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Based on the title of this blog post, you might be thinking, are you serious? Who needs to know how to take a real vacation from work?
It’s a fair challenge, so let me ask you, when was the last time you took a real (with a capital R) vacation?
I’ve asked this simple question to a number of senior execs I work with and the type of the responses I get have been:
“What is a real vacation?”
“When I retire, 6 years from now!”
It appears the challenge of taking a good restorative break has become a lost art for many of us who spend most of our waking hours in the working world.
For years, I had no idea how to take a proper break and it appears I’m not alone! To leave the world of work behind and take time off is not something that comes naturally for the modern day work culture. And, surprisingly, there doesn’t seem to be any place to go to learn how. No workshops appear on any company’s learning and development curriculum with the enticing titles like, How to slip the tether of work whilst you are away or How to escape the orbit of the office to get some real R&R or How to stop feeling overwhelmingly guilty about completely unplugging for the office for two weeks.
I Can’t Leave Work Behind!
Holidays are supposed to represent an opportunity to get away from the pressures of day-to-day working life, but there is plenty of research to show that millions of us are unable to leave our work behind (even for a short period).
One report from AlphaRooms, suggests that 20 million Brits think it is NECESSARY to take their work away with them.
Two-thirds of those questioned admitted that they had experienced a work interruption while relaxing on holiday.
Another 80 per cent said they had worried about work while enjoying a well-deserved break, which perhaps defeats the object of going away in the first place.
Technology appears to have a great deal to do with this trend, with a third of people taking their laptop and smartphone on holiday with them.
Some three-quarters of those surveyed revealed that they had made or taken a work phone call while ostensibly ‘getting away from it all’ and 60 per cent have sent a work-related email.
A survey by Expedia , showed on average, Americans forfeit $34.3 billion in vacation days. Many U.S. workers earn 14 days off, they take only as many as 12. Those mere two days add up to 226 million vacation days unused by overworked Americans.
Shocking, but I know I’ve been one of these statistics!
I’ve taken phone calls from the office with my feet in the sea or, excused myself from queues at theme parks to check my emails or, bashed out a proposal in the shade by the pool and, if I’m honest, more out of habit more than necessity. I’ve treated my laptop and mobile like an important family member, taking them everywhere with me and tethering myself to the daily affairs of work.
Reentry into the world of work was never a problem for me, since I never really escaped it in the first place. Until, taking our year out and living on the Island of Fuerteventura, that is, when I did go off to a place where I slipped the tether of work completely.
Each day on the Island moved me further and further away from work, transporting me to an even more tranquil state of mind, unpreturbed by anything outside of our family unit.
Eight months into our family year out we flew to Sotogrande in Spain to check out the International School. In a mere two and a half hours, we had left the peace and tranquility we’d become so accustomed to for the hustle and bustle of a busy, noisy Madrid airport.
People brushed past us in a furious hurry and rush. Women were decked out in the latest fashion and designer brands. Men dressed in suits and ties, clutching mobiles, laptops and palm pilots, eagerly checked their watches.
Everybody’s life seemed reduced to the clock. It was noisy and claustrophobic. We froze up! Too much, too fast. We began to panic. We quickly retreated to the far end of the terminal where there was less noise and busyness. This gave us the breathing space we needed before boarding our next flight to Malaga.
I hadn’t known to expect this. The eight months out had been cathartic not only for my work life but my ordinary life too. It had never occurred to me that the life as we live it is not entirely nontoxic. Reentering life at that moment, I felt as if I’d swallowed some poison. It was obvious reentry was going to be harder than anticipated.
The BIG ha, ha!
Life had presented me with an important “ha, ha” moment! I suddenly appreciated the rejuvenating effect the year was having on my mind, body and spirit, but understood, at the same moment, the paradox of a real vacation –
If reentry isn’t hard , then I haven’t really been away.
This experience helped me realise that for each of us to get the lasting effect of a break (even if it’s just a few days), we must find a way to make it possible for the restorative effects of breaks to have an impact in our everyday lives. Otherwise we quickly lose the important benefits to the mind, body and spirit immediately upon reentry.
This lesson has made me more conscious of the need for balance and perspective. It’s a sensibility I still work at keeping to this day.
What about YOU? Do you find reentry easy or difficult?
If it’s too easy for you, use these 7 tops tips to make reentry hard:
1. Decompress – It might take a couple of days to disengage from the stress of your demanding career, so take a little time to unwind. Sit still. Take a timeout. Give yourself permission to decompress. Turn the smartphone and laptop off (what a novel idea!). Experiencing “white space” can be scary for some ‘have to be doing’ types but you’ll soon feel its wonderful rejuvenating effects.
2. Sleep – You’ve probably missed this important aspect of life, true? Don’t beat yourself up if you sleep in or feel like hitting the sack early. This privilege you have earned. Max out on it!
3. Make Fun a Priority – Whether it is a trip to the beach with a fun novel or night out dancing like John Travolta, it is time to have some fun, let your hair down and have a laugh. This is the perfect time to stop taking yourself too seriously (something many of us do too much in the corporate world) and let fun be the guide. Don’t short cut this one!
4. Reflect on Your Future – Once you have relaxed a bit and eased into your summer break, use the time to consider where your life is headed and if you need to make a mid course correction.
5. Consider Doing Nothing at All – Ah, this is my favourite summer holiday route. Being a consultant can be an all consuming occupation that requires you to be “on” at all times. Why not treat yourself to blissful act of just doing nothing?
6. Experiment – Holidays are a great time to try new ways of being. If you’re normally a ‘clock watcher,’ then take it off and go with the flow. If you’re a planner, then try being spontaneous and see where it leads you. If you like know where you are going, practice being lost! If you like the safety of your comfort zone (or dead zone) then step out of it and get that feeling of aliveness by doing something that scares you.
7. Enjoy – When you are on holiday think of nothing else but your holiday. If it’s a possibility, leave your work mobile and laptop at home (if you really have to bring your smartphone then discipline yourself to the amount of time you use it). Let go of all the concerns for a week or two. Leave behind all the office politics, the lists that never get completed, or those nagging doubts about your childcare arrangements and connect with what really matters – maxing out on the ‘glad to be alive’ feeling.
You deserve it. Besides your office will still be there when you get back.
Let’s raise a glass to making reentry hard on your next vacation – I’m planning mine to be!
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