Size: 5.50 x 8.50 in
Size: 5.50 x 8.50 in
Take Off Your Shoes invites the reader to join a journey of self-rediscovery. A hard-charging CEO of a large enterprise, Feder discovers that he is losing the very things that sustained him over his years of business success. Unsettled by his insight and determined to rebuild family relationships and rejuvenate his sense of purpose, he risks his career on a life-altering physical and emotional journey. Together with his wife and children, Feder sets off for a far-away land on a self-prescribed sabbatical year. That experience transforms them all. The writing is honest and moving, baring the author’s innermost struggles and fears, and enticing the reader to share his quest. As Feder navigates the thrills and pitfalls of his time away, he draws us into remarkable examinations of values and priorities in adult life.
One evening, I returned home late. Exhausted from the day, I sank down into our red sofa and rested my feet on the coffee table. The younger kids were already asleep. Victoria came into the room and closed the door. She had just returned from a weekend retreat with women working in business and philanthropy. One of them had recently spent a year in Barcelona. Victoria had been gripped by the thought of it and spent the entire weekend peppering her friend with questions and squeezing out of her every bit of advice and information that she could. I listened to Victoria talk about her friend traveling abroad with her family. It was something Victoria and I had fantasized about on and off throughout our marriage.
Victoria fell silent, grabbed my hand, and gave me a piercing look. “Let’s go.” She then used a word I had thought was reserved for academics and librarians: “Let’s take a sabbatical.”
Dog-tired, I immediately focused on the negative impact I immediately focused on the negative impact a sabbatical could have on the career I’d worked so hard to develop. But I took a beat and considered the possibility. Having poured so much of myself into getting where I was, the thought of suddenly pulling myself out of the game terrified me. We talked more about how we could make the money work and deal with the kids’ schooling.
I reflected on my time at Take-Two. We had achieved great initial success. We had taken the company from death’s door to one of the best positions in the industry. None of it was easy. No organization hums along perfectly, firing on all cylinders all the time. Each is thorny in its own way, and working through those organizational challenges was part of the fun of leadership. But it was intense work for a long time, and it took its toll.
Now, as Victoria knew, battle fatigue was setting in, and somehow I couldn’t shake it. In the past, my cure for exhaustion had never been rest but rededication. I would recommit to the cause and lean into the machine. Lately, though, when I dug deep for that commitment, I was coming up empty.
The caffeine that fueled my days and the wine that buoyed my evenings also interrupted my sleep, and insomnia was becoming chronic. I could not help feeling the emotional and physical costs of personal sacrifices made for the greater good, for the mission on which I was so focused and in which I so believed. I was getting tired of the endless striving, the ambition, and the desire for more. More wanting seemed to lead only to more wanting. I wondered if I could simply declare victory and move on.
“I need some time,” I said to Victoria.
Over the years, I learned that complex decisions, which required me to simultaneously consider many variables, were better made after they marinated in the back of my mind rather than being dealt with directly, rationally, and immediately.
I was not alone. In one experiment, researchers provided participant groups complex and detailed information about four different apartments and asked them to choose the best one. The groups were allowed to devote varying amounts of time and attention to the problem. One group in particular had their conscious thoughts deliberately diverted by engaging in a task, like playing anagrams, designed for that purpose. That group performed better than undistracted groups, regardless of the amount of time the other groups had to consider the problem. In other words, often the best way to resolve complex situations is to find a distraction, something else to focus on. While it may not feel like it, the gears of the problem-solving mind crank away in the background even while the conscious mind is focused elsewhere. There was even evidence suggesting that attempts to verbalize or otherwise articulate the reasons we make decisions can lead to biases and poor decision-making.
I emailed Gloria, an executive coach I knew, and invited her to my Greenwich Village office for a few sessions. I needed a confidential sounding board to check my sanity.
“If I took a sabbatical, would I destroy my career?”
Gloria sat across my blond pinewood desk. Nine-foot- tall windows were at my back and an exposed redbrick wall at my right. The radiator banged and hissed as if to punctuate our conversation. The furniture layout was a throwback to an old-school style of management: with me behind the desk in a high-backed chair and whomever I was talking to sitting across from me in one of two low-slung chairs, the design made it clear who the boss was.
“I’ve coached lots of senior executives and have seen a lot of management situations.” Gloria was at least twenty years my senior. “I know you have a lot at stake here. It’s true that the career risks are high. But to use a worn-out phrase, are you living to work or working to live?”
I sensed she understood that something about my situation was different from her usual assignments. Executives often engaged coaches when they wanted to grow or change or when they understood they were getting in their own way as they pushed to advance their careers.
“I’ve advised some terrific executives,” she said, “guys who go from one great job to an even better one. They’re constantly achieving and rising. Do you know what happens to those people?”
“They drop dead of a heart attack at fifty-five.”
That hit me. My own father suffered that fate at sixty-one. I was determined not to let it happen to me or to my children as long as I could help it. It was one of the main reasons I exercised like crazy and did everything I could to manage my risk factors.
I’d recently seen my doctor for a physical checkup. “What’s with this?” She poked my midsection, where stress-related weight gain typically appears in men. My blood pressure, which had always been low, was approaching levels that indicated hypertension. While speaking to my doctor, I thought of Bob, a friend I had lost to cancer at the age of forty-five. Who knew when this was all going to end?
I said to Gloria, “The board is really going to be pissed off.”
“The board is going to do what the board’s going to do. You need to do this for you. You need to work up the courage.”
If I were to leave, lots of people with a stake in my decision—my partners, board directors, and key employees—were not going to be happy with me. Gloria encouraged me to see past pleasing them. She asked me to find the confidence that there would be a career after a sabbatical.
“We tend to live our lives conditionally,” she said. “When such and such happens, then I’ll do this or that. But the conditions are never quite right. Maybe when we’re dead, everything will fall into place. But why wait for the situation to ripen to perfection? Why not act now?”
I added it up. Taking sabbatical would require significant sacrifice. It would mean giving up a leadership position in a high-profile company, forfeiting material compensation, and potentially separating from a business partnership that had been supportive and meaningful to me. It could even mean separating from my business partner, Strauss, who had been a mentor for many years and someone with whom I felt I could accomplish great things.
Recently, though, our relationship had become tense and fraught for reasons I couldn’t quite explain. Perhaps it was like the moment when a marriage becomes untenable—the parties involved don’t know why; they simply know the magic is gone. I knew in the depths of my being, in the way that one simply knows something to be true, that I needed to shake things up. And yet I was ambivalent. I wanted in the worst way for it to work.
Then one day on my walk home, I glanced up at another man, about my age, walking toward me. He, like me, was well dressed and obviously had a career that paid well and probably a family at home in an affluent neighborhood like mine. Our eyes met for a moment. He looked tense, exhausted, and distracted, and he seemed detached from the conversation he was having on his phone. My doppelgänger trudged past, out of sight, a mere blip in my day, but at that moment, I froze. I felt I could not take another step.
This is where it happens. Where husbands and fathers turn into men they never intended to be. They follow their ambitions, their careers, and their deluded views of what it means to succeed. Somewhere along the way, these well-meaning family men and woman eventually realize that they have neglected key relationships that feed them, relationships that are critical to their well-being. And if that realization comes late in their lives, the time may have passed to do anything about it. Children will have grown, and much water will have flowed under the bridge of their spousal relationships. If I didn’t choose the path, the path would choose me.