I just left a 14-year career at Intel Corporation to ride bikes around Iceland with my wife and two children. I didn't make this decision on a whim. Three years ago -- when my kids were seven and two -- I decided to review how I prioritized my time.
I wasn't considering how I organized my activities in a 24-hour period to maximize productivity. That's simple time management. I mean time, as in (age at which you die) minus (your current age) equals time.
The more I thought about it, the more I realized that I wanted to be in charge of how I spent however much time I have left. For much of my adult life, work demands -- travel, conferences, speeches, late night calls, urgent e-mails -- all took precedence over my family plans and personal goals. I had not consciously decided that would be the case. I had just internalized this way of living, as had my wife, who is also a full-time professional.
But three years ago, I decided to challenge this way of thinking and began to look at time as a gift to be celebrated. What did I want to do with that gift? I decided to go on an adventure with my son that was physically challenging, allowed us to explore a foreign culture, and supported a worthy cause. After a brainstorming session and with my wife's blessing, we came up with Adventure #1: in the summer of 2009, I took a two-month, unpaid leave from my job at Intel and rode the length of Japan on connected bicycles with my 8-year old son. We cycled 2,500 miles in 67 days, riding over 10 mountains in the process (www.japanbikeride.com). A number of people thought this was too much for an 8-year old to try, but my son told them: "A kid can do a whole lot more than most adults think."
In connection to the ride, we raised money for the United Nations' Billion Tree Campaign, which encourages governments and individuals around the world to commit to tree-planting targets, a simple and effective way to help the environment. We were named "Climate Heroes" by the UN and gave talks to schools and environmental groups about our effort. I shifted the focus of my work at Intel to the development and promotion of clean technologies, like energy efficiency software that makes it easy for companies to reduce the energy they consume while saving money. I gave speeches about the private sector's role in the development of alternative energy and developed internal environmental strategies with other like-minded colleagues at Intel.
The ride through Japan was not easy. My son and I often cycled seven hours a day, frequently through rain, while carrying 75 pounds of gear. My legs were sore for the first month, and my hands regularly became painfully numb from gripping the brakes on dangerous mountain descents. My son threw several temper tantrums early on and complained about riding for so many hours. But we both grew accustomed to the physical discomfort and even came to appreciate its value. The human body is meant to exercise vigorously. Sliding into a sedentary life, so easy to do in modern society, is like injecting yourself with slow-acting poison. The ride across Japan felt like an injection of vitality.
Many nights, my son and I slept in a tent by the ocean or on mountains populated by wild monkeys. We explored caves, danced in local festivals, meditated in a Buddhist temple, and even challenged some sumo wrestlers. (Free advice: don't take on a sumo wrestler, especially if you weigh 155 pounds and would prefer not to cycle 500 miles with a broken toe.) My son and I began to operate like a team. We grew closer, and I marveled at the change in my 8-year old. The temper tantrums disappeared, replaced with good-humored resilience and quiet self-confidence. When we reached the southern tip of Japan, I congratulated my son and asked him if he thought the 67-day, 2,500-mile journey had been hard. He shuffled his feet and said, "Kinda."
When we returned home, I dove back into the hectic life and rigorous demands of my work at Intel, but the trip had shaken something loose. I started to write a book about the ride called Rising Son and pondering Adventure #2.
This time, my wife and daughter would come along and, as with Adventure #1, it would include a physical challenge, teach us about a foreign culture, and support a worthy cause.
And so, starting on June 26th, 2011, my 10-year old son, four-year old daughter and I will embark on a 1,500-mile ride on connected bicycles throughout Iceland. We will carry about 100 pounds of gear and sleep in a tent. My wife will join us half-way through. The United Nations is sponsoring us again, and we are raising money for the UN's Billion Tree Campaign. Our site is www.icelandbikeadventure.com.
Perhaps I could have taken another unpaid leave from Intel and returned to my old life, but I decided that's not the way I want to spend my time. I decided instead to finish Rising Son and embark on a new career as an adventure writer, speaker and consultant. And hopefully I might encourage others to ask themselves, "What do I want to do with the gift of time?"