Nathan Farrugia

It’s around this time of year when people start coming up with resolutions and lofty goals to improve themselves over the forthcoming 12 months, with the most popular being exercising more, eating healthier and saving money.

But studies show that approximately 80 per cent of resolutions are broken, so perhaps Nathan Farrugia, CEO of executive-coaching organisation Vistage, is onto something when he says he doesn’t like to set such goals.

“I prefer to focus on committing to improving my good habits, breaking bad ones and trying to continuously try to lead a more fulfilling life. Goals tend to create an anticlimax or define themselves as an end-point, so I prefer an approach closer to the concept of Ikigai, finding more flow and continuous improvement,” he says, referring to the Japanese concept referring to something that gives a person a sense of purpose.

Nathan describes Christmas time as a kind of personal ‘Ctrl+Alt+Del’ from work, in the sense that he takes time to enjoy the company of his family and friends, while also thinking about the past year and planning ahead.

“To me, the main meaning behind Christmas is a time of giving, togetherness and thinking about those who are struggling and need help. Whilst I do make an effort to live this way every day of the year, sometimes Christmas reminds me to put a little more focus on these aspects of life.”

Indeed, Nathan’s concerns are very much experiential over material, as is clear when he’s asked what Christmas gifts he’s most proud of giving.

“Gifts to me are all about experiences. So many of the gifts I have given are opportunities to travel, or getting people together. I’ve also given gifts to people in need on behalf of others and we try and do this as part of our businesses every year. I’m not sure our clients appreciate a hamper as much as they do a donation to charity on their behalf. Every year I try and get my whole family together for a weekend in Gozo so typically that is my Christmas present to them, and I am thankful they seem to prefer it to an ’item’.”

He’s similarly philosophical when asked what the worst gift he’s ever received is. Whereas most people would reply with a box of chocolates they don’t like, or perhaps some socks, Nathan says:

“No gift, given with the right intention, can ever be a worst gift. Sometimes I do wonder about the lack of creativity in giving gifts, where clearly the person hasn’t really thought about the needs or personality of the person they are giving to, but that’s often because they are too busy. The best gifts have always been the gift of time. For someone to go out of their way to meet up is always appreciated, since time – not money – is today’s most precious resource.”

Nathan says the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic meant 2021 was tough year for him, emotionally speaking.

“The hope of overcoming the pandemic in January countered with the frustration of further lockdowns really put pressure and stress on people. Businesses had to fold or downsize and lay people off, which I know is terribly hard on everyone and their families.

“At the same time, it was an opportunity to get back to meeting people socially, and even at the workplace. Seeing colleagues and clients face to face after nearly two years was amazing! It was disappointing seeing my daughters miss out on their school social events, birthday parties and other key moments that shape our younger lives, having to “make-do” with small gatherings in order to avoid the spread. But it then allowed them to appreciate the closer friends, spend time in deeper conversations and perhaps learn the importance of patience and delayed gratification.

According to Nathan, the increased feeling of togetherness brought about by the pandemic means his business is more relevant than ever.

“Vistage will continue to grow because leaders have realised that their peers are important allies in times like these. We also can no longer see our competitors as people to ‘beat’ but as potential partners. Vistage brings business owners and CEOs together to become stronger. UP, our coaching and training arm will continue to grow and develop because the only way organisations can retain talent is by investing in them.

“We expect our events like XTERRA and Colour My Run to grow from strength to strength as people seek the outdoors, fun activities and want to invest in their health and wellbeing. I’m also aware that we are not an island and part of a global economy that has yet to feel the impact of an extended COVID pandemic. This will come back to hurt us as costs increase, people reduce travel and brains are drained in search of overseas experiences. We’ve all come to realise that life is short, and we need to balance work and life more effectively. Saving for a future pension has been superseded by spending your money on experiences in the present.”

As for what 2021 has taught him personally, Nathan’s contemplative nature shines through once again.

“It’s taught me that relationships are the most important thing in life. Not just the obvious close family ones, but relationships with business partners, employees, clients, sponsors and whatever interaction you may have with another human being. Therefore we need to nurture them.”

This interview forms part of a series by MaltaCEOs.mt that catches up with the country’s business leaders to get a glimpse of how they’ll be celebrating this holiday season.

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