It’s easy to look at the bosses of some of the world’s biggest brands and think they live and breathe their jobs. But that obsessive focus comes with a cost: a loss of the work/life balance so many career advisors tout as a necessity. And the higher employees climb the corporate ladder, the more vital the need can be to switch off.
That’s why many c-suite executives are now turning to an ‘opposite world’.
Nick Petrie, a New Zealand-based leadership researcher, defines the concept of the opposite world as “an activity or hobby which puts them into a state which is the direct opposite of the mindset they have at work (and recharges them).”
So what exactly are the globe’s CEOs doing to blow off steam?
Listening to death metal music
Who? Marcus Rader, CEO at vacation software developer Hostaway.
“Life in my native Finland actually equipped me pretty well for the role of CEO of Hostaway. Finnish people often choose not to share their worries with the outside world, and due to its northern location, Finland is dark most of the time. So how do the people of Finland deal with stress? Well, the numbers tell the truth: Finland has the world’s highest number of heavy metal bands per capita.
“Heavy metal lyrics often deal with complex topics in which the audience can find solace. Very few heavy metal songs tell the tale of sunny days, palm trees, and sports cars. Instead, they share themes around darker topics such as death, war, loneliness, and illness and often combine these topics in one song, such as ‘One’ by Metallica or ‘Hallowed Be Thy Name’ by Iron Maiden. Although I no longer have the time to play in a death metal band, I find solace in the themes and the dark, heavy tones of the distorted guitars when I want to detach from daily reality and put my problems in perspective.
“After all, how hard is it really to deal with accounting or HR matters compared to being brought to the gallows? Not that difficult when you stop and think about it.”
Going to circus school
Who? Iman Gatti, CEO and founder of Iman Gatti Consulting, a certified grief recovery specialist.
“A few months ago I was driving and I saw a sign that read: ‘Join the Circus’ and I giggled at how silly and fun it was. I looked at their website and saw a class called, ‘Mid-Life Circus’. I signed up immediately. I absolutely detest heights but there I was, standing on a trapeze, trying not to fall. I was so proud of myself and each week it got less scary.
“I love opening up new corners of my brain. It makes me a better person but especially as a CEO, because every day presents new problems, fears and decisions that have me feeling like I am up there on that trapeze. Circus school reminds me that there is a whole world of hard things I am not very good at, but showing up and being willing to be awful, also means you are willing to be great.”
Taking showers in airport lounges
Who? Torben Friehe, CEO and founder of financial services firm, Wingback
“I like to fly to unwind—literally. I will book an economy flight to basically anywhere just to be flying and I do this probably every couple of weeks or so. Specifically I love hanging out in airport lounges and—more specifically—taking showers in airport lounges. It’s one of the best ways to unwind.
“If I am not flying, I like to get up super early at around 2 or 3 a.m. and watch documentaries about planes—like the Boeing 707, 747, and all the pre 1970s Lockheed planes were developed.”
Competing in international snow sculpting competitions
Who? Martin Sharp is CEO of Sharp Fit For Life, fitness coach and author.
“I recently competed in the International Snowscultping Competition in Austria and am currently competing in Kiruna, Sweden. Anything outdoors and being in nature is a way to get away from technology and complete departure from everything.
“As a CEO of an organization and even as a business transformational expert, you need to have that time away from what you’re doing as much as you need to have time actually doing what you’re doing. For myself, I find it hard to unwind doing nothing, but if I have an outlet where I can do something, I unwind and destress and enjoy what’s going on around me.“
Dressing up dolls on my mobile
Who? Angela Prentner Smith, CEO and founder of business consultancy, This is Milk
“The worst year I had in business was also the year I found my dirty, little secret. I was in a rut, things were going badly, and truthfully my brain was not a nice place to be. I nudged myself out of that negative place with a combination of goal setting and affirmations, but also gave myself permission to take brain breaks. And my brain breaks are not in line with the professional, intelligent persona I’d like to think I portray.
“I play mobile app called Covet. Basically I dress up dolls and then vote on outfits of other players. It’s mindless, creative and I’m really addicted. I could look at this as a bad thing, but honestly it completely calms my brain. I now know being neurodivergent means my brain needs more breaks or it needs several things to do at once. Covet is where I go to occupy the passive part of my brain while the active part listens.”
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