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How Extreme Sports Can Change Your Professional Life

June 6, 2017, 4:30 PM UTC
Lars B. Misch/Getty Images

The Leadership Insiders network is an online community where the most thoughtful and influential people in business contribute answers to timely questions about careers and leadership. Today’s answer to the question, “How do you stay away from work when you’re out of the office?” is written by Stephan Dietrich, vice president of Adobe Campaign.

In my home country of France, companies with over 50 employees are required to set times when employees shouldn’t use email. They call this “the right to disconnect.”

But in America, where I currently live and work, it’s a different story. Nearly two in three HR professionals expect their employees to be reachable at home, usually by phone, text, or email.

This expectation tethers workers to their phones and laptops. A recent survey of U.S. white-collar workers found that on the weekend, the average person sends 19 and reads 29 work emails. It also found that an astounding 79% admit to checking work email on vacation.

Given this environment and increasing demands at work, the only way to disconnect is to find a hobby that requires 100% of your attention. Have you ever checked your email while surfing a big wave?

I was bitten long ago by the extreme sports bug. As a teen growing up near the French Alps, I was an avid paraglider. I loved the thrill of being connected to an inflatable wing where I could soar off hills or mountains using air currents. There’s a lot of technique involved and it can be risky. I sometimes think of the fate of a close friend who died in a paragliding accident in the early 2000s.

When I moved away from the mountains to Paris for my studies, I switched to kite surfing, which is also an extreme sport, but done near a body of water. When you kite surf, you stand on a strapless board and hold onto a kite, catching the wind to propel yourself across the waves. This sport requires a lot of skill. You have to maneuver the board and the kite, and you have to master the ocean and the winds. If you make one wrong move, you’re thrown into the swell.

The risk in these activities drives me to focus relentlessly on what I’m doing. Similarly, I can’t let my mind wander off to challenges at work—not even for a split second.

When I’m done for the day, I feel rejuvenated. My wife knows this, so when I’m stressed, she’ll toss me out of the house and tell me to go kite surfing. I come back with lifted spirits.

Of course, not everyone needs an extreme sport to disconnect. The number and range of activities that can keep your mind off of work are limitless. You could cook, paint, hike, run, or even just walk around the block—anything that gets you away from your desk.

The key is to approach your disconnecting activity with an extreme sports mindset. Turn your phone off. Focus all of your attention on what you’re doing. Make yourself believe that if your mind wanders, the consequences could be devastating.

Having a job that consumes all of your energy is exciting. But it can’t happen without some downtime. Turning off work and doing something you’re passionate about goes a long way toward resetting your focus. And it can teach you skills that will make you a better worker when you’re on the job.