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Do you have an Opposite World?


People who perform at high levels without burning out, have an ‘opposite world’ outside of work. This is an activity/ hobby which puts them into a state which is the direct opposite of the mindset they have at work (and recharges them).


This was a major insight from our interviews with top performers across a variety of fields. The first time we learned about opposite worlds was from Vivek Rao, a product management leader at Amazon.


“Work can be very intense.” he told us. “Anyone who lasts here for 3 years is considered a veteran.” “How long have you been here?” I asked. “Over 10 years.”

“How have you done that without burning out?”

Short silence…

“I learned to dance. Argentinian Tango to be precise.” I was intrigued. “Tell me more”.


“In my work day, I am in my head all the time, constantly using logic. My brain gets exhausted. That burns me out.”

“But when I started Argentinian Tango, I learned that Tango was the direct opposite of my work. In Tango, you must be in your heart and your body. Two places I rarely am during my work day.”


“Also, the currency in Tango is the opposite. No one cares about where you work (or if you even have a job), how much money you make, or what your title is. The only thing that matters is, can you feel the music and communicate it to your partner through your body? The currency is - can you dance? So, for 2 hours in the evening I dance, I am in my heart, I move my body, I am absorbed. My brain disengages, rests and recovers. The next day at work, I feel recharged.”


Once we heard about the ‘opposite world’ once, we started to hear it over and over again. An investment banker who burned out, then rediscovered her creative side through quilting. A C.O.O. who turned off a relentless work ethic, by putting down his work tools in the evening and picking up his bagpipes instead.


A project manager who learned that her overactive mind keeps racing at the gym, but goes into silent mode while ocean swimming.


It wasn’t always big things. For me, I realised it was cleaning the pool. For a Doctor it was digging ditches for fence posts.


In workshops, we now ask people to share stories with each other about their ‘opposite world’. The big ‘aha’ for most leaders is that the hobbies that used to recharge them earlier in their life are gone. They now have no hobbies outside of work. And they are exhausted.


This is not to put all responsibility on the individual. Organisational conditions play a big part in burnout (see - https://lnkd.in/gSMihV2f)


But what people in workshops and I liked about the ‘opposite world’ is it is within our control and something immediate and practical we can do (or search for).


Thanks Vivek and the other interviewees for helping us discover this important clue for how to switch off from work and recharge. Do you have an ‘opposite world’? Would love to hear your reflections.

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a-richardson
18 apr 2023

I think this is my why of how I ended up running on trails. It's the opposite of being in an office, its focused-on body and movement. Although tiring, it's something that gives me energy and quite often is a reflective time.

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