Published 6/10/2016 in The Maryland Daily Record
I read an article about a CEO who takes off work every Friday to get away from the office and open his mind to new ideas. My first reaction was to imagine that this CEO lives in the Pacific Northwest and is likely an avid extreme sports enthusiast. It turns out I was dead wrong. This CEO actually lives in a metropolitan area. On these days off, while he may enjoy a long bike ride in the winding hills outside the city where he lives, he also takes time to do things in the routine of his kid’s lives, to travel on his own, to be in nature, to be alone, to be with friends – really anything that simply isn’t being in the office.
I had just returned from a weekend away at a spa and wellness retreat with the chief investment officer of my firm. The idea was to step away from our daily routines and get in touch with the bigger picture to allow us to have more of a strategic planning mindset. The drive to this destination was longer than we expected and turned out to be filled with gorgeous greenery. I felt myself relaxing as the drive progressed into the Pocono Mountains, an area unfamiliar to me and beautiful beyond my expectations. Our arrival in the small Pennsylvania town that is home to several top-notch resorts was equally quaint yet comforting. It was clear from the minute we pulled into the resort that this lodge was well-experienced in providing a respite to busy city dwellers.
The vibe was relaxing and purposeful. The notion that we would discuss business planning quickly faded as we were swept into the mindfulness, meditation, healthy eating, spa, and general calm of the natural surroundings. Knowing me, many may think that I would have been running for the closest exit sign. In fact, this was the first time I had ever done something like this, but I found myself embracing the opportunity to reset my pace for a few days. I observed the other guests and the positive energy that I could feel from each new person we encountered. The first night really set the tone and it remains the favorite part of the three-day experience.
The first night we signed up to participate in the Chef’s Garden Table. This is an opportunity for 12 people to have dinner prepared in the organic garden onsite by the head chef of the lodge. We were treated to a multi-course meal paired with the most perfect wines – all food and wine locally sourced. It was a real treat. But beyond how delicious our meal was, and it was, we found an instant community with our fellow diners. There was a man traveling without his wife doing his annual solo download excursion; a newlywed couple coming off a Jewish/Indian wedding celebration that had lasted four days; a pair of best girlfriends who met at the lodge and left their husbands of 40-plus years at home; and a super-cool couple close to age 60 who met two years ago on Tinder. An eclectic group of genuine, interesting engaging people who added an absolute bright spot in this unexpected setting.
Our dinner conversation spanned so many topics, and each person contributed in his or her unique way, the shared heritage of some, the shared hobbies of others. What a gift to meet 10 new people and find such common ground. The lodge was fairly intimate and small so we would end up seeing these people throughout the rest of our stay. It felt like we had a community within the experience yet it also allowed for us to have our own individual experiences. My favorite of these was a 50-minute class, “Learning to Breathe.” For those of you rolling your eyes, trust me, I was right there with you. I thought it could only be a waste of time but it turned out to be amazing. When I initially thought I couldn’t possibly sit still for 50 minutes of breathing, I experienced this as the fastest 50 minutes ever and wished it lasted longer. Our teacher, our guide through this breathing practice, taught me how to push away tension and stress, which I often feel, and how to bring in fresh strength with each new breath. This will be long-lasting with me as I go forward in my daily work and life.
Ultimately, I loved the experience of stepping away from my routine, of letting go of the stress that I now understand had been building. The natural consequence of the pace that I keep, which I happen to love, is that every now and then it will do some good for me to step away and open up that space for new ideas and learning new things to come in.