off the gridI recently went off the grid.

Okay, how cool did that just sound? It felt cool writing it, like I’m Jack Bauer hiding from a corrupt government official who’s tracking the GPS on my phone. In reality, “off the grid” meant driving with my family to a cabin in a part of the mountains that Verizon is apparently unable or unwilling to go. And it was uncomfortable.

When was the last time you were off the grid?

To get more specific, describe a time (longer than three consecutive days) where:

  • You couldn’t update Facebook, tweet, or check email?
  • You had extended moments of silence to the point that it felt awkward?
  • You couldn’t reach work without a ton of effort… and work couldn’t reach you?

If you’re like me, it’s been awhile. It only happened because I was forced to by my circumstances. We live in a hyper-connected world and it takes significant effort to unplug completely. There were countless times on the trip where I subconsciously and compulsively pulled out my smartphone to check email or Facebook. Each time this happened I was surprised at how disappointed I was when I discovered my phone wasn’t actually connected.

Off the Grid Lies

It’s hard to disconnect, particularly for Millennials. The Boston Globe posted an article on a recent survey that said, “Thirty-four percent of millennials reported that they worked every day of their vacations, and felt less productive when they returned.” Why do we do this to ourselves? For me, I discovered two lies that made going off the grid hard. The first lie makes it hard to leave.

Lie #1: I’m Indispensable.

“What would people do without me?!” Now, I wouldn’t say this out loud, but I think it. And I bet I’m not alone. We know how hard we work and all the tasks we do that aren’t recognized or seen. If we are unreachable, who will do all those things? If you’re like me, my mind dramatizes this just a “bit” as I picture children crying, the power out, pipes bursting, and everyone wondering when Eric will show back up to save the day. I’m not egotistical at all.

Deep down we know this line of thinking is illogical and untrue. For most of us we work for an organization that has been around a lot longer than we’ve been there. And, we hope that they’ll be around long after we leave (at least I hope we do… if not we’re probably working for the wrong place!). But in the moment this lie we tell ourselves makes it incredibly hard to unplug.

As I was off the grid, a funny thing happened around the middle of day two. My mind shifted from the first lie to a second one. It’s a lie that makes it hard to stay away.

Lie #2: I’m Invisible.

“Does anyone miss me?!” Unplugging brought forward a surprising amount of insecurity within me. Deep down, the reason it was hard to stay disconnected wasn’t because I was afraid work would fall apart without me; I was afraid everything would be just fine.

Our cabin retreat had pulled me away from all meetings, emails, and any problems that needed solving. I have a great team so I knew these things would be handled well. But being gone made me wonder if I really made a difference at all in what I do. It was strangely unsettling to feel out of the loop. I desperately wanted to check back in. And it had been only two days!

After I came back, I realized immediately that this wasn’t true. There were lots of visible documents on my desk patiently awaiting my physical presence! And because I have a great team, they were going about our yearly plan as normal… a plan we developed together and each of us played a critical role. They still depended on me. I wasn’t insignificant. But while I was offline, this lie was very powerful.

Whether you’ve had a chance to go off the grid in the last few years or not, I’m betting all of us have encountered these two lies throughout our careers. Sometimes I experience both of them in one day… typically once I get home. These lies can make it really hard to unplug just for a few hours. And that is super unhealthy, both for us personally and for others in our lives.

The Importance of Unplugging

Unplugging is critically important to you, your family, and your work. Here are just a few of the benefits of going off the grid:

  • An Ego Detox: The times I have been most stressed have come when my ego is either over-inflated or insecure. Unplugging resets the balance. The uncomfortable silence devoid of the iPhone buzzing me with texts, emails, or calls forces me to ask hard and deep questions about my sense of self-worth.
  • A Team-Building Opportunity: Leaving forces delegation and communicates trust. These are traits of good leaders. If you never leave, what does kind of message does that send to others on your team?
  • A Healthier Lifestyle: Unplugging, like getting good sleep, is great for the mind, body, and soul. You’ll be a better, more productive thinker and leader. And when you come back, there’s a greater chance you’ll be refreshed.

So, what are you waiting for? If it’s been longer than two years since you’ve gone off the grid for a few days, make a plan to do it soon. It’ll be awkward, uncomfortable, difficult, and ultimately a healthy thing to do. And it won’t happen unless you force it to happen. Your friends, family, and co-workers will thank you for it!

In the meantime, all of us need to unplug each day.

Take a moment to share a habit or discipline that helps you disconnect for a few hours. How does it help you combat those two lies? How has it helped you be a better leader, friend, and family member?