By Joanie Connell
Taking two weeks off in itself is a great way to gain perspective on life. Traveling to another country is even better. I just returned from two weeks in Paris. During those two weeks I experienced a very different way of life. I was kept up till all hours of the night by the Fête de la Musique, an all-night music festival that takes place on the streets of Paris. I lost sleep because the fans of the World Cup celebrated on the streets too, by driving around with their horns on at 2:00 in the morning. During daylight hours, I was slowed down by traffic that was gridlocked due to protest marches and demonstrations and by strikes that delayed trains and planes coming in and out of Paris
None of that bothered me. Rather, I found it curiously intriguing. What bothered me–at least at first–was spending over a week without WiFi. The router in our apartment broke and the landlord didn’t seem to understand the urgency around fixing it promptly. I was planning to work while on vacation and was shut down. Public WiFi was no option. In France, free WiFi tends to be so slow it is unusable except for email—another curiosity. The French just don’t seem to have the same need for speed that Americans do.
What was I to do? Well, how about enjoy my vacation! I gave up worrying about work. I didn’t blog for two weeks. I stayed off Face Book and I hardly emailed. Rather, I immersed myself into French culture and leisure.
A funny thing happened. In more than one conversation, French people asked me why I was only on vacation for two weeks. They asked what else I would do during the summer for the rest of my vacation. I kept having to explain that this was my summer vacation and that I would be returning to work when I got home and that I was fortunate to be able to travel for two weeks because many Americans don’t have that kind of time. Now it was their turn to find my culture curiously intriguing.
Even if we only have 2 weeks of vacation per year, as compared to their typical 2 months of vacation, it makes all the difference in the world to get away from work for a while. It gives you perspective. Realizing that you’re dispensable, that the daily crisis at work really isn’t urgent or earth shattering, and that life has so much more to offer than work is truly important. Taking vacation helps to broaden your perspective and refocus your priorities in life.
As a consultant, I get an external perspective of companies. More often than not, I feel the office tension as I walk in. I see the desperate looks on executives’ faces as they try to do what they think the president wants. If the president decides he/she wants X, the executives send their teams into a frenzy to deliver X2. The executives advise me on what words to use or not use to appeal to the president’s idiosyncrasies. They demand that I turn in work proposals immediately and be available to perform without delay. They expect me to work after hours and on weekends like they do. I’ve learned my lesson because, when I do, they change their minds or the president isn’t available to look at it or the project gets canceled or something like that. We have all rushed around with elevated heart rates and stress levels for no real reason.
Every time I return from vacation, I gain perspective and vow not to get sucked into this lifestyle when I return. Sometimes I succeed. If more of us took time out to relax and gain perspective, we would probably be much less stressed at work. I highly recommend giving it a try. If anything, you’ll be less stressed for a while. If it catches on, we might make the workplace a better place for all of us.