Q&A with Ben Feder, author of Take Off Your Shoes: One Man’s Journey from the Boardroom to Bali and Back

1. What is Take Off Your Shoes: One Man’s Journey from the Boardroom to Bali and Back about and why did you write it?

At the height of my career – or so it seemed at the time — I made a bold and potentially career-ending decision to step down from my position as CEO of a large public company to take a sabbatical in Bali with my family. Take Off Your Shoes is a memoir of that time.

Initially, I wrote the book for my children. I wanted them to understand my motivations. While at the time of our sabbatical they may not have understood or have had an interest in what was going through my mind, I thought that when they were in their twenties and thirties, when many men and women start asking questions about their parents, that this kind of book would be helpful to them.

Also, many of the people I met who inquired about the trip asked me to write it. They thought it was an important story to tell. For some, the story stoked fantasies about what it would be like to take time off. For others, it enabled them to live vicariously through our experiences. Still others thought about making concrete plans. But everybody wanted to know about it.

Lastly, I think personal growth comes in part from trying new, creative endeavors, without regard to success or failure. So I tried my hand at writing a unique story. As it turns out, I’m really pleased with the result.

2. How did your experience help you find more balance with your family and work?

The biggest takeaway is the power of living deliberately. We all get tunnel vision when wrapped up in our daily routines and it’s only by stepping out of it that we begin to open ourselves to possibility. Even when the stakes don’t seem to be terribly high, it takes courage to see past the day-to-day and make a courageous choice to try something new. I happened to have used my time to learn certain skills, like meditation, and do a lot of self-inquiry. But courage, creativity and freshness can take many forms.

3. What advice would you give to someone who is trying to find a better work – life balance in their life, but has to work at day and nights and weekends in order to pay their bills and survive?

I often get asked what lessons the book offers. My response is always the same: My intention was to tell my story, not just of a family sabbatical to an exotic island, but of personal and professional transformation, and of the ability for all of us to change our lives by changing our minds. There is a lot here that I think readers could find inspirational, aspirational, or motivational without my having to prescribe anything in particular. I’d really like readers to see the book through their own lens and draw their own conclusions. And if there are no lessons for a reader to draw, at the very least the book is a good read that offers a brief and fun escape.

As for sabbatical, I do believe it’s possible, even for those with modest means, to take extended time off without losing their money or their minds.

4. How did your experiences help you become a better father and husband?

Simply taking time off to invest in family relationships and to share searing experiences helped create family bonds that are hard to create when we are buried in routine and the urgencies of work and home. Take Off Your Shoes is a story of transformation for me and my family. It is a spiritual journey, not just because Bali is a spiritual place, or the result of the positive influence Bali’s Green School had on my children, though they both were a big part of it. It had a lot to do with taking the time to recommit to the relationships that matter the most, to redeem, renew and rewire the way I interact with the world. Everyone in my family, including my wife, Victoria, and our four children, believes that sabbatical was a seminal event in our family life because it was an adventure, experience, and set of emotions that we experienced together. It’s a story of creating deep connections set in a world awash in digital interactions.

5. How do you balance being a good father and husband, but still being focused on making money and excelling in work?

The quest to find balance between being and doing is an important one for me as it is for many, many others. I am a striver with a burning desire to succeed in the business world. At the same time, I am also committed to the important relationships in my life. I think everyone needs to find his or her own balance. I simply tell the story of a quest that helped me to find center.

My children are a bit older now but the bonds we forged in Bali are still the basis of our strong family connection. Our time in Bali allowed my wife, Victoria, and I to reconnect in a way that I don’t believe would have been possible had we stayed on the course we were on in New York. We’re back in the City now and I think we have arrived at a good place.

6. What are you up to now professionally and how are you trying to grow personally?

Professionally, I’m back in New York working as President of International Partnerships for the U.S. at Tencent Games. I enjoy my role, which allows me to revisit Asia often, and engage in a deeply creative enterprise.

I’m also committed to staying fit in mind and body and carve out time each day to that effort. I have a regular meditation and yoga practice. I’m also eager to explore new skills to help me grow. In Bali I learned to draw. These days, I paint when I can and, when I do, I enter into a state of flow that both shuts down my inner monologue and allows me to appreciate beauty. And I’m learning to speak Mandarin. It’s a daunting and seemingly impossible language to pick up at my age but I think personal growth comes from having an open mind about such things, so I’m barreling ahead.

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