He’s a doer. A type A kind of guy. He took a family vacation that changed his life when he decided to let go.
I’m a doer. Type A. Get things done. Dream a dream and make it happen. That’s all me. I like to be in motion. Solving problems, creating some beautiful new thing.
When I get time off from work, I have this tendency to fill the time with some other kind of enjoyable busyness. Well, maybe I’m getting old, or maybe the therapy is finally kicking in, I’m not sure, but this summer it was different.
This summer I did vacations in a different way than I ever have before. Unexpectedly, I learned a few things about myself that are going to change how I do time off forever.
Lesson 1: I’m not the one who keeps the universe on the rails.
For most of us, summer is a time we cram in some family vacation time and try to “get off the grid.” But in this increasingly connected world, vacation has changed. We go away, but work often comes too. If we can work remotely in coffee shops, then we can work remotely on vacation, right?
That’s what I’ve always done, sneaking away a few moments here or there, maybe before the kids woke up, to answer a few emails or work on my strategy for that next thing. Well, this year I cut the cord. Prior to leaving on a family trip, I did something different.
I buttoned up the work that I could for my various roles. Then I emailed all the people who might need to connect with me — those I’m accountable to, my direct reports, other key players. I gave them whatever resources I could. I shared phone numbers of others that could help them. But then I wrote a sentence that was scary to me. I told them that as of a certain day at a certain time, I would not be available *at all.* I would not be taking calls, checking voicemail, responding to texts, reading posts on social media. Nothing. I gave them the day and time I would be back and wished them well.
When I returned, I re-connected with all my people and, guess what? Nothing burned down while I was away. Responsible people handled their responsibilities. Irresponsible people didn’t—but that’s no different than when I’m available. Problems got solved without me. Great decisions were made without my input.
Lesson learned: I love being able to contribute in my various roles, but I’m not the person that makes everything happen. When I act like I am, I create unnecessary stress for myself and teach the people around me that I don’t trust them. This is how I’ll do vacations going forward. When I’m gone, I’m gone. The world will be fine, and I’ll be better for it.
Lesson 2: My brain isn’t wired for constant connectivity.
When we dropped off our daughter for a week of sleep-away camp, the first thing I noticed was that the cabins didn’t have electricity. When we spent two nights camping at a family adventure camp, I chuckled to myself when I overheard a family moving into the yurt next to ours.
I heard the gravelly voice of a teenage boy say, “Mom, where are the outlets?” Mom answered, “Oh, there are none.” The boy’s response? “Whaaaaaat?!” It was part question, part primal scream.
We are increasingly used to life connected. Our smart devices reach out to the internet to bring us links, posts, pictures, games, communication with people we are not with—pings of every kind. We’ve become so used to this stimulation that when we don’t have it, we gasp like something vital, something life-giving is missing.
This sense of connection allows us to keep our fingers in many pots. We don’t ever quite let go of work. We don’t ever settle into a full sense of presence where we are. We don’t fully commit to being with the people right in front of us.
As a part of disconnecting from work, I took a new step, something I’ve not done since I first had a smartphone or even a cell phone. After sending out my “See ya later” email, I turned off *every single notification* on my phone. Every single one. I even turned off the notifications for texts and phone calls! (I know, I could have just turned my phone off, but I was using it to take pictures and listen to audio books.) When I was turning off all the notifications, it was physically painful. It felt irresponsible. It felt like I would be abandoning people. It pushed all kinds of buttons in my heart about my value.
One morning on a week-long camping trip, I was sitting in a camp chair early in the morning, looking out on Hood River as the forest woke up. In this space of quiet and peace, I realized I hadn’t taken a call or text or message of any kind for four days. The feeling of peace I felt at that moment revealed something to me. Like a breeze of cool fresh air reveals just how stale and stagnant the air was before, I realized how much low-grade stress and anxiety I had been carrying around from the obligation of continual availability.
When I got my first cell phone nearly 20 years ago, it was a convenience for me. It enabled me to do my work more conveniently. But somewhere in those 20 years, my cell phone switched masters. Instead of serving me, it became a servant of everyone else out there. Instead of being a convenience for me, it became a convenience for everyone and everything out there that want my attention. This summer, I experimented with taking back control of this tool in my life.
Lesson Learned: Constant availability creates a fog of stress for my mind that isn’t best for me. I’m going to create intentional times when I am simply not available, and I’m not going to apologize for it. I’ll be more creative. I’ll be more present to the people I’m with. This will include certain windows daily and weekly, as well as focused family and friend time.
Lesson 3: Not every vacation has the same restorative potential for me.
I’ve done all kinds of different vacations in my life. I’m beginning to learn that my mind and heart respond differently to different kinds of time away. Two trips this summer provided a clear picture.
One was a two-night stay at a “family adventure camp.” We camped in a yurt and had access to a pile of fun activities: a zip line, a rock wall, high and low ropes courses, a tomahawk throwing range, a disc golf course, and as much paintball as we could handle.
It was convenient to have so many great activities for the kids all in one place, but it was work for me. It was a constant schedule of busyness. We had fun, but it was not restful for my mind or heart.
The other trip was my first overnight motorcycle trip. My wife rode with me, and we were with three other couples on three other bikes. In four days, we covered 680 miles and saw some of the most beautiful things Oregon has to offer. While riding requires focus and careful attention, it was the most restful vacation I’ve ever had.
The difference? Well, I’m an introvert. To recharge, I need time to think, time to mull, time to hear my own thoughts. The motorcycle trip was perfect. We had time to interact with great friends at meals and road breaks, but then there were wonderful long stretches inside my helmet with nothing but my thoughts, or my prayers, or my music. Even though it was with other people, and riding is physically strenuous, it created space for my heart to rest.
Lesson Learned: I may do some vacations that are specifically “for the kids,” but I need to make sure to plan time away that is actually re-charging for me as well.
You aren’t me. Your intentional life is going to look different than mine does. But these three lessons I learned this summer may prompt you to consider your situation.
Do you have regular opportunities to step away from the obligation of constant availability?
Is your smartphone meant to serve you or to serve others? Do you have regular times when you can set it aside and simply be unavailable?
Have you considered what kind of vacation is the most restful and life-giving for you? Do you regularly schedule some kind of get-away that creates space for deep restfulness — the kind that allows you to be more creative, more present, and more productive when you return?
Photo: Flickr/ T-Bone Sandwich