Experiencing the Joys of Vacation, and What is in it For You!

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“I can hear you smiling!” My VP laughed through the phone to me. It was my first day back from vacation last week, and I felt great. I was smiling, and I was eager to jump back into work. Energy and enthusiasm radiated from me. In my current role, I enjoy coming in to do my work every day, but coming back from a week in Ireland with my husband I was kinetic. A week spent exploring the entire country of Ireland left me feeling only physically exhausted and on an emotional high.

Passing through the countryside with the stone walls and fields filled with sheep, and into the towns with the Christmas decorations lighting up the quaint yet lively streets, we drove about 1,000 kilometers (or roughly 620 miles) on the left side of the road (okay, my husband did all the driving!). While we paid in Euros and snacked on Dairy Milk, we found the best seafood chowder (Cronin’s in Killarney) and best fish and chips (The Lemon Tree in Blarney, right across from the Castle). We discovered Galway Bay Brewery for the first time, that Guinness does taste different in Ireland (I found it slightly sweeter/less bitter), and that Jameson’s Irish whiskey triple distillation is what makes a difference in the flavor. The Cliffs of Moher are more majestic than any photo or video can document – the colors are more vivid, the wind is fresh in feel and smell, and the mist makes it an iconic Irish experience. Dublin reminded us of Boston at home, but much more old worldly in all of the best ways. Each night we were drained from our adventures, but we slept well and woke up refreshed and with anticipation of what fun was to come that day. We fit a lot into a small time frame, and will definitely be back.

Upon return, I didn’t expect this feeling of relaxation. In my entire career, I had only taken two other week-long-plus vacations – one to Cape Cod where I felt like I had to check in everyday via email, and the other was my honeymoon to Costa Rica. The first versus the last two was a drastically different experience. I was stressed, even as I was at the beach and feeling the ocean breeze. The emails I read through in the morning kept piling up and stayed in my mind as a reminder of all that I was missing and how far behind I would be when I came back. For Costa Rica and Ireland, I changed my behavior and was happy to have the support from work to truly separate.

If you have the means to travel, by all mean, get out and get away. Explore a different corner of your country or the world. If travel funds are tight or non-existent, try new corners of your town or a short drive to one you haven’t been to. Growing up, my dad and grandfather would pack my siblings and I into the car and take us out on adventures. It might have been the Quabbin Reservoir, touring a college campus, a free sporting event, a shopping trip to BJ’s, or visits to family in neighboring towns, and not only was it a chance to give my mom some “me time” after dealing with three wild children the whole week, but we all learned more about where we were from. The connections you make with people are even more important than the connections you make with the new places you visit. Take a friend or cousin or parent with you. Build stronger bonds, whether it is your hometown or a new town. Feeling connected with the ones you love makes you ready and more engaged for when you reconnect with work.

Being that ready and engaged meant eliminating work stress and creating a feeling of being refreshed. A successful vacation is one where you are relaxed and fulfilled. This takes intentional action, and there are some practices that can help make a difference.

  1. Completely ignoring work email – truly being out of office! Take the app off your phone if that helps you stay true.
  2. Setting up contacts for while I was out – this allowed work to continue in my absence since someone else could answer any questions.
  3. Plan activities that help you separate from what is normal – outdoors, dancing, at the beach, or the mountains. Use a different part of your brain.
  4. Get out and explore. Maybe you don’t plan every moment, but go on a journey (a walk across town, or a flight across the world) that not only separates, but opens your eyes to wonder and possibility.
  5. Connect with people you care about. I spent time with my husband, maybe you want to see your parents or an old college roommate or your best group of girl friends.

You might have heard the benefits of taking a vacation, and they bear repeating. Do not ignore these – take them to heart!

  1. Stress reduction
  2. Increased productivity
  3. Intentional connection with loved ones
  4. Feeling Happier

With the holidays and New Year upon us, the end of the year is a great time to use your vacation time. Here are some reasons why:

  1. Your vacation may not carry over until the next year.
  2. Your personal life is busy, and you need time to get all of the personal things done
  3. You need a mental health day, either just because, or because you’re hosting the whole family
  4. Your spouse or kids or friends or nieces/nephews are off of school for the week and it would be great to spend time with them
  5. Take time to reflect heading into the new year – set goals and decide where you want to take yourself moving forward
  6. You’ve worked hard and flat out deserve a break!
  7. Seemingly everyone is taking time off, so no one is answering their phones or emails, preventing you from making much progress.

Take time for you. Your work, your loved ones, and especially YOU will be better off for it. I highly recommend going to Ireland if you are interested and have the time and funds because it was majestic and pictures don’t do the experience justice. Go live life. The work will be there when you return. Take your vacation, and take all of it!

Why Now is the Time to Reflect: 3 Questions To Improve Your Mindset

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Thanksgiving is a good time to get our emotional mindset in check to finish out the year strong. “The Holidays” are a challenging time because of formal and informal commitments, the amount of money typically spent or not had in hand, stressful interactions with family, and seasonal affective disorder due to less sun and the bitter cold in many parts of the country.

With craziness swirling all around us, now becomes a great time to take a moment and reflect about where we are and how we feel. With five more weeks in the year, for many of us in the working world, it gives an opportunity to finish strong and leave a good impression as annual performance reviews approach. As a former athlete, the importance of finishing strong and competing until the whistle blew or buzzer sounded was a big theme to remain competitive and avoid let downs. It’s where the best separate themselves, or a lack of effort becomes apparent.

If you need a little inspiration for your reflections, try the three self reflections below. Whether you are in the positive or negative on these, your reaction to the question will tell you a lot about how you feel. You’ll feel a change within you immediately – and recognize if you need to make a change. Be truly honest with yourself – no one is judging you, and if you commit to bettering yourself and follow through on the execution of where you want to be, that is what matters more than the past.

Have you been giving your best effort? If you have been slacking, it is easy to get off track. Maybe it is due to burnout and overwhelm, or maybe you aren’t doing what you love. Think about how much energy you’ve been applying, and if it is the right kind of energy. Energy management will be important to effort. What is the best time for you to work? Maybe you can make a schedule adjustment to help with focus and productivity, to work smarter instead of longer. If things haven’t been going well, maybe think about why you haven’t been giving the best effort. What is your motivation, or lack of it? Find ways that you can incentivize yourself for little successes. Sometimes, giving your best effort doesn’t even get you to full success or happiness.  Even despite the best efforts, you may be in a bad situation or poor fit . My husband is a dedicated researcher working to cure cancer, and a recent job wasn’t the right fit. Even though the best effort went into everyday, the desired results weren’t being achieved, and it created stress instead of happiness. Finding a new role that better capitalized on his talents and knowledge has led to dissipation of stress and more eagerness to go into work everyday!

Are you doing the right things for the right reasons? Taking action is paramount. How you take the action is equally important. Reflect with this question about whether you are being true to you and your inspirations. This question backs up the question above about giving best efforts. If your focus is inspired, it is easier to give your all to whatever purpose you choose. This question explores the essence of what is most important to you. You’re unlikely to be motivated to give it your all to something in conflict with your values or doesn’t bring you joy. Are there causes close to your heart? A type of work that utilizes your skills and talents to the full extent? Thinking about this, maybe by exploring your Myers Briggs type or other personality test results, can help you be happier and work in a more satisfying way. I used the Myers Briggs (MBTI) to help focus my skills and interests into a new career in real estate – I knew what I loved, but needed something to pull it all together cohesively to help make a career transition. Work is now rewarding and I feel more successful and that further success is achievable and worthwhile.

Are you waiting for life to happen to you? If you sit back and accept, rather than adventure out to seek and give, you won’t get what you want. Sure, life is no guarantee, but you’re stuck with whatever is on the menu instead of making your own way. Making your own path can be a key to happiness. When you take control of what is possible to control, whether at work or home or personal relationships, happiness increases. The important key to remember is to separate what you can and can’t control – think about the Serenity Prayer if you need extra motivation in separation! It is useful not just for sacred purposes but also secular. Whenever I think about it, I feel calm come back into my life because of its reminder to let go what I can’t control. When I was growing up and even through college, I sat back and waited for people to call me with plans for time with friends. I often felt lonely and left out, but I discovered it was my own fault when I started taking more initiative to call and text and create plans and make invitations.  The happiness in and around me grew, and I always had something and was with someone fun to pass the time. Take the first step always, even if it becomes an imperfect balance. Not only are you increasing your own happiness, but you are positively affecting others also. Following on to the story about my husband above, achieving happiness at work was dependent on him taking initiative to, first, try to problem solve and, second, find a new job. A job was not going to fall into his lap – it was a result of thoughtful action and continued follow up.

You don’t have to be thankful for everything, but do take the time to appreciate your efforts in all areas of your life. Think about the good around you, whether it is people, a job, a home, or anything big or small! Life is in your hands, and the more you take control of what you can control (and let be what you can’t control), the more you have to be grateful and thankful for. If you find yourself struggling to be thankful, the above questions can help you identify how you can help yourself to reset the mindset to finish the year strong.

What was your reaction to the three questions above? Were you answers what you thought the might be?

Happy Thanksgiving! Thankful for you reading, and hope you will comment and share!


Making In Game Adjustments and Why This is Important in Life and Career

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As a former three sport high school and varsity (DIII) collegiate athlete, I learned many lessons that transcended the field or court or track. The importance of dedication to your craft, that practice can make near perfect, victory favors the prepared, sleep and proper eating fuel performance, and that sometimes you need to make adjustments in game to stay on track to achieve the desired results (a win!).

Recently at work I hit a point of information overload – there was too much coming in and not enough time in the moment to react. There were a million thoughts rushing through my head – tasks I owed to some person at some point at some degree of importance. It was more than my to do list could handle, so I pulled my best Tom Brady and called an audible on one of my favorite and most helpful practices:

I abandoned my trusty to do list for a few days.

What!? Trust me, it was the right choice. And within 48 hours I was back to a routine with my to do list system that works for me. In the interim, I needed to get everything out of my head and onto paper so that I could focus on getting the tasks done. One of the 3M Post-It claims to fame is that, according to 3M, writing down your goals makes ou 42% more likely to achieve them. And yes, I did use some variations of post it note colors to make a rainbow of organization on my desk. I had three different colors of sticky pads, each correlated to a different project. For my blue project, I broke out into about eight different categories so I could see more easily where I could bulk items together. Had I put everything down on one sticky, or several without the organization, I would have been confused and lost about where I needed to start, just with a list with a million items instead of a million thoughts racing through my mind.

I used to be a rigid person, and it pained me, my relationships, my effectiveness, and my performance. Learning to be more flexible and make adjustments as I go has been a huge boon to not only professional aspects of my life, but my happiness in all areas.

The important thing to remember when making adjustments as you go is to look at changing methodology, not the goal. The goal should change only if it is no longer important or exciting or impactful to your life. As an example, when I was an engineer I had a goal of gaining the experience to apply and sit for the Professional Engineer (P.E.) exam so I could earn my license in Civil Engineering.  As my career goals changed away from designing towards being on the “owner’s side of the table”, I realized that a license wasn’t necessary to achieve my goals. If I wanted to work in the public realm, a P.E. license was going to be important, but not to the same degree in the private sector and not designing, where I wanted to be. In this instance, changing the goal made sense. Achieving the P.E. would still be an incredible career accomplishment, but it wasn’t a requirement to get to the places I wanted to go. My previous example in this post about going away temporarily from my to do list is a case where changing methodology is okay – but it doesn’t change my goals to redevelop multi-family apartment communities.

When I was learning about lean construction a few years back, one of the concepts that stuck with me was the importance of asking “why”, not just once, but at a minimum of five times. Asking “why?” is incredibly powerful and has the ability to help you focus on the true meaning of your motivations and actions. Simon Sinek wrote an enlightening book, Start with Why, that focuses on the importance of that one word question and explains all of the impacts that answering that question can have on personal goals and even corporate success, and everything in between. I’d recommend this book (not sponsored) if you are curious about changing your world and the world around you. This concept of “why” helps define when you are thinking about changing a goal or changing your methodology to reach that goal. If you can dig down into why you have your goal, is it still in alignment with what your overall plans and hopes and dreams are? Or is it getting hard to get there?

If your goal is truly something you want, make your “in-game” adjustments. If you determine that your life’s direction doesn’t jive with the goals you had set weeks, months, or years ago, set new goals with new ways to get there. A few weeks ago I finished reading Charles Duhigg’s book Smarter, Faster, Better (not sponsored) and there is a section on goal setting that I found fascinating. It explores how years ago at GE, the practice of setting goals was holding the company back, even though they were the best in the world at setting and meeting goals. With some help, they developed a hybrid approach of combining the easy and the impossible and it revolutionized the business to achieve even greater success. The key was to blend SMART goals with reach goals, and not pursue one or the other alone.

There are certain goals I know I have and have to constantly re-commit and adjust my approach – having a healthy lifestyle and losing weight, for example. This takes habit development, of which I am always re-setting and working on, commitment, and dedication. I can’t be perfect everyday, but the ability to have the freedom to do any physical activity I choose is a goal is something that keeps me going. Maybe calorie counting works some days, maybe intuitive eating is better on days I’ve got plenty of vegetables and fruits in front of me. Other goals, like the one I used to have about being a PE, are no longer relevant and getting rid of them created opportunity to pursue new goals, like more writing or making efforts to have a greater understanding of the financial fundamentals that drive the decisions made every day at work.

Knowing when to make the adjustment is a major skill, and unfortunately it takes both time and failure to hone it. Some failures may be minor, and even fewer will be catastrophic (depending what you are doing), but failure always provides an opportunity to learn. If something is truly important to you, you know that you can find a way to make it happen. Try adjusting your approach instead of giving up to see what happens. It may take a few different iterations, but keep exploring your whys and making the tweaks big and small to make it happen.

What goals do you keep and adjust your approach? How do you evaluate your why in deciding what it is you will pursue? I look forward to hearing from you in the comments!