Steve Morris No Tech ChallengeA commentary by Susan Harrison, EXIT Realty’s Senior Vice President, Corporate Communications

The man in the picture is Steve Morris, EXIT Realty’s Founder and Chairman and my boss for the past fourteen years.  He means the world to me and I have nothing but the utmost respect for him.

Mr. Morris, or Steve as he is known company-wide, has a gift of getting the most and the best out of others and one of the ways he does this is by observing them closely and then issuing challenges. The challenges often come out of the blue and can involve one’s personal life, health or productivity – nothing is off limits with Steve.  One such challenge was issued to Bob McKinnon, EXIT’s South Central Divisional President, to perform George Carlin’s Modern Man masterpiece in under four minutes.  Bob is a professional orator and teaches others to be poised, powerful presenters yet he found this to be a most difficult challenge, stretching him far beyond his comfort zone.  He rehearsed every day and enlisted the help of a director and coach with whom he met via Skype every week for a year.  He overcame his fears and performed it to a raving standing ovation at the company’s convention this fall.

As with Bob, I’ve seen Steve’s challenges push people to their limits and beyond so when my turn came, I was to say the least, apprehensive.  “I want you to go to St. Lucia,” he said.  St. Lucia is the site of Steve’s arduous climb up the taller of the two Grand Piton mountains and his challenge to CEO, Tami Bonnell and COO, Erika Gileo, to complete their successful climb a year later.  “I’m not climbing anything,” I warily replied, silently thanking the Universe for my bad knees.  “No,” he said, “I want you to go to Jade Mountain and completely unplug for four days – no technology at all.” I blanched.  You see, he had tossed the gauntlet on two challenges; one he knew about, and the second he didn’t.

The part Steve knew is that I’m married to my technology; my laptop, my desk top computer, my iPad, my smart phone or any combination of these is seldom more than an arm’s length away.  I sleep with my phone literally on the pillow next to me, borne of a need to be that accessible when my late husband was ill.  I have three Facebook profiles (don’t tell Facebook) and I enjoy rich online communities, both at work and in my personal life and I’m in constant contact with them.  I stopped watching TV earlier this year and I now download any shows I want to watch and they are always readily at hand.  So the idea of going without technology for a day, much less four, makes my throat close.

Now here’s the kicker.  Steve didn’t know that I don’t like being outside and the rooms at Jade Mountain have only three walls; the fourth is completely open. (It’s a luxury resort and the rooms are on a cliff-face so security isn’t an issue).  I will be practically outside for four days.  To put this into perspective, please understand that I’m someone who avoids outdoor cafés, I’d prefer not to sit on your deck and the idea of camping under the stars is as foreign to me as space travel.

I know why Steve issued my no-tech challenge. I’ve been too focused on what’s going on “out there” and not on what’s going on “in here”.  I’ve been relying on the chaos of the world to distract me from a search for the elusive inner peace I need to find in the wake of my husband’s passing.  But frankly, even as I write this, my eyes are welling, my breathing is becoming shallow and my palms are starting to sweat.  Steve’s challenges always come with consequences so I asked, “What happens if I can’t do it?” “You’ll have to go for seven days next time.”  Gulp.  Four it is.

So I’m off to St. Lucia in a few short weeks to be outside with no TV, phone or internet.  I’ve negotiated two small concessions; the use of my smart phone to take pictures only and the use of my computer to work on a book I’m writing.  Wish me luck.

In closing, I’d like to ask – could you do it? Could you completely unplug from your technology for four days and plug into your inner self and the people around you instead? Perhaps you don’t have to go to the extreme of perching on a cliff but Steve knew that’s what it would take to get me to actually do it.  Perhaps all you need is to take a deep breath and turn off your phone.  With the holiday season upon us, won’t you take Steve’s no-tech challenge with me?  I can’t wait to hear how you make out.


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