Ben Feder is the author of the new book Take Off Your Shoes, which recounts his family's experiences when they temporarily left their home in New York City to spend eight months in Bali. He is a business executive and investor.
Q: Why did you decide to write this memoir about your family’s decision to take time off and go to Bali for eight months?
A: I started to write 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 20s and 30s, when many men and women start asking questions about their parents, that this kind of book would be helpful to them.
Another reason I wrote this book is that 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, after a career of striving and achieving, I wanted to try something new and creative, without regard to success or failure.
Q: Were you taking notes during the time you were in Bali, or did you recreate the book from memory?
A: When I was in Bali, I was able to take on new practices: yoga, meditation, painting, and even mountain biking. Unfortunately, journaling wasn’t one of them. I relied mainly on my memory and the blog my family kept, including photos and videos. My wife, Victoria, and our children have also been immensely helpful in helping me reconstruct events.
Q: What would you say you and your family took away from your sabbatical, and what do your family members think of the book?
A: 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.
The book I wrote, Take Off Your Shoes, is about all the changes that my family and I experienced. It’s a story of personal transition and transformation, spiritual and otherwise.
It was not just the spirituality of Bali, or 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.
Q: What do you hope readers learn from the book?
A: 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 to change our lives by changing our minds.
There is a lot here that I think readers could find inspiration, 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.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I’m really enjoying my work and family life at the moment. I have a regular meditation and yoga practice. I also 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.
I think we all have some creativity in us, and it’s crucial to express it actively, even if that means just cooking a nice meal.
I had never painted prior to my sabbatical. I picked up drawing in Bali and began painting when I returned. It’s yet another benefit of my time away, one that also contributes richly to my life. At some point, I’d like to show my paintings. I don’t know why; I’m just proud of the work and want to share it.
I’m also committed to staying fit in mind and body and carve out time each day to that effort.
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: Take Off Your Shoes is available May 1 wherever books are sold. You can find more information on the book and my journey at my website.
--Interview with Deborah Kalb