Last year at this time I asked the question, are you a workaholic or just healthily immersed in meaningful work? I wrote that article from the roof-top bar of my hotel in Malaga, Spain, while on one of my working vacations. It’s a year later and I’m again writing from Spain and loving how I’m able to work on “vacation.”
We travel, some of us, forever, to seek other states, other lives, other souls -Anaïs Nin. (Shutterstock/g-StockStudio)
a bad day on the beach
Twenty years ago, I went on my first beach vacation. I was working in London and Joanna and I took a 5-day trip to Nerja, Spain. The water was warm, the sky was clear, and I hated it. I remember leaning back on my beach towel, looking at the sparkling blue sea and thinking, why can’t I just relax, get into that vacation mode everyone talks about and forget about work? Now, twenty years later, and about an hour from now, I’ll be relaxing on that same beach. But this time I’ll be enjoying the beach and enjoying thinking about work instead of wishing I could forget about it. Why have I changed?
no matter where you go, there you are
In his book, The Art of Travel, Alain De Botton examines how we are conditioned to travel for pleasure. We are programmed by all those socializing forces, the media and our families and friends, to want a certain vacation experience. But De Botton also shows us that the vacation experience we seek is seldom the experience we have. Why? Because we are the same person whether on vacation, at work, or at home with our intimate partners. Ever notice how many couples tend to quarrel just as much, if not more, on vacations? It’s not that vacations bring out the worst in people, it’s that most vacations can’t completely distract us from the reality of our lives. An unhappy couple will likely be unhappy on vacation. The same goes for our dissatisfaction with our working lives.
dissatisfying work can ruin vacations
Studies have shown that dissatisfaction with our working lives is one of the primary causes of dissatisfaction with life itself. Many people who are unhappy with their jobs are unable to enjoy many aspects of their lives outside of work. Some people who are unhappy with their jobs are unhappy on vacation, but what is more common is that these people only enjoy a short, middle portion of their vacations. How many times have you heard someone say, “By the time I got into vacation mode, I only had a few days before I started dreading going back to work.” If that’s not the perfect description of a dissatisfying working life ruining a vacation, I don’t know what is.
no more vacations
In the past, vacations had been a way for me to escape my dissatisfying working life. I would try to forget about my work by immersing myself in a new culture or new adventure. But now, because I’m immersed in work that is deeply meaningful to me, I call my trips travel instead of vacation. These trips also seem more purposeful and fulfilling. When I travel, I schedule meetings around leisure activities, I write, I carry-on with all the administration and management required of a small business, and I seek out opportunities to talk with people about their working lives. I feel less like a tourist and more like a visitor with a purpose. I feel more connected to the people and the places. I tend to work much less when I travel than when I’m at home, but my work now gives me a break from the occasional intensity of travel.
own your balance
Just like me, you don’t need to explain or justify how you travel or vacation to anyone. If you need a break from the intensity of your job or organization, then take one. If you’re expected to be available while on vacation, but you’d rather disconnect, then perhaps it’s time to find another job or have one of those difficult conversations with your team or boss. But, if you want to sit in a quiet hotel room and work, then find time to do it. If you’re travelling with people who care about you, they will accommodate you—just like you will accommodate their desire to visit the local attractions. The world is full of advice on work-life balance, but you get to decide what the right balance is for you. Find it and own it.
A bumper sticker from my climbing days when I would seek intense adventure to distract myself from my dissatisfying working life. No more nightmare vacations for me. (Photograph by Tom Morin)
I couldn’t enjoy the beach until I loved my job
It was only after I began creating the working life that was right for me that I really started to enjoy my time away from work. Today at the beach, I’ll be listening to the crashing waves, watching children build sand castles, and feeling my body melt in the sun right before I run into the cool, blue Mediterranean Sea. I’ll also think about work and probably come up with ways to improve this article, add to the outline of my next book, and ways to excite the audience at my next speaking engagement. I’ll think about lunch, too.