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Interview: Steve Zikman: From Lawyer to Travel Guru

Steve Zikman started out his legal career at the leading Canadian law firm of Goodman and Carr. After four years, he left the firm to fulfill his dream of setting out on a three-year, around-the-world journey. Zikman spent the first year in Africa, the second in Europe, and then headed to Asia. The journey was an incredibly powerful and transformative experience, and ultimately persuaded Zikman to change careers and become a writer focused on travel.

Zikman's first book was The Power of Travel: A Passport to Discovery, Adventure & Growth. It was a pioneering effort among global travel books in that it focused on travel as a means to finding perspective and balance in one’s life. Zikman has also co-authored the bestselling series titles, Chicken Soup for the Traveler’s Soul and Chicken Soup for the Nature Lover’s Soul, and even won a North American Travel Journalists Association Award. His most recent book is Doing Good for Goodness’ Sake.

Zikman's latest venture is The Next Fork - an effort to help others experience self-discovery and personal growth through travel revolving around particular concepts and themes for groups of 12 to 18 people. Zikman acts as the facilitator for group discussions and interactions during the trip.  One such program is called Journeys for Attorneys, which provides private trips to law firms searching for more effective and creative retention strategies, incentive/team building programs for summer students or associates, or innovative partners' retreats.

Click below to read Zikman's full profile.

JD Bliss (JDB):  After spending almost a decade in practice with a Toronto law firm and as head of your own firm, you refocused your life on a variety of artistic, writing and motivational pursuits, many of them centered on travel.  Let’s go back to the start, with your life in the law.  What was your field of practice, and what did you find satisfying about being a lawyer?

Zikman:  I was born and raised in Canada, went to law school in Toronto, was called to the Ontario Bar in 1986, and practiced for over five years with the Toronto firm of Goodman and Carr.  My field was administrative law, which involved issues ranging from land use planning to immigration – cases that tended to get me out from behind a desk and into a more dynamic world.  I left the firm in 1991 for a three-year around-the-world journey, then returned to Toronto and had my own firm for almost two years before leaving practice completely.  There were many things that I liked about being a lawyer:  the emphasis on language and communication skills, the ability to help people solve problems and achieve their objectives, the camaraderie of other lawyers and, of course, being a lawyer can be quite rewarding financially.

JDB:  Why and how did you undertake that initial around-the-world trip?

Zikman:  I had traveled extensively before and after I had become a lawyer, and I’d always dreamed of traveling around the world as simply as possible, with not much more than a backpack.  After about four years in practice, I decided to make that dream come true and started saving money to give me the foundation to leave the firm.  It was the right time in my life to do it:  I was 30 years old, had no major family responsibilities, and was making enough money to be able to put some away.  I left the firm in June of 1991 and began my journey in July.  I spent the first year in Africa, the second in Europe, and then headed to Asia.  As you can imagine, it was an incredibly powerful experience.  After returning to Toronto, I opened my own solo practice while attending film school.  But I soon decided that I was not where I wanted to be in life, and late in 1995 I returned to Cape Town, South Africa.

JDB:  What was your motivation for making that change?

Zikman:  Looking back, I see that it was really a transition period in my life.  I had lived in Cape Town previously, and it was truly my soul’s home.  During that time, I sharpened my ideas on wanting to be a writer, especially regarding travel’s potential to transform a person’s life.  After a year in South Africa, I came back to North America and moved to Los Angeles, which has been my home base ever since.  I love the creative feeling one has here and savor the nearby ocean and mountains.  That’s where I go to reconnect with what’s important, to re-align my priorities.  That sense of balance is very important.

JDB:  The bio on your web site says that you’ve ventured through more than 50 countries on six continents.  I also read that you had the chance to meet both Mother Teresa and Nelson Mandela in the course of your adventures. How have you applied your travel experiences to your writing and speaking?

Zikman:  My first book was The Power of Travel:  A Passport to Discovery, Adventure & Growth.  It was a pioneering effort among global travel books, which until that point mainly focused on where to stay, what to see and how much things cost.  I wrote about travel as a means to finding some perspective and balance in one’s life.  Travel lets us look at our lives with a fresh set of eyes. 

The initial success of The Power of Travel led to a wide range of other avenues.  I’ve had the opportunity to appear on hundreds of radio and television programs nationwide, and was the first online columnist for the National Business Travel Association.  I co-authored the bestselling series titles, Chicken Soup for the Traveler’s Soul and Chicken Soup for the Nature Lover’s Soul,  and even won a North American Travel Journalists Association Award.  My most recent book is Doing Good for Goodness’ Sake.   I’ve also established myself as a professional keynote speaker.  My presentations use travel as a tool to help people explore the big questions in life and examine how they can define and achieve their own dreams.

JDB:  Can you tell us more about your latest venture, The Next Fork (  Could you describe the idea behind it?

Zikman:  The Next Fork is my effort to help others experience self-discovery and personal growth through travel with a very novel approach. We develop travel concepts and themes for groups of 12 to 18 people, and I accompany them as facilitator.  Our travelers come from all backgrounds and from all over the world. They might be drawn to a particular destination, to one of our themes and topics (such as “Change in Perspective,” and “Life in Balance”), or a combination of both. Many are at a crossroads of their life, are looking for some type of change and are interested in meeting other like-minded individuals.   

Our journeys take people on short getaways like our “Wine & Wisdom” tour to Santa Barbara or our “California Creative” program to Pasadena and Los Angeles, or to places further afield like Chile, Iceland, Africa, Bhutan, Burma and Italy.  Travelers enjoy authentic food and wine, boutique accommodation, spending time with locals, quality experiences with nature and the arts, active fun and plenty of opportunity for meaningful and engaging conversation about such timely topics as creating more work-life balance, rediscovering a sense of purpose, and embracing change and transition. Travelers range in age from 30 to 70 years old, and can be singles, couples, friends, work colleagues and family members.

JDB:  Could you elaborate on your personal role in each journey?

Zikman:  What I do involves a lot of the communication skills I developed as a lawyer. I’m there to make the travel experience more meaningful by asking compelling questions, spurring discussion, providing what I hope are insightful observations, and helping participants incorporate what they are learning through the travel experience into their everyday lives.  This salon-like approach is meant to be organic and relaxed--over breakfast at the inn, while enjoying afternoon cocktails or in front of an evening campfire. Travel is a reflection of life, and you get to know people very quickly and intimately when you travel with them.  It’s truly a lesson in group dynamics, and my role is to make the experience personally and powerfully meaningful.

JDB:  The Next Fork is obviously founded on your own travel experiences, but how did you turn the concept into reality?

Zikman:  I partnered up with Horizon & Co., one of North America’s leading small group luxury travel companies.  They’ve been in business for more than 40 years.  Their approach to travel is very compatible with mine, and one of their principals, Norman Howe, was also a lawyer, which created another common focus for us.  The Next Fork develops the concepts and themes for each journey and Horizon plans the arrangements and takes care of reservations and bookings.  It’s a very respectful and highly creative relationship.

JDB:  What’s ahead for The Next Fork and for you?

Zikman:  An exciting year from the looks of it.  Our 2006 schedule is set, with a dozen trips stretching from May through spring of 2007.  The locations include some of the most extraordinary settings in California, as well as exotic places like Easter Island, Bhutan in the Himalayas, and Burma’s Irrawaddy River.  As I mentioned, our themes focus on finding balance, re-connecting with a sense of purpose and dealing with change in life.  We have a strong emphasis on spurring creativity and finding a sense of community.  I hope that what we’re doing will inspire people to make some changes in their lives, to take a new direction, to find some more balance. 

We’ve also started a program called Journeys for Attorneys which provides private trips to law firms searching for more effective and creative retention strategies, incentive/team building programs for summer students or associates, or innovative partners' retreats. As for myself, we’re adopting our first child this year which should mean ‘major’ change, and when I’m not on the road, there are always more trails to discover in the mountains near our home in Pasadena.

JDB: Given your success at bringing change to your life and at helping others transform their own lives, what advice would you give to attorneys who would like to explore new personal directions but are reluctant to make a change?

Zikman:   From my experience, change is incremental and, as a practical matter, most attorneys don’t go on a trip and end up leaving their jobs or radically shifting their lives – the financial risks, and their personal responsibilities, are too great to do so.  Rather, they return home and re-align their priorities.  They re-examine their sense of purpose, where they are and where they’re heading.  They look carefully at what makes them happy and what draws out their true passion in life.  One half of the equation is simply talking about these issues and having some fun in the process.  The other half is finding ways to make small changes, to take ‘baby steps’ to discovering a more balanced life.  Finding a new and better balance--a new equilibrium--can make your life as an attorney richer and more fulfilling.  The alternative is to wonder what a better life would be like, without making the effort to question, explore or consider what that life might entail. Our programs reconnect people to what's essential, to what lies deep in your soul. And that's the best part of any journey!

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