Sometimes taking a moment to stop and see the fantastic array of transferable skills you have accumulated – and the way others view them – can be life changing. It was certainly transformative for branding guru Will Travis.
His ‘moment’ really came when he turned down the opportunity to lead global ad agency Saatchi and Saatchi, starting a journey away from the corporate world so that he could apply his skill set to a higher community purpose.
That first step has turned into an enormous leap forward – both for Travis and the company he then founded, Elevation Barn. It proposes a new leadership philosophy to elevate what truly matters: a holistic approach to enhance personal, business and social endeavors.
This commitment to inspiring others to be their best selves stems from a philosophy ignited during Travis’ teenage years by the reaction of his stepfather, as he shared his failings in his school exams just months after the tragic death of his mother.
While 18-year-old Travis felt directionless, some revelatory words of advice from his stepfather helped re-frame the situation both then and throughout the rest of his life.
"He told me, ‘We all face walls in life, all you need to do is back away from the wall so you can work out how to get over it, around it or under it. And to be able to do that you need to have the right people with you. I’m with you, we will find a way.’
"If you look at the walls we constantly face in life as just hurdles, as just part of the journey, then you'll go on anyway. There will always be good and bad days. I had this philosophy embedded in my mind."
Travis immediately took the initiative, offering to work for free for local branding and events company ATTIK and working his way up. A move to the United States meant his talent was recognized in a new circle and, coupled with hard work, led to him becoming a CEO at 25 and building global companies.
Finding new purpose
But there was an emptiness that Travis knew was not going to be filled with another top job or new company.
"I was now on this rinse and repeat," he reflects. "I was achieving, but it was like I was doing the same job every day and this career ladder had become a downward escalator – every day I was climbing it just to stay in the same place.
"I was beginning to question, ‘What am I doing with my life?’ I had a midlife crash, lost pretty much everything and realized I was too much in the leadership mindset, not fueling my holistic being, and I didn’t have people to lean on."
After a year spent learning about ‘real fear’ by challenging himself in new ways – at one point even tracking lions on foot for two weeks in Africa – he immersed himself in the culture of Bali.
"It was a process of taking a heartfelt perspective on what people need to be a leader – not in business, but in their life."
Recharged and with a new focus, Travis returned to the workplace but turned down the job of Saatchi and Saatchi Co-Chairman, realizing he would be repeating past behaviors he was keen to avoid.
Instead, Travis organized a retreat for a group of friends, all of whom were accomplished and successful in their fields but filled with self-doubt and hesitant to act. It was called ‘Sort your Sh*t Out’ – and they all turned up from around the world.
"It was a process of taking a heartfelt perspective on what people need to be a leader – not in business, but in their life," Travis explains. "We went through basic principles. What’s brought you joy? What do you value? Who inspires you? I could see the weight dropping off them physically as the weight of expectancy was removed.
"It made me realize, I want to elevate people through a ‘barn raising’ philosophy of teamwork. With clarity of purpose, I can be the more authentic me and think about my life holistically, not just for my career."
He believes that so much of our happiness and potential is wasted because of the fear we are not enough. "Society is built to make us feel this way, the ‘enoughness’ plague is a humanitarian crisis," Travis adds.
Elevation Barn was born in 2017. The holistic company offers personal development, corporate leadership and team bonding retreats and an alumni community who can connect via regular networking events, lifelong learning opportunities and other targeted connections and opportunities to uplift one another.
The Stable is the business advisory arm of the company, offering expert collaboration and strategy. "We have systems and processes to find the moments that lift us in the branding world," he says. "So we can have a relationship and care about a product, because if we love it, we’ll fight for it."
And Travis understood the power of applying these concepts to human experience too.
Asking the right questions
"When you come to a Barn retreat, we don’t talk about your job," Travis explains. "I can’t give you an opinion on being better at your profession.
"But I can help you have a perspective from a different dimension that you may not have thought of; I can help you back away from that wall you are experiencing so you can see around or under it.
"We’re designed to evolve when bad things happen, but we will still evolve if somebody holds our hand and says, ‘You know what? That is going to cause you 10 years of misery if you don’t address this issue.’"
There is no doubt that Travis is an energizing person to be around, and while he respects that there will be difficult and hard days, he also has a "passion for positivity" and believes surrounding yourself with people who want to uplift and help when they have nothing to gain is the key to finding clarity and confidence in being your true self.
"If you are seen for who you truly are, I can guarantee people will love you. We have to realize our own superpowers and also get the support we need to help us continue being amazing. We’ve lost that in society and we need to bring it back."
He recounts the moving moment when he asked his daughters the same two questions he had been asked: ‘What’s the one thing you want me to know about you that I don’t? And what’s the one thing you don’t want me to know about you?’
The answers they gave him changed his perspective completely. "Wisdom is about the questions you ask," he says. "They told me things I didn’t know because I hadn’t asked the right questions."
"Do stuff you love with the people you love on a journey that is going to do something."
As a society, he suggests we look at whether we are creating obstacles for both ourselves and those around us by asking the wrong questions.
"If I can help you believe and craft a system that allows you to celebrate your story, I’ve done my job. Celebrate the power of humanity and what we can do if we’re together, if we hold each other’s hands.
"I don’t care where you come from. I don’t care what your job is. If you have a heart, you are part of the Elevation Barn community. I target and start with business because we’re governing what happens on the planet – it is our duty to be more heartfelt."
As well as celebrating the simple moments which bring us joy and removing the expectancy filter, Travis says considering our impact on the world and what we can do to protect, uplift and pay it forward is incredibly powerful.
He personally sits on the board of a number of environmental organizations and Elevation Barn works as a partner to individuals, non-governmental organizations and ESG enterprises with global vision and purpose.
"Do stuff you love with the people you love on a journey that is going to do something," Travis urges. "Make a difference. It doesn’t mean you’re going to end world hunger today, maybe just smile and say something nice to somebody.
"Life is a river, it’s a journey. We cannot control it, but we can celebrate its beauty."