The Importance of ‘Offline’ in building wellbeing

by Justin Souter on April 24, 2019

In 2018 I co-founded a six-month pilot programme focusing on wellbeing for entrepreneurs.

[I have cross-posted this from APX Voices, as part of their #APXMentalMining series.

APX is an early stage investor / startup accelerator in Berlin. APX has a really impressive multi-factor programme to support entrepreneurs + their wellbeing. It is a JV between Porsche Digital and Axel Springer Digital Ventures.]

I’m defining ‘offline’ as that which is non-digital. I’m also using it to mean what we need to need to be present for ourselves, rather than losing ourselves in a workgroup context.

In writing this post, I asked myself “How can we build wellbeing?” How does one step outside the ‘tunnel’ which is a startup? How to return to ‘centre’ and even find out what centre is for us individually? And how does this become part of a framework for one’s own wellbeing? How can we weave things together to be part of a whole?

I’m conscious that we can build wellbeing directly; and that we should acknowledge that it’s possible (perhaps even necessary) to recognise that some things can only be achieved ‘obliquely’ in the parlance of John Kay.

What I’m suggesting, therefore, are things one can be doing which are complementary to the sound and valuable efforts by APX.

Types of activity

The following is an annotated list of things I’ve got the experience of doing. Please choose your own journey, as your personal starting point will inevitably be different from mine!


I’ve taken part in probably six retreats, which are a specialised and dedicated time away. They’re usually held at a dedicated facility, often a re-purposed country house or religious setting.

I would suggest doing a reasonable amount of due diligence beforehand so that you can find an approach which works for you. Retreats usually involve meeting new people and perhaps personal disclosure. Matching the format to your needs is important!

Be mindful of the needs of loved ones in taking this time away—e.g. I’ve been told that spouses can feel left out. Closer to the accelerator setting, it’s worthwhile acknowledging the worth of off-sites as part of accelerator programme, see this per this weekend run by Ignite in the UK.

I suggest that you find something that’s grounding, rather than a ‘mountain top’ experience. Feeling enthused when away from it all is fab. Some people have found that the return to the office, however, is something of a shock. Feeling more in touch with yourself—I would suggest—is the way to go.

Meetups and drop-in sessions

Here in North East England, I’ve attended a number of informal drop-in sessions run by Lizzy Hodcroft at the NatWest Entrepreneurial Accelerator. Lizzy would typically read out an essay on a relevant topic, and then we’d have a round-table discussion about how we were feeling, and what challenges we’d be grappling with. Given appropriate ground rules, this is very welcome.

I would also add that I do plenty of business networking. Sometimes I do this for business development and seeking new clients. At other times, I have been doing it long enough that I catch up with long-standing business acquaintances and we support one another. Both approaches are valuable and useful.

Facilitated circles

I’m a big fan of the work of Parker Palmer, and his non-profit—the Center for Courage and Renewal. In Parker’s book—A Hidden Wholeness—he lays out ‘touchstones’, boundaries for creating environments for participants to share and work through important issues. Parker also lays out the format of a ‘Circle of Trust’, an on-going programme of meetups.

I would strongly suggest that you find someone you trust to run these sessions and establish and agree with sensible ground rules. That way you can participate, and support each another whilst returning to the circle as needed.

Exercise—walks & more aerobic exercise

Mindful that different people have different capabilities, I’m a fan of getting outdoors and taking in nature through walking and for example—and my particular preference—mountain biking. APX offers bodyweight exercises, which seems a good way to get active in a manageable way.


Arianna Huffington has now left Huffington Post after burning out. She now runs Thrive Global and is an advocate of plenty of sleep, and also ‘Thrive Days’ so that colleagues can recharge after major work commitments. She sets out why in her recent interview as part of Reid Hoffman’s Masters of Scale podcast. On the same podcast, Reid’s friend and co-author Chris Yeh describes how he naps every day

Friends and family

Find people on your wavelength, and share equally to work through your issues—but only in moderation.

Work with professionals / ask for help

Relating to the previous topic, sometimes professional help is needed. I have benefited greatly from working with therapists—life is a combination of Guitar Hero and a Rubik’s Cube. Hard to play a melody from all those notes, and hard to line up the different facets of our lives without getting scrambled!

In the UK we have a service called The Samaritans. Typically one phones them up and speaks with a counsellor. I’ve found it incredibly valuable to go and see them face-to-face.


I can attest to the exercise, fresh air, companionship, love, and positive strokes—both ways!—from dogs and cats. Highly recommended.


I don’t have a TV, nor watch Netflix or Amazon. I read a fair amount instead both in print and on Kindle. I watch interesting things on YouTube, such as nesting albatrosses or people who can navigate at sea without charts nor compass and sextant. Fascinating!

Some different aspects

I would like to suggest that there are different aspects to wellbeing and that one should be mindful of them all.

Response one’s Self is probably the starting point. Assisting to align one’s team in doing good work for the right reasons is another. Hopefully, a number of teams can constitute an organisation with purpose, ethics and psychological safety. Taking active steps to create an inclusive and welcoming workplace where we can do our best work is something we can do. Aim high, and create a sustainable culture.

Finally, I believe one should take part in creating a community for all. Tim O’Reilly proposed that we should ‘Create more than you capture’—wise words. I encourage you to support those around you to create a better local environment for all.


I will always encourage those I work with to nurture their deepest and best selves to discern ways forward. Based on my own lived experience, that is far harder than it sounds! Be mindful that we constantly evolving as people and our sense of identity is in perpetual motion.

I would also suggest that we all endeavour to understand ourselves better, and get in touch with the different aspects of our personality and related needs. It is an ongoing challenge to address and recognise our wholeness and to act with courage to become wholehearted—in the words of Brené Brown and find ways to unlock our highest selves to achieve flow states.

I would encourage everyone to support each other and create spaces our best selves can show up. Recognise diverse needs, bodily capabilities and wisdom traditions and act with integrity to respect others.

Closing thoughts

Look after yourselves—experiment with sensible things to find harmony and what works for you. Support one another, and set appropriate and healthy boundaries. Have fun and enjoy yourselves, and do everything in moderation.

I live in the countryside, and you can find ‘offline’ anywhere—in parks, near water, in the mountains.

This is a practice, and there is no ‘correct’ way to do this. Acknowledge your own strengths and challenges and those of others, and continually begin again through forgiving yourself.

Mix and match for your own harmony, for example using apps, listening to podcasts, watching webinars. Above all, turn off and chill out!

Join in!

Together with my collaborators Valerie Monti Holland and Claire Robinson, I ran a six-month innovation pilot focusing on wellbeing for entrepreneurs—funded by Creative Fuse North East.

We hope to go again soon, working behind the scenes to bring together best practice, advocate for founders, and create a framework of ethics. We plan to update our website more regularly, and send out newsletters—please follow us on Medium and / or subscribe to our newsletter. Thank you!

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