There are a number of areas in which we seek to develop ourselves. In business we spend time and considerable resources in the professional development of our teams. We invest in the health and welfare of ourselves and those we lead, but there is one area of development that is often kicked to the kerb because there isn’t time to fit within our busy lives.
In addition to the professional development and our personal health and welfare there is another area of development and that is taking time to feed your soul. My question to you is when was the last time you took some serious time out, to do something for yourself, time devoted to feeding your soul?
For me, the new year always starts with the same thing, riding 1600kms over 16 days through Thailand and it’s food for my soul.
In 2005, I formed a charity in Thailand called Hands Across the Water with the intent of building homes to support the children and communities left devastated following the Boxing Day tsunami. After we opened the first home in 2006, I realised there was a need to make a long term commitment to this community if we wanted to bring about long term change. Part of the growth of Hands meant that we needed to come up with a strategy to engage our donors beyond seeking their donations through sympathy or pity. I learnt that if we only relied upon the good work we were doing to engage with donors, we risked them moving on unless we could meet a need within them.
In 2009, we started a bike ride from Bangkok to Khao Lak, a distance of 800kms which we would cover in eight days. This ride was a means of engaging within our donors and meeting a need within them, rather than just seeking money. It very much became a way of feeding the soul of those who joined us.
The first January that we rode there were seventeen of us and five of that initial group were my family. In 2009 we collectively raised $174,000. We had such a good time that upon completion I thought “we should do that again.” So in 2010 we returned to Thailand and we rode again. In 20011, we had enough riders to break the group into two. I rode the first 800kms and then had two days off before returning to Thailand and riding another 800km with a different group.
In 2012 we changed the model and the first 800kms we rode down the banks of the Mekong River which divides the countries of Lao and Thailand. We arrive at a home for children in a town call Yasothon, in the Isaan region of the north east of Thailand. Two days later I pick up another group and ride another 800kms south from Bangkok to Khao Lak.
The rides have become that successful that in January of 2015, the ten year anniversary of the Boxing Day tsunami, we had 127 riders who joined us on one of three rides. We raised $1.4million AUD from the rides and when I opened them for registration in the March that proceeded the ride, two of those rides sold out in ninety minutes. All of that speaks to the success of the rides, but the real measure of the success is the number of riders who return. In January of last year we had 76% of our riders were in fact return riders. And as we make our way south again this year, we have a very similar return rate.
Why are the rides so successful and why do the riders keep coming back? There is a lot of reasons that will appeal to the riders, but without question it is the strength of the shared experience the group enjoys. It’s the opportunity to ride through the provinces of Thailand you would never visit otherwise, to meet people who will leave an indelible impression upon you and it’s the opportunity to feed your soul. Initially people will think they are signing up to “do something for someone else” but very quickly they release, they are the ones who have benefited most from these rides.
Each year I get to ride with my family. You see, our rides are a journey as opposed to a race from one town to the next. We ride an average of 100kms per day which is not insignificant by any measure, particularly given that we are riding in the heat and humidity of Thailand, but it is not beyond those who complete even a modest level of training. We ride an average of 25kms at a time in between water (coffee and ice cream) stops which means the ride is achievable.
I have been doing the ride every year with my kids and in 2012, my 73 year old dad took up bike riding and he joined us for the entire 800kms. This year again I will ride 1600kms with my wife and two of my kids will join me for the final 800kms. In 2017, Dad is making a comeback at the age of 77 to ride the northern 800kms and together we will share another incredibly special experience. Riding into the home for the children that has occupied so much of my life for the last ten years, with those who mean the most to me is food for my soul. We are banking memories that no matter what happens in the future, will never be taken away from me.
But the new year doesn’t have to be about bike riding. Of course we would love to have you join us this time next year, but the bigger question to ask yourself is for your new year, your new beginnings what are you going to do to feed your soul? If you want to learn to play a musical instrument, if you want to join your girlfriends on a shopping trip to Singapore, lead a surfing safari through Indonesia or if you want to head to Paris with the person you love the most, now is the time to do it. Don’t wait until the time is right because that time might not come. If not now then when, if not you then who?