What would you do if you had the most important job in the world, an unbelievably stressful job, but one you loved beyond measure–and then the time came when you had to leave? Would you line up a bunch of lucrative speaking engagements? Start a foundation? Sit down to write your memoirs?
These are all good answers. But before you did any of this, you might consider doing something that you love, for the pure joy of it, especially if it’s something your highly important job prevented you from doing for years.
At least, that’s how it was for Barack Obama. He and Michelle Obama just spent several days as guests of Sir Richard Branson in the Virgin Islands, as Branson explains in a blog post. Obama comes from Hawaii, and like most Hawaiians, he loves to surf. But it’s one of many things a U.S. president can’t do. Shortly before he took office in 2009, he surfed some big, dangerous waves in Hawaii, and when he came back to shore, the head of his security team informed him that there would be no more surfing for at least the next four years. Now that he’s not commander in chief anymore, Obama was eager to hit the waves.
Kitesurfing (riding a board while being towed by the wind using a parachute-shaped kite) is a relatively new sport that’s catching on, and conditions on Necker Island’s beaches are ideal for it. Obama had never tried it, while Branson has been doing it for years. But both men are driven and competitive, so to make things interesting they decided to see whether Obama could learn to kitesurf faster than Branson could learn to foilboard. Foilboarding ups the ante with a three-foot vertical strut and horizontal fin (or “foil”) attached to the bottom of the board. As the board moves along, the water flow grabs the foil and lifts the board (and surfer) up to three feet above the water. It then comes splashing down again at the end of the run. Branson describes it as a whole new sport, and one where a helmet and body protection are truly needed.
How about you?
You’ll have to read Branson’s post or watch the video to find out which of the two won the competition. But the huge grin on the former president’s face speaks volumes about the importance of cutting loose and doing something completely different and completely fun, especially if your day-to-day job leaves you little time for relaxation or exhilaration. If that’s you, it’s doubly important to take some time every year to break out of your regular routine, take some real time off, and do something you truly enjoy. It doesn’t have to be anything as hair-raising as kitesurfing, if you’re not drawn to extreme sports. It could be going on an archaeological dig, or taking a cooking class, or simply sitting in a rowboat on some remote lake waiting for the fish to bite.
Whatever it is, it’s important to remember that your career, just like the presidency, is finite, and that you will be sorry to have spent your healthiest years working all the time and never doing the fun things you love. So go ahead. Book that spa day or camping trip, get out your scuba gear or sign up for that film festival. You’ll be happy you did, and you’ll get back to your desk with a fresh new perspective and possibly some great new ideas.
As for Obama, those of us who’ve watched his hair turn grayer and his wrinkles deeper for the past eight years can only be happy about how relaxed and joyful he looks in the images that Branson posted. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen him look happier!” one reader commented on Branson’s blog post. Another replied: “That’s what kitesurfing does to every ocean loving human. Welcome to the tribe, Barack! CU on the water.” I bet she will.