I was 22, knee-deep in thesis research on a remote Caribbean island, when late one night a new friend asked a question that struck me: “When do you feel most alive?”
A handful of experiences immediately came to mind: running with fire in my feet. Skiing as the air rushed by me. Taking action quickly. Making things happen — fast. My answer came easily: “I feel most alive when I move fast.”
And for the next eight years, as I navigated a career, relationships, publishing a book and starting a business, it stayed on my mind like a tattoo. Moving fast was what I did, who I was. I didn’t know another way to move through the world — and besides, wasn’t it the best way? As I found out this year, moving slowly can have just as big an impact.
In full disclosure, the first part of my slowdown wasn’t at all on purpose. One morning last spring I woke up to a bright blue sky: only, everything was too bright. After a day of shrugging it off, I was soon ferrying from doctor to doctor and getting dire warnings to avoid looking at any screens and over-exerting my eyes, or risk doing permanent damage. And by screens, they meant computers: my speed-loving lifeblood. So, I dictated anything urgent to my team then settled into my own purgatory: a week straight of listening to every episode of “Scandal.” All my big plans for guesterly — my talks, my meetings, my action — slowed to molasses.
And guess what? It wasn’t that bad (surprise surprise). My business didn’t cease to exist. As my eyes healed, we had to move some timelines out, but…so what? I rescheduled some of my missed meetings and let a few others slip away. As summer started in earnest, I realized for the first time that I could choose to move off the fast lane for a season.
This “slowdown period” is the best thing I could have done — for myself, my team and my business. We’re refreshed and re-energized, and after a year of being in full-tilt crazy fast startup mode, slowing down gave us a chance to look at our product and market with new eyes. Instead of zooming full speed ahead, slowing down for a season let us make the smartest moves (instead of simply the obvious ones).
As we started gearing up for our next growth spurt, I took some time out with a mentor, and did a post mortem on our slowdown season. Here’s what we learned, including why you should take a slow season, when and how to switch to the slow(er) lane and how to get the most out of it.