Can’t see the forest for the trees? It’s time for a Desert Day

Jeff Bernier |

By Jeff Bernier

Last week, I turned off my computer, turned off my cell phone, and headed out for a Desert Day. It’s the time when, once every quarter, I take a day away from everything—work, play, and even my family—for some quiet alone time to think, pray, and “sharpen the saw” so I can be as grounded and productive as possible in the months to come.

On this particular trip I wasn’t at the desert at all, but Camp Lighthouse near Talking Rock, Georgia. It was the ideal spot to help me focus my thoughts on the forest rather than the trees. It’s a practice I recommend to anyone who is looking for a way to step back from life itself to gain perspective, confidence, and a refreshing outlook on the future.

Often when I head out for a Desert Day, I focus on a specific personal or business challenge. Sometimes I focus on nothing at all. This time around, I chose to ask a single question: “What does God want me to know right now?” The answer gave me the conviction to write my wife, Ashley, a heartfelt letter telling her things that I realized my powerful ego hadn’t allowed me to say to her in a while. As I sat there in the woods alone writing words that meant so much, I felt extremely vulnerable, completely safe, and able to communicate in a way that has brought me even closer to my wife of 26 years. It’s not something I could have achieved without taking the time to shut off the noise of everyday life, shut off my brain, and slow down so I could be open to the divine guidance I needed.

Writing about the experience now, I confess that I feel a little hokey. And yet I know that this is the stuff that can have a real and meaningful impact on our lives. If you agree—or if you’re even open to exploring whether a Desert Day might help you in your own life—here are some of my own suggestions on how to get the most out of your own personal sabbatical:

  • Commit to really getting away from it all. Carve some time out of your life when you can turn off everything and have some true alone time. No electronics. No phones. No people. No to-do list. As I discussed in my blog post Heading for vacation? Get unplugged!, it’s rarely an easy task—especially if you’re a high achiever who is always striving to do and to be better—but doing so can help you relax, recharge, and even open your ears to guidance you may not even know you’re seeking.
  • Focus on the forest—not the trees. When making a life plan, it’s easy to fall victim to focusing on the short-term and working frantically toward your goals as fast as you can set new ones. Desert Days give you the time you need to slow down and look at the big picture. Where do you want to be in 25 years? What relationships do you want to have fostered? What kind of life do you want to be living? What do you want to be doing that will bring the greatest meaning to your life? Lengthening your time horizon can help you slow down and focus on the things that really matter.
  • Take time to Sharpen the Saw®. In Franklin Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, habit #7 is Sharpen the Saw. In Covey’s words, “Living a life in balance means taking the necessary time to renew yourself. It's all up to you. You can renew yourself through relaxation. Or you can totally burn yourself out by overdoing everything.” For me, my Desert Days are when I renew by taking the time to deliberately sharpen my saw. I journal. I pray. I think. And I walk out of the desert (or the forest!) with fresh insights into how I can live a better, more fulfilling, more productive life.

At TandemGrowth, one of the most important things we do is provide a safe place where our clients can be vulnerable—not only about their finances, but also about their lives. By giving each client the space to slow down and look at the big picture, we help prevent them from getting stuck and stymied by the often unimportant details of the day. It’s not always easy, especially since new clients often come to us for help when they are facing some of life’s biggest pressures: retirement, death of a spouse, job changes, divorce, and more. But time and time again, we’ve seen that the best life decisions require slowing down. The result is often greater clarity, greater confidence, and greater peace of mind.

Years ago, a friend told me about the book The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle. At the time, I brushed it off as too hokey. Then another friend recommended it. When I finally picked it up, it immediately had a huge impact on my perspective and my life. The book explores how to find and maintain a deep sense of peace, joy, and fulfillment to help "return home to yourself." It’s been a wonderful source of inspiration for my own Desert Days. Whatever inspires you, no matter how hokey it may seem, I urge you to create some time away from it all to Sharpen the Saw and focus on the forest instead of the trees. And if you come home with newfound convictions and insights, I’d love to hear your story!

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