This month, the nonprofit I started celebrated its fourth birthday. In a handful of years, I have overseen the creation of a nationwide organization with average annual income growth of 35 per cent, which partners at the highest levels of government and commerce, and currently has an operating reserve equivalent to a whole year’s running costs. All achieved in a new country – I moved from London to Washington DC to make this happen.
For many, this would be the time to breathe a sigh of relief, celebrate the return of sleep, and enjoy the hard-won right to lead in the good times. Not for me.
Six months ago, I went to my boss, the President of the Board of Directors, and told him of my intention to step down. My contract required three months’ notice, I offered double to allow us to manage the transition calmly. I log off on Thursday.
I knew the time was right; I achieved what I set out to do – I’ve created and built an organization that is well respected, exceptional in its work and fiscally sound. The latter is even more important today; nonprofits are facing funding challenges worse than after the 2008 crash.
Around the time I was making my decision, I came across an article about Deanna Mulligan. She took 2 years off when she was 41 years old – I’m 43 – and attributes this with her rise to CEO of Guardian Life Insurance just a few years later. She said, “What I’ve learned is that life is not a straight line.” I don’t believe in fate or messages from the universe, but it was well-timed and reassuring to know someone else felt the same way.
Alas, my savings won’t stretch as far as hers, but I’m about to take my second Quarter Gap Year. The first happened in 2013 following my divorce – three months backpacking around SE Asia with just my guitar for company. It was liberating to travel alone, I learned more about myself in 3 months than the previous three decades, I made lifelong friends, and I came home with a rekindled passion which has fueled all I’ve achieved here in the United States.
My second Quarter Gap Year will be very different; it won’t start with a long-haul flight, I can’t escape my day to day life, I won’t experience new sounds and smells, and no new friends will be made along the way.
Instead, my discovery will happen right here – at home. These strange times offer me a precious opportunity to be still, appreciate the ordinary, and re-ignite my imagination. Rather than escaping to a state that can’t be maintained, I have the chance to re-set my normal. What might seem restrictive will, I suspect, have a much more profound and lasting impact on my life.
Mark Twain said:
“20 years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”
I can’t literally leave the shore right now, but I have every intention to explore, dream and discover. Sometimes you have to stand still to be able to move forward.
If anyone needs me for the next three months, I’ll be right here.