Heading off to the open opera at the old Greek Theatre in Taormina, Sicily

My little family and I have just returned from a 2 month business pause in Italy.

A promise we made to ourselves when we sold our house, my husband and I booked the trip in advance and worked hard for 12 months to get our businesses to a point where we could leave comfortably, and stay connected remotely. It was a strategic and purpose-led decision. We had a window of time before our son went to school and were without a mortgage so we could really enjoy this opportunity to live an extraordinary life – one without regrets, and one that followed what our heart pulled us towards.

Suddenly – it was the day of departure.

And then just as suddenly – it was the day we arrived home.

I almost wept as we drove to the airport in Rome, saying goodbye to our 8 weeks of bliss full of figs, memories of oil painting in Florence, paninis in piazzas, summer winds through our hair as we cycled through ancient towns, delicious sea swims and late night gelato when we didn’t think we could fit anything more in our bursting bellies.

On top of the world: near the peak of Mount Etna in Sicily, which erupted two days later

We didn’t want to forget what we learnt while we sunk into the Italian summer of 2018. So what did we learn?

Slow down

In Dicomano, Tuscany

Life can be full of so many ‘things to do’.

Italians have a beautiful slow way of life, that is super productive, but delivered in shorter bursts. They reject the possibility of burn out, and when they switch off, they do it well – surrounded by family, delicious food, siestas under dappled light, full of laughter and passionate expression. We watched as the Italians around us achieved without crazed pace, and with a lovely break in the middle of the day to regroup, rejuvenate and reconnect with their families. We observed small business owners excelling at their craft, and delivering it with balance and mindfulness.

Italians taught us that doing less, but doing it well, can often be the best approach.

Simple

The weekly market in Dicomano, Tuscany where we bought our fresh food for the weekend

While living our Italian life, life became simple.

We ate simply – only what was in season, what we could find at the markets, and what could be sourced on the day of consumption. We wanted simply – we only strove for what was achievable without force, and that allowed an abundance of energy at it’s conclusion.

A new flow began.

Our days consisted of simple pleasures, and simple connection to each other, the environment, the culture and history we were surrounded by, and to being fully present in the moment. This generated more clarity, more energy and more strategic thought.

The memories of the simplest pleasures are the most prominent for us.

Say No.

The beautiful Tuscan hills

There’s nothing like stepping back from the daily grind to get clarity on the direction you are headed.

My husband and I both run businesses, and we do get caught in the ‘doing’ at times. Our Italian time-out reminded me of what was important, and who was important to have in the inner circle. With that clarity came courage to say no to the things that were falling short of the new direction. I had time to pre-plan, lead rather than react and revisit my strategy. For me, the criteria was:

Collaboration: true collaboration comes with a co-designed shared outcome, rather than adopting someone else’s vision as my own.

Connection: a reminder to connect with my gut, those I love, and those around me, and what is important.

Space: creating meaningful and harmonious space for myself, my family, and my clients that feels authentic, simple and beautiful. This includes physical, virtual and spiritual space.

Saying No to some things makes room for the things that truly light you up: the things that juxtapose your skills, talents, strengths and invite you to be your best.

 

Savour

Local Gorgonzola, honey and figs picked straight from the tree

Savour the food. Savour life and your health. Savour time with loved ones. Savour those moments where you are mindful you are making memories.

For the last three weeks of our trip, we stayed on a farm in a little town called Dicomano, in the Toscana Region of Tuscany. Every Friday night, we were invited to pizza night, a multiple course dinner in the old farm house hosted by the family we were staying with. This event involved an all day preparation, where the pizza oven was lit in the early afternoon, the dough was prepared and the room was cleaned. At around 7pm, friends, family and neighbours began to pour in slowly. The room was full of Italian chatter within minutes, and guests stayed many hours while fresh courses and fresh pizzas were presented. Every week, they did this – opened their home to take the time to savour their relationships with one another, over beautiful simple food, in a beautiful location.

Often we are too busy to savour these moments. To mindfully enjoy that glass of wine or cup of tea, slowly make a nourishing meal, and invite opportunities to connect with others. Even in business, we rarely savour those fleeting times of “wow – I’m really here, and this feels wonderful.”

These moments are hugely satisfying when we do them – but they always seem to be the thing that slips down the priority list. Not anymore.

 

On our return, it’s safe to say that I am human, and much has slipped back to our old pace. I returned home to flattering invitations of satisfying work, new aligned clients, and old clients who I had missed. I made a conscious decision to delay the full implementation of the learnings and I invited a little more of the old in, saying Yes to the right work and clients.

However, through the frenetic return to the back to backness, we haven’t lost sight of the lessons we brought home. My husband and I now have a code word we use with each other when the balance tips again to remind us of the long summer evening chats we had about what we wanted more of, and less of. Since we’ve been home, we’ve been clearer. We’ve spent long hours playing on the beach, riding our bikes to have a coffee, simplifying our businesses and tweaking things in both of our business models to bring us more meaningful connection, collaboration and space.

We’ve already made some courageous decisions. Bold moves. Brave jumps from proverbial cliffs. And it feels good to live more courageously, more fully, and more impactfully. That is what Entrepreneurship is about, after all!

2019 will be the year we truly step into the beautiful space of the unknown, and help others to do so too.

We have the incredible country of Italy to thank for all the beauty that is to come.

My son making me laugh in Settignano, just outside Florence