Richard Leider’s life is all about voyages. As the author of eight books, including global bestsellers Repacking Your Bags and The Power of Purpose, he’s travelled the world spreading gospel on the importance in finding true meaning in work and life. Now he has a new pulpit and a new book, co-written by Alan M. Webber, coming out in October: Life Reimagined: Discovering Your New Life Possibilities. We spoke to Leider, one of the founders of the Life Reimagined movement, about the power of pilgrimages, the importance of going off the grid and the elusiveness of George Clooney.
One of the reoccurring themes in your work—and in the new book—is the idea of life as a twisting, changing journey. But so many middle-aged people seem stuck on their paths. How does someone move forward in such rough times?
Well, some are pushed by pain, others are pulled by possibilities. I coined that phrase years earlier, but it’s more fitting now. However you get there, you have to face the new reality. We’re in a vastly different world with a new intensity and new uncertainties and new rules. You don’t have a choice: sooner or later, you’ll have to deal with it.
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What is that new reality? In the book you say we’re all living through “one of the most significant social movements of all time.” What does that mean?
If, hypothetically speaking, we’re going to live decades longer then previous generations, then we’re going to need money to survive, we’re going to need health care and we’re going to need jobs that give us purpose and happiness. Policy and practices in government will have to change, and everyone’s going to have to rethink their mind map and game plan for this new stage of life. Even young people.
It’s a social movement because it’s real and affecting everybody. If you listen to any conversation in any coffee shop or bus or plane, people are talking about some facet of this: the difficulties of getting jobs and good health care, the desire to simplify, the huge disruptions people are experiencing. Everyone is saying: "This is not what I signed on for." The question is: what do you do about it?
What do you say to people who believe this idea of a new life journey full of possibilities is a bit Pollyannaish or even elitist?
I tell them it’s a matter of survival. There are always going to be some who see themselves as victims. But they have get on with it. If they follow the methodology that we’ve described in the book on their own terms, they’ll find it works. So the starting point is to sit down and decide you’re going to do something. For some people it takes a crisis to get moving.
As for the idea that it’s elitist: this is a game plan for regular people. Lots of everyday Americans bought into a different story—grow up, retire, get old. My Dad bought into it lock stock and barrel: He wasn’t wealthy, he was an average Joe who worked for a bank for 41 years and bought into the dream that you could retire with enough money and a pension that wouldn’t be taken away. He died two and a half years after retiring. That story is over. Anybody worth their salt today is creating a Plan B—not just dreaming about other options, but also exploring them.
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So how does travelling fit into this new reality?
It’s part of the Life Reimagined manifesto—every movement needs to be able to say, OK, here’s the future. So we talk about choice and courage and curiosity as critical parts of the new mindset. And central to that is the idea of inner and outer journeys. It’s all about self discovery.
In other words, you have to actually get out of the house to make this real.
Exactly. It’s literally a journey. Part of it is reflection. And then you’ve got to get out and see if it’s real or not. Turn off the technology. Open some doors and have some courageous conversations with people. Go to another part of the world or some other part of your community. Serendipity happens when you get out there—chance encounters can change the course of your plans and your life.
You’ve led many “walking safaris” in Africa. What did they achieve for people?
It’s all about getting back to rhythm—that’s the phrase we use. In a busy world where people are actually sleep with their iPhones, we go totally off the grid for 17 days. We get back to the natural world—the natural way of having conversations, going to bed when it’s dark and waking up when it’s light, walking. It takes people about three days to adjust. We give people the space they need for internal reflection without all of the external distraction. Their shift is so dramatic that I have to do a workshop on reentry. People say, “I don’t know if I can go back to the way I was again.”
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Is it possible for people to achieve those things with less ambitious trips?
It’s a bit more difficult, but absolutely. This is all about taking the time and giving yourself some space. Everyone can find their own way to get back to the rhythm. You don’t need to go to Africa.
You’ve been talking about the ideas of repacking your life and adding purpose for years. Have those ideas changed in this new reality we’re in?
Those ideas still strike a cord; now they’re linked with survival. I get a bigger stir then ever when I tell audiences to go home and clear out one drawer in their house. Look at every item in that drawer and ask yourself: “Is this serving what I want next in my life? Does this stuff go forward with me?” If not, get rid of them. I have people who have started with a drawer or a closet and eventually say: “I don’t like living here, I’m going to sell my house. Not only that but I don’t like you, and I’m moving out!” It’s a cleansing process, more important then ever.
I always wanted to ask: Was the George Clooney character in Up in the Airpartially based on you?
Yep. that character’s seminars on packing and repacking are a direct steal from my work. When my publisher first saw the movie he asked me: do you want to put an attorney on this? I said no way, it’s in the zeitgeist, let’s take it as a compliment, but let’s get Clooney to send us a photograph of him with the book.
Did he ever do it?
We’re still waiting.