Getting A Life

High performance professionals must have a renewing life outside of the workspace. You can’t sustain a high rate of intensity without a break. This varies for everyone, of course. But the formula should include some kind of exercise, family or community-oriented engagement, and some strictly personal break time. Everyone has his or her own path to renewal—here are some of mine:

  • Reading. I enjoy reading history, biography, science, historical novels, economics, and, of course, business. I finish between 25 and 40 books per year. Some people are dabblers, but I like to pursue big themes or series of readings such as the following.
    • The Aubrey/Maturin novels of Patrick O’Brien—to see if you like it, start at the beginning by reading Master and Commander.
    • Rumpole of the Bailey series by John Mortimer—it’s a humorous collection of short stories about a public-aid barrister in Britain.
    • My longest-running reading program, however, concerns biographies of U.S. Presidents. Taken at a leisurely pace, it is at least a decade-long project. See my list of Recommended Presidential Biographies for more detail on this program.
  • Canoeing the James. With a son I have paddled 301 miles of the James River in Virginia—this is the longest river contained entirely in the borders of one state. It took us three years worth of weekends and summer breaks. See my notes on Getting Started on Canoeing the James. In the process, I have learned many good things about canoeing, river ecology, the geography of Virginia, and my son.
  • Fly-fishing/shooting clays. With the benefit of guides I have discovered the pleasures of fly-casting, diving, and shooting clay pigeons. I’m a raw beginner at these activities and don’t own my own equipment. And I get to them only irregularly. But they are enormous fun.
  • Opera. With another son I share a love of choral and operatic music. We have embarked on a journey of hearing all of the major U.S. opera companies in their own houses. Great music is easily accessible from Charlottesville: The Ashlawn Opera FestivalNew Lyric TheatreVirginia Opera, and the National Opera at the Kennedy Center.
  • Bicycling. I ride regularly, mainly for exercise. The hilly back roads in the countryside around Charlottesville afford excellent challenges of all levels. My wife and I have taken great trips in the California wine country and in the Czech Republic with Backroads and would recommend guide services such as this to anyone looking for an organized biking trip.
  • Astronomy. I have a five-inch refracting telescope, and enjoy taking it out occasionally to look at planets, comets, and galaxies—the perfect activity for a contemplative evening. This has triggered some reading in the area. As a beginning astronomer, I am figuratively and literally in the dark.
  • Cooking, wine tasting, and eating. My idea of a good evening is to spend it experimenting in the kitchen or around a dinner table. See my recipe for Veal Piccata a la John Lewis. For dining out in Charlottesville, visit The Tavern (for breakfast grits and pancakes), Big Jim’s (for country music and barbeque) and Bizou Restaurant (for fusion diner/nouvelle cuisine).
  • Foreign travel. This satisfies a love of history and a need for exploration. Consulting and academic work take me out of the country a few times each year. I look for ways to connect with old friends, and to discover new regions.
  • Scripophily. I collect stocks and bonds of defunct companies and governments. See my Introduction to Scripophily for an explanation why.

Look for your own ways to renew away from work.