Folks, I’m back from my annual pilgrimage to the Montana and Idaho mountains. Every year when I return, I do so with renewed perspective and insight into my work life. It doesn’t last long, so here are a few nuggets of clarity for my first day back in the office.
1) Work, structure and routine are good and healthy: I go to the mountains to get away from the mundane routine that commands my life 95% of the year. It’s a wonderful break! But after only a couple of weeks away from the structure, I crave it again. The vacation schedule for me is a blast but it’s not sustainable. I mean, if my entire year were spent sitting in the sun all day, over dosing on Pringles and Red Vines, and watching movies into the early morning hours, I would be a very different person--and it wouldn't be pretty. To steal and invert Benjamin Franklin’s saying, “Late to bed and late to rise makes a man sick, poor and dumb.”
2) When I'm gone, my job doesn’t miss me that much: Every time I am about to leave on a vacation I feel like my job just won’t be able to live without me. There always seems to be a crisis to manage or a critical meeting to attend. Yet when I get back I typically find that the problems that were facing me have long been solved and forgotten. This prompts two thoughts. First, it’s a little scary how little they needed me while I was gone. Second, my pre-vacation stress with completely unnecessary. Next year, I hope I remember to fully disconnect on vacation, because while I’m gone, my co-workers will figure things out.
3) Over time, work relationships are more fulfilling to me than work results. Being away from work allows me to think about it in an unusual way; to see the bigger picture of my contribution and assess what I really care about. When I think about my job while I'm on vacation, my past business successes and failures rarely come to mind, but my relationship successes and failure always do. I remember with fondness people that I’ve developed and times when people were grateful to me for helping them. I remember invigorating debates with capable people, and the exhilaration we felt when we put our brains together to create something new. I also flinch when I remember arguments I’ve started and stupid things I’ve said to others that were hurtful. Noticing what I most easily remember helps me understand what really matters to me. It motivates me to return to work more committed to and focused on relationships.
4) One day it will all be over, and I need to be ready: Vacation puts things in their proper place. When I work for extended periods of time without a break, the importance of my job becomes more and more exaggerated in my mind. This can be dangerous, because one day it will be over and my employer will move on without me. If I only nurture my career and neglect the more enduring things in my life—health, family, church, community, hobbies—I will be left with nothing when I retire. That’s a depressing thought. I must find ways to invest in those areas now so they can last as long as I do.
Now, back to work.