Amy and I just got back from a month off the grid in Aspen. If you are an Atlas Shrugged fan, think of it like the annual trip to Galt’s Gulch.
Since 2000, Amy and I have been taking a week of the grid every quarter. I’ve never been a good moderator with anything, especially work, so it has been a way to get a cold reset every twelve weeks or so.
Three years ago my partners and I at Foundry Group decided to experiment with a month off the grid. Each of us goes away for a month and the other three (now four) cover for him. It’s been remarkably successful for us, both individually and as a partnership.
Let’s start with the individual stuff first. My brain is cleared of cruft, I’m extremely content, and my energy level is high. I’m in great physical shape, as I slept around 10 hours a night, ran about seven hours a week, and took almost daily naps. I’m in great emotional shape, as I meditated almost daily, spent lots of time with friends who came to visit, ignored almost everything going on in the world (although I got sucked into the election a few times), stayed completely off social media, and read a book a day. I’m in great relationship shape, as I got to spent 24 hours a day for a month with my beloved.
Professionally, having now been through this three times, I know that all my responsibilities were in good hands with my partners. As a bonus, they just spent a month taking care of the companies I’m primarily responsible for, so they know what is going on in my world – the good and the bad. Spending a month disconnected is, in some ways, the ultimate display of trust, and it powerfully reinforces the idea that we all work together on everything.
And – no email. No Twitter. No Facebook. No calendar alerts. No Voxer. No Slack. No phone calls. No conference calls. No Google Hangouts. You get the picture.
We did watch Season 2 of Narcos (awesome). We watched a bunch of movies. We watched 24 Second Edition (also known as Designated Survivor.) Amy and I ate dinner together every night. We held hands a lot as we walked around and enjoyed a splendid fall in Aspen. We missed our dogs (they were staying with our Rover sitter who they love), but this let us stay up late and sleep until 11am some days.
I know it’s a huge privilege to be able to take a month of the grid every year. I’ve fantasized about this since I read Atlas Shrugged when I was 19. Thanks Jason, Seth, Ryan, and Lindel for helping this become a reality. Most of all, thanks Amy for sharing this time with me.
That said, it’s good to be back. I look forward to reconnecting with everyone – starting now.
Amy and I take an annual one month sabbatical completely off the grid. This is something that each of my partners and their families also do – we rotate throughout the year and the other partners completely cover for whomever is on sabbatical. Based on the experience of the past two years, this has had a dramatic positive impact on our lives, our relationship with our families, our mental health, and our longevity in our business. It also is a powerful reinforcing dynamic in our partnership – we talk regularly about how we all work on everything together, but when one person is gone for a month and the other three have to cover everything he’s working on, there’s nowhere to hide and the trust dynamic that evolves is remarkably deep.
We went to Rancho Valencia and played tennis at least five days a week and I used this trip to completely reboot my tennis game. When I was a kid, I played junior tennis in Texas from age 10 – 14. I was good but not great – I could consistently get to the quarter finals in tournaments and every now and then make it to the semifinals. I stopped playing around age 14 when I discovered girls and computers. Today, after having zero consistency on the court for 35 years I’m a solid 4.0 but with some effort and consistency I expect I could play 4.5 tennis. That’s kind of a fun thought for the next 20 years.
One of the other things Amy and I do on sabbatical is read every day. We are both fast readers and I generally can read a book in a day or two, depending on the type and size of the book. Last year I was on a biography kick in Bora Bora and that’s what I posted about. This year I decided to do a LIFO approach on my Kindle so you’ll just get the whole list (in order read) along with my quick thoughts. This includes books I decided to buy while on sabbatical as they jumped to the front of the LIFO line.
If you want my full reading list mildly categorized going back several years, take a look at my Goodreads account.
How to Archer: The Ultimate Guide to Espionage and Style and Women and Also Cocktails Ever Written: Amy and I ended up addicted to Archer and I think it’s now my favorite TV cartoon. The book is fun, but the TV show (now through six seasons) is a riot. Archer Vice is an especially fun year (Season 5).
Rogue Lawyer: I stopped reading John Grisham books many years ago (I loved his first few and then got bored). For some reason I picked this one up and thought it was great fun.
Why Information Grows: The Evolution of Order, from Atoms to Economies: This one was a little chewy, but fortunately not that long. I don’t remember why I bought it or who had recommended it to me. It didn’t stick with me thought – I’m not sure I remember anything insightful from it.
How We’ll Live on Mars (TED Books): Given the move The Martian and all the recent Elon Musk talk about Mars, I decided to learn a little more. This was another winner – easy to read and very accessible, yet with plenty of stuff that was new to me.
The Most Important Thing Illuminated: Uncommon Sense for the Thoughtful Investor: Yeah, well, Howard Marks is an investment genius. I should have read this book when it first came out. If you are in any kind of investment business (including Venture Capital) you should read this book right now.
Startup Wealth: How the Best Angel Investors Make Money in Startups: Josh interviewed a bunch of angel investors, including me. This is a very timely and relevant book for any angel investor. It’s heavily interview style and could have benefited from a stronger edit pass, but it has tons of useful (and often contradictory) feedback from lots of different angel perspectives.
The Term Sheet: A Startup Thriller Novel: I’m a big fan of the Startup Fiction genre. This was a quick, fun read.
@War: The Rise of the Military-Internet Complex: This was an important book that crushed my soul. We are at the very beginning of something that is so complex that it will make traditional / historical war look like child’s play. Sure – the ancient Romans and the Greeks created a lot of war strategies that are still in use today, but they never envisioned this.
Our Robots, Ourselves: Robotics and the Myths of Autonomy: I’m reading a lot about robotics and AI these days. I bet you aren’t surprised. This was a solid book – I learned a few things and it made me think a little deeper about others.
Straight to Hell: True Tales of Deviance, Debauchery, and Billion-Dollar Deals: I needed something fun, light, and absurd to read as I been consuming too much serious stuff. This book, written by the guy who created the hilarious GSElevator twitter account, nailed it. As a bonus, if you are either voyeuristic or cynical (or both) about investment bankers, this book is for you.
The Investment Answer: I was given this book with a note that it’s a clear, basic book on personal finances and investing. It’s that, but very basic. If you don’t feel like you have a handle on your personal investing approach, even if you don’t have a lot of money, this is a good starting place.
America’s Bank: The Epic Struggle to Create the Federal Reserve: With all the discussion about the Fed starting to raise interest rates, I felt I owed it to myself to understand the history of the creation of the Federal Reserve. I knew under 3% of what actually had happened, and I didn’t understand any of the competing forces. In addition to the mechanics and philosophy of what and why the Fed was created, the politics behind it were fascinating. Like a lot of history, it was a little too much blow by blow, but overall really good and context generating.
The Last of the President’s Men: This was the best book of the trip. Wow, wow, wow. I’m a huge Woodward fan so I’ve read a lot of his books. This is a capstone to a very long career of writing about Nixon. It’s totally crazytown what still is surfacing from the Nixon White House era.
Girl in the Woods: A Memoir: I’ve got a fantasy that in a parallel universe I thru-hike the Pacific Crest Trail. While I’m not going to do it in this particular lifetime, I love reading stories about people who do it. This one, like The Wild, is a coming of age story that is incredibly powerful and well written. While there are plenty of stressful, emotionally painful, and some cringeworthly parts, I thoroughly enjoyed the whole book.
Wishful Drinking: Star Wars 7 is coming. Amy and I are in the midst of watching Episodes 1 through 6. So – it’s time for some Carrie Fisher. Well – ok – one is enough.
Wired: The Short Life & Fast Times of John Belushi: Reading some Carrie Fisher led me to reading Bob Woodward’s biography of John Belushi. It also prompted us to download the best of Belushi on SNL and watch it, although we managed to restrain ourselves from watching Neighbors. As a childhood Belushi fan, this book made me incredibly sad and I think I actually moped around for a few days after reading it.
A Fire Upon The Deep (Zones of Thought series Book 1): Time for some science fiction. I hadn’t read Vinge’s Zone of Thought series so I decided to start it. Like most Vinge, it’s a lot of book with tons of ideas that hold well today, in this case about what is going on 25,000 years in the future. I’ve got the next one on my Kindle and will read it when I need another break from current reality.
The Little Book of Common Sense Investing: The Only Way to Guarantee Your Fair Share of Stock Market Returns: Amy and I aren’t public market investors – neither of us are interested in it and I simply don’t have time or the emotional energy to add it into the mix of what I do. However, we own plenty of public equity through the various mutual funds (managed and index) that we own. I’d never read the book by Bogel (the founder of Vanguard) and it has been recommended to me by several people I trust. It’s extremely well done and very clear – worthwhile to read if you struggle with the best way to invest in the public markets over the very long term.
Beatlebone: The only physical newspaper I read these days is the Sunday New York Times. And, I don’t read all of it – only the front section, business, Book Review, and the Magazine (Amy reads – and savors – the whole paper.) This was highly recommended in the Book Review and John Lennon is my favorite Beatle. It took me almost a week to read it – it was hard to get into and then easy to bounce out of. Or, it’s possible I was just pretty “read out” by this point.
The Inner Game of Tennis: The Classic Guide to the Mental Side of Peak Performance: It seemed appropriate to end seven weeks of tennis with one of the classics about tennis. Awesome book.
As 2015 comes to an end, it was a good year. Here’s looking forward to 2016. And – happy reading.
As I sit here watching Amy play tennis with her coach Mason (I hurt my shoulder serving so I’m taking a few days off), I’m reflecting on my first week back on the grid after a five week sabbatical. A few things come to mind.
1. Amy’s tennis game has improved dramatically over the past six weeks. She’s always had nice strokes, but she definitely has been playing beginner tennis. As I watch her play, everything has elevated at least a level for her including her confidence on the court. It’s beautiful and I expect her tennis girlfriends will have a big challenge on their hands when she returns. And, I’m ready to start (and look forward to) playing mixed doubles with her.
2. I stayed off Facebook and Twitter this week, other than to respond on Twitter to some @bfeld mentions. I was too busy with other stuff to really get in the flow of it and I didn’t really find myself caring, as I’d rather spend my Twitter / Facebook time walking Brooks, staring out the window, watching classic tennis matches from the 1980s on Youtube, or reading.
3. When I did bump into social and news stuff, especially politics, there was an amazing amount of vitriol in the world. I know that politics and the now year long election cycle that stretches endlessly in front of us adds significantly to this, but there also feels like a lot of global schadenfreude in the system, especially in the news. It’d be ironic if the lack of Twitter in my diet last week drove this, but somehow I doubt it.
4. I really missed my partners at Foundry Group and was delighted to re-engage with them. I expected to feel this way when I left for sabbatical but it’s always powerfully reassuring to experience it.
5. Very few dramatic things happened while I was gone. While there was a bunch of transaction stuff in our portfolio that my partners handled, there were no fundamental shifts in the matrix, the AI didn’t yet become sentient, and the moon didn’t split into seven pieces. I read a few books last month that reminded me that humans consistently overestimate our importance in the universe – this was once again reinforced by re-entry.
In a conversation with a CEO of a company I’m an investor in, he said “Wow – you seem incredible chill after being gone for a while.” It feels great to be chill.
If you play tennis almost every day for five weeks you get a lot better.
In addition to turning 50, I had an incredible mental, emotional, and physical reset. Two years ago, Seth, Jason, Ryan, and I decided that we would each take a month off the grid each year. We’d do this asynchronously so only one person would be on sabbatical at a time. We’ve now had two cycles of this.
It serves two powerful purposes. For the person who goes off the grid for a month, it gives them a complete reset. I just spent every day with Amy since November 1. We had long stretches of time together doing vacation things rather than daily life things. We had lots of friends come visit this year. We played a ton of tennis. I read a bunch of books. We went to bed early and slept late. We watched every episode of Archer and Star Wars 1 – 5 (Return of the Jedi will get watched this week.) I feel 10 zillion times better than I did on October 31.
The second, more subtle purpose, is that by going off the grid, I handed over all of my work to Seth, Jason, and Ryan. One of our core values is that we all work on everything together. There’s nothing quite like stepping away for a month and letting your partners cover everything for you, or having one of them step away for a month and you cover his stuff. If this happened once every decade, that would be one thing, but by having this happen every year I believe we are creating another, even deeper level of trust and connectedness between us.
When I wrote my post #GiveFirst on 10/25, I planned to check out from blogging through the end of the year and just work on my next book (#GiveFirst). But, as my sabbatical came to an end, I was missing the rhythm of almost daily blogging. So, I decided to start blogging again when I feel like it, rather than wait until January 1, 2016 to start again.
Yesterday was my first day officially back. It was a busy day, but I managed to get outside and play 90 minutes of tennis. As I re-enter my normal world, I’m glad to be back, but I had an amazing time away.
I’m back after a one month sabbatical with Amy. We spent the month in Bora Bora, completely disconnected from everything. It is one of the best things I’ve ever done for myself.
At the beginning of 2014, my partners and I had a discussion about ways to sustain the pace of how we’ve been working. We were all tired and were searching for something to try. We decided to each take a one month sabbatical, completely off the grid, during the year. While one person was gone, the other three would cover for him on anything that needed to be taken care of or decided.
Seth went first and went to Europe and studied French with his family. Ryan went next, traveled all over Europe, and won the grand prize in a Lego-building competition. Jason went next, got married, and took a honeymoon for a month in Europe. Amy and I just returned from a month in Bora Bora.
I’ve had a fantasy for a long time about taking a month off. Since 2000, Amy and I take a week off the grid every quarter. It’s been a marriage saver for us. One week – just the two of us – no phone, no email, no work. But we’d never done it for longer than a week.
I’ve also had a fantasy about going to Bora Bora, staying in a hut over the water, and reading a book a day. I don’t know where Bora Bora came from, but the book a day was an easy one for me since I usually read about a half-dozen books on our week of the grid vacations.
I read 45 books since we left on November 7th. Our typical day looked like:
We did 30 days of this. We sprinkled plenty of adult entertainment into the mix, along with lots of long discussions about all kinds of things.
After a week, we were each a little restless. I ate something weird around day five and didn’t feel good for three days. But once we got into the middle of the second week we forgot that the world existed. We woke up each day, did our thing by the turquoise blue ocean, and went to bed at the end of the day.
We headed into week four feeling completely transformed.
I’ve never taken a month off before. During school, I always worked in the summer time. After I sold my first company (on a Friday), I went back to work first thing Monday morning. I’ve been investing ever since and when I stopped working at AmeriData full time, I already had more than a full time job worth of consulting to the startups I’d funded via Intensity Ventures lined up. While doing that, I started working at Softbank/Mobius, and while doing that co-founded Foundry Group.
I find it incomprehensible that I’ve never taken a break like this before. Given my comfort with one week off-the-grid vacations, it was easy to just disconnect and leave everything in my partners’ hands. I trust them completely and having already been through the one month off cycle with each of them earlier in the year, I knew that whenever something came up, good decisions would be made and things would be handled.
As a result, I feel like I’ve completely reset my brain. I read what I wanted – I had over 200 books on my Kindle – so I just picked randomly when I didn’t have “next book” in mind. Some of the business books were skimmers and I only dropped out of one fiction book a quarter way through because I lost interest. The rest was like being transported to the magical reading planet.
Amy and I never grew tired of being together. I could spend all day, every day, with her, all the time. I feel like we’ve mastered being together, but letting there be enough space when one of us needs it that we never get frustrated with each other. Sure, there are moments, but they are very short ones, and usually solved by laughter by one of us.
After 30 days, we are ready to be back. We miss our friends. I miss my partners. We both miss our work, which is something that neither of us has said out loud for a while. And most of all, we miss Brooks the wonder dog!