There is a travel agency near Harvard Square that for years had a sign out front that said “Please Go Away Often”. I always think about that sign whenever I am leaving for or returning from vacation. It’s important to go away, often. But it’s getting harder and harder to do so.
I just returned from a week of vacation and was struck by how many more people were connected to devices on the beach than I had ever seen before. Wi-Fi was widely available across the resort we were staying at, and people of all ages and nationalities had their devices close at hand most of the time. And my husband and I were no exception, until we made the choice to disconnect. For the first three days, I willfully disregarded my phone, tablet and computer (which admittedly I had brought with me…). And even after that I held screen time to a minimum. I could’ve checked in with my team and my clients. But I chose not to, for a couple of reasons.
- Everybody needs space. I love working with Madeline and Ryan. We are a small but mighty team, and we have chosen to work together. I love my clients. I’m lucky enough to be able to make choices about who I work with, and I choose to work with smart, driven, innovative people. But we all need room to run and to think and to have experiences separate from the people we work with. It makes you more interesting and interested, and especially when you lead a team, it builds trust that you know there’s nothing they can’t handle without you.
- It’s good to remember you’re not that important. The world keeps turning when you go away. People figure things out without your advice. Some “urgent” items actually wait for your return. I’m not suggesting you ignore the truly important things, but it’s good to be reminded from time to time what really is important. It’s rarely the email on your phone. It’s usually reconnecting with your family, with yourself, with your place in the world. People say you don’t regret the meetings you miss; you regret the time you didn’t spend with people you care about. I hope I don’t have to find out whether or not that’s true if I make the right decisions along the way.
- Vacations are fun. Like, real fun. I have fun at work all the time. I’m a nerd who thinks a new data set to dig into is actually fun. I enjoy the writing and research I do. I have fun with colleagues and clients, many of whom are wickedly funny and clever. But vacations are REAL fun – like being splashed by waves on a sailboat, snorkeling with stingrays, drinking umbrella drinks and dancing all night kind of fun. It’s good to remember how to have fun.
Vacations and willful disregard for email get a bad rap. But there will always be more work to do; we will never be caught up. So at some point you just have to say, to yourself and to your team, please go away. Often.