Hawaii on a few hours notice, and just sat on a beach. I breathed in the fragrant air, listened to the birds and waves, and had a glass of wine. By myself. My thoughts slowed, priorities realigned, I reconnected with myself.
I made that trip several times, and am very thankful that my wife supported it. Lately I’ve found I can obtain the same benefit by driving with the radio off, taking a walk on the nearby beach, or even just sitting on the porch in the morning. Alone, just my thoughts and me.
Embrace solitude as part of your leadership routine. An intentional part. Perhaps as your daily commute but with the radio turned off, a weekly walk on an empty beach, or even just a few times a year while on vacation. Many executives plan a couple days alone at the end of business trips. The more frequent it is part of your leadership habit, the more settled and aligned your thoughts will be. Consider how it can play a part in team dynamics, such as via offsite meetings, or even family wellbeing, perhaps by camping in a quiet, deserted park.