Good Work: Vacations

Kona Hawaii

Sometimes it seems to me that the frequency of my patients’ vacations is inversely proportional to the number of and seriousness of their heart attacks.  –Dr. Robert Eliot
[I wrote these notes two decades ago–the last time I was on the Big Island. Relaxing still makes me nervous.]
Work is difficult.  It has the potential to drain everything that is good and leave a shallow bitter pool of anxiety.  New high school teachers that work in isolation and are dealt a difficult schedule with 150 daily student interactions often finish their first semester exhausted and disillusioned.  Even a great job turns into a mind-numbing rut if it does not have a healthy place to live.
One day into a family Christmas vacation my nine year old daughter begged me to watch a movie with her, “Come on Dad, watch this with me. Let me sit on your lap.”  Still in high-speed work mode, I was almost too nervous to sit down.  It turned out to be a dumb movie, but I am glad we watched it together.  Before I know it she will be off to college and I will wonder where the time went and wish that we had watched just one more movie, played on more game, or read one more book.
Vacations disconnect you from your routine, taking you far enough away to catch your breath and forget a few phone numbers, to forward your voice mail and slow your life down enough to watch the sunset.  Ocean side vacations are a reminder of a natural biological rhythm that makes the normal routine of most work days seem anything but normal.  Vacations take you far enough away to recreate perspective, they create an opportunity to see your work from another climate, sometimes from another culture.  Experiencing new cultures puts your life and work into a larger context. A trip to Korea reminded me that most of the world does not expect a knife, fork, spoon, plate, and napkin at dinnertime. Vacations can remind us that there are six billion other people with there own lives to live, many with greater challenges than we will ever know.  Vacations give you the opportunity to take things apart, to mull them around, and to put them back into the grand scheme of things.
We all need a rhythm of renewal, emotional, spiritual, physical and intellectual renewal to remain positive and focused, not once a year, but every month, every week, every day.  Build positive habits into each day, read, write, play, and reflect.  Stay connected to the important people in your life.  Go out of your way to met new ones.  Watch the sun go down.  Stay fresh, stay challenged, and stay excited.  If your work does not fit when you try to put it all together, go do something else.  Life’s too short not to enjoy what you do.

Tom Vander Ark

Tom Vander Ark is the CEO of Getting Smart. He has written or co-authored more than 50 books and papers including Getting Smart, Smart Cities, Smart Parents, Better Together, The Power of Place and Difference Making. He served as a public school superintendent and the first Executive Director of Education for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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