“A man of ordinary talent will always be ordinary, whether he travels or not; but a man of superior talent will go to pieces if he remains forever in the same place” – Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
The eminent ivory tickler wasn’t wrong. In fact, his sentiments may presently be more on the money than ever: if it’s not that thick blanket of smog slowly tightening your lungs, office chair gradually turning your spine to jelly, or simply the fact we carry around our work emails inside a small electronic device we even take to bed to use as an alarm, ever so gradually our very habitats are killing us. And men may be most at risk of all.
A recent (and largest ever) academic study into British masculinity by University College London revealed men in London rank among the lowest in the UK for positive mental attitude, with single and young men in the capital the worst affected of all. While those in the Big Smoke valued personal growth and health more highly than men anywhere else, they recorded the lowest job satisfaction and the greatest anxiety about being single. Not that poor attitudes towards jobs is only restricted to those living in Europe’s biggest metropolis, mind, as another recent study claimed 6.5 million UK workers (roughly 30 per cent of us) described themselves as unhappy at work.
More than ever, it seems, there is a growing disconnect between those old strangers in the dark, ‘business and pleasure’, a gnawing sense that we’ve reached a nadir in the workplace and burning the candle at both ends has finally caught up with us. We’re no longer working to live but simply living to work – the ramifications of which could be far deeper than you’d think.
Just over three out of four suicides in the UK are by men and suicide remains the biggest cause of death for males under 35. On average, 191,000 men per year will report stress, depression or anxiety brought on by work. Travel isn’t a single, definitive answer to such serious problems by any stretch, but it does allow people to recharge. switch off, escape daily pressures, revaluate their own world, take stock and open minds to new cultures. The only trouble is, not enough men are travelling.
Nearly two-thirds of leisure travelers today are women, according to research last year from the George Washington University School of Business, which also found professional women on average took holiday every 10 months, compared to their male equivalents who took time off every 12 months. Forbes didn’t make the gender balance feel any less askew, back in 2014, when reporting that females make 80 per cent of the decisions in the world’s tourism sector.
But should we be that surprised? Whether through fear or career ambition or a little of both, men into their thirties and beyond seem less and less inclined to travel for any great period of time, especially not solo, instead relying on the Sunday League Whatsapp group and never-ending slew of inexpensive European city stag do locations to choose their destinations for them. Women, on the other hand, are in the general scheme of things more adventurous, more open-minded in taking to the skies and downing tools for pure escapism , leaving men lagging behind. Just look at the groups of people you know in everyday life and ask yourself if these generalisations are all that far from the truth. Probably not.
Tellingly, of the 2000 men interviewed for UCL’s study of UK masculinity, the majority placed the most importance on four main attributes: ‘dependability’, ‘reliability’, ‘honesty’ and ‘loyalty’, each scoring well above ‘romance’ and ‘adventure’. Admirable notions, yes, but fun, no. Have we become that boring? Are we severely lacking spontaneity? Do we need to be a little selfish and listen to ourselves? The answer is clearly ‘yes’, and if you yourself have been feeling lost lately, stuck in a perpetual cycle of early alarms and late nights in the office, or simply more stressed than you should be, don’t be another statistic. Be more, be yourself, live a little, branch out from your comfort zone and – you know what – take a sabbatical.
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Sabbaticals are a travel trend well on the rise among high-flyers of industry. Not all companies are as open to the idea of a ‘grown up gap year’, of course, but there may be middle ground to be found. As Real Business puts it, “The rising trend in both a sabbatical and a career break is testament that people work too hard and as such require a longer time to rejuvenate”, meaning there’s no doubting the mutual benefits for both parties: firms don’t want a burnt-out employee, nor do you want to feel enslaved to the desk, so in many ways cutting a deal for an extensive travel break with your employer could make perfect sense.
One man who knows this first-hand is Emanuele Barrasso [above], a 32-year-old from Naples who had been working in food and drink PR in London for just under a decade, until last year when he took what he called a “life-changing” sabbatical, journeying to Singapore, NZ, Australia and Japan in a two month break from work.
“My bosses took it better than I had expected,” he says. “I wanted to go away for a little longer but then we settled on two months so that I could have my job back when I returned. The first few weeks were paid, because I left in January, and I used only some of my annual leave but not all of it, so I could have some more time off towards summer and the end of the year. I love travel but had never thought of actually going for a proper long sabbatical on my own, for some reason the thought had never seemed possible. I’d reached a point in my life where I wanted to do something different, to get out of my comfort zone and push my boundaries.”
A lengthy break from the office aside, Emanuele claims the fact he was also newly single also played a big part in plucking the courage to travel solo: “I had the freedom to go to the places I wanted to see and meet new people. On my final day in Sydney before flying to Japan, I met a special someone. A week after, I was thinking ‘I must see her again before I fly home!’, and I did. I changed my itinerary and visited her again before I left. Since then she’s flown to visit me in the UK and I’ve been back to Australia.”
Who knows, as well as giving you a chance to clear your mind and ruminate about your next steps in life, a sabbatical might help you get to know yourself a bit better, teaching you to connect better with others, too. Grasp the opportunities to explore the world and you won’t regret it: when 500 people interviewed for a 2011 book entitled Reboot Your Life, not one regretted their decision to take a substantial work break, which lasted anywhere from one month to two years. “Everyone reported that their careers were enhanced as they were enhanced in their attitudes and work ethic,” said co-author Jaye Smith.
Needless to say, Emanuele wouldn’t swap his own experiences in a hurry: “I’ll never regret taking the break. I went skydiving [pictured], jet-boating – twice – whitewater rafting and scuba diving; activities that I had thought I’d never ever have the guts to do. All of this made me realise that I am a thrill-seeker at heart. The entire experience made me grow as a person, as a man, as a traveller, and built my confidence. It made me see the world from a different perspective, and if I can say it, it made me live the world.”
Now that really would have been music to Mozart’s ears.
Images: Flash Pack, Emanuele Barrasso