Vacation Season is Here, and That’s a Good Thing

(By Mike Raftery)

‘Tis the season of the family road trip. The theme parks, beaches and cruise ships fill up with families on that week long tradition of the family vacation. Sure, it’s a lot more stress now that you’re an adult. There’s packing, airports, traffic, unpacking, repacking, coming home to a pile of mail packages, pets and a never-ending email inbox. It’s easy to think, “Why even bother?” when the work never goes away and yet we still do it. Everyone has their own reasons for leaving it all behind. Having just returned from a vacation, here’s why I do it.

Push the Reset Button

The day-to-day grind is called that, because it is a grind. When you’re in the thick of it, the details matter. In a high pressure work environment (is there a low pressure one anymore?) you have teams of people, especially on IT projects, that are totally focused and driven to hit milestones and deadlines. So little things become fires, big things become catastrophes. The very nature of the project environment magnifies the importance of the issue. If that many people are that concerned, it must be a big deal right?

So vacations are a good opportunity to step back, push the reset button and understand what’s important and what isn’t. I’m always reminded by this whenever I see an out of state car on vacation that’s covered with local school stickers. You have seen them, they are always mini-vans or SUVs, and the back is covered with a high school sport and their kids number, or honor role, or some sort of logo with initials that make sense to them. I see this car and I think, back home those people are so intensely into this sport or activity they feel ok ruining a perfectly good paint job over it. I’m sure it means a lot to them and the local town. But out here? Nobody has any clue what they are talking about.

And that’s a good reset to gain perspective. Yes, it’s important in your day-to-day life, but it’s a big world out there, so try and keep it all in perspective and keep your paint job clean.

Find a New Point of View

Despite the emergence of what I cleverly call “Generica” (patent pending) where your Panera Bread has the same “home baked” treats as everyone else’s, people are still different. You don’t have to go very far out of your way to learn this either. When you travel for vacation, you are generally tossed into the mix with people who don’t share your daily routine. These people have different educations, jobs, families and values. So take advantage and talk to them.

Sometimes this new point of view can really be helpful in your career and in your life. You would be surprised how often you find someone who overlaps with one aspect of your life. It might be a contact for work, you might pick up a new golf tip, or even a different vacation idea for next year. Focusing on the work aspect for a second, I find that I always learn something from anyone who I talk to about their careers. People have so much time and energy invested in their careers that they usually love sharing it with others. That new perspective might solve a problem you have today or provide new career perspective from an angle you never considered.

Take advantage and keep your ears open. It wouldn’t be a blog without a cliché so here’s my quota. You have two ears and one mouth for a reason, listen to anyone and everyone and it will pay off when you get back to your own little corner of Generica (patent pending).

Why are we doing this?

Why are we killing ourselves at the office? Why carry at least two, maybe three cell phones at all times? Why are we emailing in bed? In my case, it’s to buy your time back to enjoy these moments that really matter. OK, second cliché: nobody ever goes to their death bed agonizing over that TPS report they didn’t get in on time. But, they probably do have memories flash though their heads of their kids dancing in the ocean, or the majesty of a national park. This is why I work: to get the time back to actually enjoy life. That’s not to say work cannot be fulfilling, but rare is the job (especially in IT like mine) that fills the soul and the checkbook. Usually it’s one or the other.

So go find an experience you really will remember this summer. It might be with your family, it might be getting lost yourself, discovering a new city or visiting an old one. But that experience is why we show up to work every day, attend endless meetings and slog through endless email inboxes. To be able to disconnect, do something you will remember is worth the pile of work awaiting your return. A truly great experience usually makes that pile seem smaller anyway.

As for me, I’m proud that at our little consulting firm we had to coordinate vacations this summer. I’m happy to be part of a group that still values other things over billable hours, and that doesn’t count weekends as standard time. Sure, we all leave a little bit of money on the table, but it’s a trade I’d take any day.   After all, you can’t take the money with you, but those memories will live on forever.

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