Mary Logan: What the Joys of a Summer Vacation Taught Me about Work

Having just come home from a two-week vacation, I’m recommitted to applying some of the joys of a summer vacation to lighten up the weightiness of work responsibilities:

  1. Learn something new every day. One of the joys of vacation for me is tapping into learning something new every day. It might be reading a great book (just finished Circling the Sun), enjoying a cultural experience, visiting an architectural site, or seeing how something looks different in your camera lens when you adjust a setting. Learning in the workplace is how we keep from stagnating. If you have fully mastered your own job, then learn something about what someone else does, volunteer for a stretch assignment, or talk to someone you don’t know in the coffee line so that you see the world through their eyes.
  2. Experiment. My two most memorable experiments on this summer’s vacation involved walking and food. With the first, I beat my own personal best record by walking 12 miles in one day, simply by experimenting with the pace and breaks. I would have sworn I could not go more than 7-8 miles in a day until I saw the proof of what I had done. With food, I went way outside of my comfort zone at a hiking hut in Austria by ordering something completely unknown from the lunch menu. Called “Sülze,” it’s a form of chilled aspic, a clear gelatin with chunks of meat and vegetables in it. My brain told me not to eat it, but I was hungry enough to try it. Surprisingly, I found it to be delicious enough that I would order it again.
  3. Take a real break from electronic devices. One corporate CEO goes completely “dark” on his summer vacation and expects his staff to do the same. If he can do it, so can the rest of us. Even more challenging is how to “go dark” back in the workplace, not every day but at least for a significant chunk of the day or a full day every week. If you say “I can’t,” then look in the mirror and ask yourself what’s wrong with this monster you have created! These breaks from “screens” and “being wired” give us energy, time to tackle something big, more creative juices, and a dose of serenity.
  4. Don’t overthink it. The best vacation moments tend to be the ones that are unplanned or where there is an outline of a plan but room to navigate changes (a different route, staying longer than planned, skipping something in the plan, adding something new). Those of you who are engineers are likely to dismiss this piece of advice because you are exquisite planners with an eye for detail. Yes, those details matter a lot in our jobs. When we focus on them day in and day out, though, it’s easy to miss what’s going on around us. There might be an emerging property, a new hole in the Swiss cheese, or something that begs for an adjustment. But we miss it because our heads are down, focused on executing our fine-tuned plans.
  5. Don’t postpone joy. This was our first time to hike in the Austrian Alps. It was also a rare moment for me to “wish” we had hiked in these mountains 20 years ago, when my fused ankle and creaky knees could maneuver the steep inclines and declines of the very best hikes. We each have only one life to live, and there is joy to be found in every day if we are open to being in that moment, forgetting our troubles, aches and woes. If you are waiting for the perfect moment to advance your education, make a scary career move, go on the perfect vacation, spend more time with your family and friends, or do whatever else brings you joy in life or at work, then stop right now. There is no perfect moment. Now is the time.

Mary Logan, JD, CAE, is the president and CEO of AAMI.

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