Escapism: Leadership Lesson From Jimmy Buffett Syndrome

Leadership insights from our desire for escape, escapism and “Jimmy Buffett Syndrome.”

As a leader, do you have moments where you just want to chuck it all and leave? It’s a perfectly normal feeling. We want to escape. We want all the problems to just go away.

But, of course, we don’t leave. As responsible people we lead through the difficulty, sometimes at a high personal cost. Leaders who flee are weak. But does that mean escape has no place in the life of a leader?

I used to live in a picture-postcard part of Florida. As a hobby I had a boat and ran Florida’s most-visited boating website. Frequently I would receive emails from northerners. They would share how they wanted to leave their bad weather and personal problems. In Florida we called this “Jimmy Buffett Syndrome” . . . the desire to leave it all behind and escape to somewhere pleasant.

Tropical Escape‘She came down from Cincinnati.
It took her three days on a train.
Lookin’ for some peace and quiet; hoped to see the sun again.”
– Jimmy Buffett,  “Fins”

THE DANGERS OF ESCAPISM

Make no mistake. As leaders it is our job to handle the tough problems. It’s the reason we are provided with the “perks” of leadership. (Simon Sinek has a great lesson on this called “Why Leaders Eat Last” at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ReRcHdeUG9Y)

Organizations will sometimes grant sabbaticals to leaders in trouble. It is hoped that a few months away will clear the leader’s head and recharge them. It usually doesn’t work. Running never makes things better.

This is because many times the problem is with us. Our personal challenges follow us no matter where we go. There is no place we can escape if we are not competent or lack organizational/people skills. It’s far better to stay and fix these problems head-on.

THE BENEFITS OF ESCAPE

There are times when a leader needs healthy escape. Competent leaders operate at high velocity and under stress. That’s okay . . . so long as the leader is able to get a meaningful break. Taking two straight weeks of vacation each year can really help. Typically the first week is spent disconnecting and the second week is spent recharging. If you have never taken two weeks off, I highly encourage you to try it. It can make a big difference in your performance and well-being throughout the year. This is a positive escape for leaders.

Back to our beach bards . . . When Jimmy Buffett was young, he wanted to be a country star. He moved to Nashville and gave it his best. When things didn’t work out, he went to the Florida Keys. There he developed the Caribbean/folk/country/pop style that made him famous. But Jimmy Buffett doesn’t sell music. He sells escape. He’s been so successful that other singers like Alan Jackson and Zac Brown have joined in. Here’s what we learn from them: Healthy escape isn’t about changing place. It’s a state of mind.

In his song “Toes”, Zac Brown sings about returning from a beach vacation only to find true escape at his local lake:

Adios and vaya con dios.

Going home now to stay.

Just gonna drive up by the lake.

I put my (rear) in a lawn chair, toes in the clay

Not a worry in the world . . . Life is good today. Life is good today.

-Zac Brown “Toes”

There are many ways to “clear out” without having to get on an airplane. I know one senior leader who likes to go fishing. His mind is clear when he’s out on the water with a pole in his hand. For another senior leader, cycling is his thing. The only time he really clears-out is on a long bike ride. For me, it’s grabbing a kayak after work and going for a sunset paddle. There are many things that will help us to refresh if we’ll just be intentional to do them. Healthy escape isn’t about changing place. It’s a state of mind. That’s the real cure for Jimmy Buffett Syndrome.

Come on in the water it’s nice… find yourself a little slice.

When you lose yourself… you find the key to paradise

-Zac Brown & Jimmy Buffett “Knee Deep”

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