In 2013, I had what could only be called a dream job. I was the founder and CEO of a $7 million company. It was a sports-travel firm called Ludus Sports that organized hospitality packages to the world’s largest sporting events and counted Olympic athletes and Fortune 500 companies as clients. To the outside, I looked like a success. But in truth, I struggled. One year prior, during the London 2012 Olympics, we made some missteps that led to losing $1 million in a matter of days. It dealt me a serious case of self-doubt that I hadn’t recovered from. I lost my entrepreneurial mojo and was afraid of taking risks. I’d been building this thing for 10 years, and the thought of doing it for another 10 terrified me. So I sold my company and stayed on as president.
Related: How to Recognize and Beat Burnout
But one day soon after, en route to an industry conference, I was overcome with anxiety. I worried about who I might run into, who I might have to talk to. I didn’t know what to do, what to say. That’s when I finally accepted that I needed a break. I needed to clear my head, refocus and reignite my passion for work -- which meant I needed a full escape. So I convinced my wife of something crazy: Our family, which included four kids under the age of 7, should spend the next year traveling the world. Even crazier, she agreed.
I left the business in the hands of my team (who thought I was nuts), found a renter for our home and hit the road. I was well aware of the risks, mainly that there might not be a business to come back to. (Spoiler alert: There wasn’t.) But the way I saw it, this trip would give me a chance to sharpen my saw without the worries of keeping a business afloat. As a traveler, I would be hustling for deals, researching transportation, booking excursions and extracting insights from new people and places.
As it turned out, the lessons along the way translated quickly back into my life as an entrepreneur. First, I learned I needed to loosen up. I was an efficient, detail-oriented planner in all corners of my life, but this expedition taught me to embrace flexibility. To cut costs, we’d book accommodations just days before arrival and schedule flights based on price rather than preferred schedule. Did it add stress? Of course! But dealing with a few unknowns to save money was worth it. Now, as I’ve resettled into my everyday life, I find myself approaching conversations with vendors and customers with more flexibility. It’s led to a healthier bottom line, as well as healthier, longer- lasting relationships.
I also got comfortable with being uncomfortable. Travel is fundamentally unpleasant -- try sitting in a quiet Parisian restaurant with a cranky 2-year-old, or being told in Italian that your parenting sucks. (Grazie!) But humiliation is temporary. If you’re not pushing the envelope -- in life, in business -- you’re not going to win. Accepting that has given me a thicker skin, and these days, there’s not much that can knock me off-kilter.
When we returned to the States in 2015, I knew I wanted to put my entrepreneur hat back on. This time, armed with a flexible mindset and inoculated against discomfort and uncertainty, I decided to explore multiple opportunities rather than focus on one operation. I set up meeting after meeting and started building new projects. Today I split my time between a vacation-rental business and two consulting companies. It took months to get each project moving, and finding the balance between keeping a tight schedule and maintaining flexibility was its own challenge -- but I’ve found my rhythm.
My yearlong experiment may have been crazy, and yes, I was fortunate to be able to afford the break. But the most important thing I learned was universal: Acknowledging burnout is infinitely better than living with it. And it’s always possible -- preferable, even -- to walk away and come back to something better.