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 Friends are Important to Our Careers

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This time last week, I was in Minnesota with three amazing friends for a weekend getaway. The day before we had re-united, exploring Minneapolis at the sculpture park and watching the magnificence of the Mississippi River and the beauty of nature in the city alongside it. As overscheduled and overcommitted people, we try to catch up when we can, but with time differences, work travel, long days, and personal responsibilities, it is hard to get more than a few texts in even if two of us live twenty minutes away from each other.

Sunday night I returned home, exhausted from the weekend. It was a happy, punchy exhausted – tired from too many laughs, heart to hearts, and deep questions leading to thoughtful and even deeper conversations. My happiness bucket was filled in a way only time with amazing friends can do.  Getting away and focusing on each other and celebrating our friendship had long lasting effects this week, including decreased stress levels from remembering the funniest moments.

Monday morning back at work, despite a shorter night’s sleep than I would normally like to start the week, I noticed I was more focused than usual. I was buoyant, almost, able to face any challenge. I was ready to take on the day and whatever came my way. What a surprising reaction! But in all actuality, it isn’t. Friendship is critically important not only in our lives, but in a more focused way, also on our careers. From support to revelry and everything in between, friends are there for us. It may be next door, across town, a state away or across the country or world, but a phone call or text or email with a word of encouragement can be exactly what we need. And who knows what we need even just as well as we do than our friends?

There are two primary types of friends related to your career: life friends and work friends. Both types of these friends have benefits, but not one hundred percent with upside. I tend to find that life friends provide greater value and benefit than work friends. The expanse of topics you can cover is almost endless – you’re only limited by the amount of privacy you and your friends like to have in their lives. Conversations with my friends related to work open up topics I’d never think to broach with work friends, including pay equity, harassment, and ambition. The answers are honest and may come with advice from lessons learned the hard way.

The better opportunity than even having work friends goes straight back to mentorship and sponsorship. The benefits of these kind of relationships are all over the internet, so I won’t rehash them, but it is something you should pursue if the opportunity arises. Each of friends, mentors, and sponsors all bring office politics into play, but mentors and sponsors are the only way to truly rise above it. Unless you are friends at work with others who yield greater influence, it is likely that you need to recuse yourself from certain discussions or avoid taking sides so that

Sometimes I find that my “life friends” are my best career mentors, even as peers and in different industries. There are some truths and situations that are consistent no matter what you do for a career, from bad bosses to good bosses and finding new jobs to gunning for promotions. The politics may be different between organizations, but the talks I’ve had with my friends are comforting – I might be taking the best action I can, the gaffe was not as bad as I worked it up to be, or they struggled with the same thing and here is how this friend addressed it. They’ve also been a wake up call, that maybe I do need a change or to work harder or re-think my attitude. We’ve focused on the positive, dwelled on the negative, and always look for the opportunity in any situation for not only ourselves, but each other. Sometimes a friend is simply a listening ear – and this is less simple than you would think to be an engaged, active, supportive listener! In the past, a friend has been even more incredulous about a scenario than I was, and that is empowering to me to step up and take action or recognize worth or feelings.

Friends care about our feelings and well being, and look at us as a whole person and not just an employee. This makes a considerable difference as to what we can attain in our lives personally, and not just professionally. Whether it is seeking happiness or love or health, we sometimes need to remember that it isn’t all about work and that we are whole people. It takes someone to remind us to get a good night’s sleep, to hit the grocery store instead of another night of take out, find our zone in a favorite workout, and to go do something fun. When my friends have reminded me of these type of actions and self-respect, I feel cared for and begin to re-detect a need for “balance”, whatever balance means in that moment.

I’m thankful for my friends, no matter how often or not often enough I have to see them, and however we are able to communicate (or on many occasions… not communicate, unfortunately.) Knowing the love of a friend picks us up, and it can take a flight from BOS to MSP to remind us of how good life really is. Hearing a “thank you” or a laugh or a “love ya”, whether in real time or in our hearts, can carry us forward and remind us what is important in life and to us in all aspects of each of our lives, including goals and aspirations in all arenas. Friends provide support for our professional selves, or a break away from it. Be sure to cherish and cultivate your friendships, for it leads to happiness, confidence, and success if you let it.

Business Travel Battle: Planes vs. Trains Between Boston and New York

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It always seemed like a luxury that my dad got to stay in hotels and fly in planes all the time for work that included extensive travel.  It certainly made family vacations much cheaper with him earning hundreds of thousands of points over the years.

When I started my own travel for work, I had the opportunity to decide how to get to where I needed to be on Long Island several times each month.  Since I am a person who suffers from frequent exhaustion, I am, at my sister’s request, not one to take long car rides without accompaniment. Since my husband, friends, and family all have their own jobs, no one will come with me and I need to find another option. Flights and train rides between Boston and New York are the best options other than driving, plus you don’t have to deal with highway traffic, unpredictable accidents, and weather issues in the northeast. What you get instead is air traffic control tower issues, trains on the same track running behind schedule, delays due to weather in other cities, and runway construction.  But isn’t it amazing how we can lift up in the air or speed on miles of two metal “strips”? How did we live without trains and planes?!

I frequently get asked if I prefer one the train over the plane or vice versa. I usually hem and haw and think about how my most recent trip was before deciding to recommend one or the other. Now, instead, I’ll look at 10 key factors that go into my travel to thoroughly investigate which of the plan or train travel I truly prefer.

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Conclusion?

With a record of 5 wins, 2 losses, and 3 ties, the train is the winner in this unscientific survey that did attempt to be unbiased going in. Since I have already earned status with Amtrak and likely will hit Select Plus, I need an opportunity to use my points for fun! Hopefully this summer or fall my husband and I will ride down to Washington DC for a long weekend to explore our nation’s capital, including a meet up with my brother and sister in law from Baltimore. Of course, we will be on the Acela! Maybe I’ll hit up NYC for a fun weekend and stay somewhere outside Penn Station for once. There is a good chance I also hit status on JetBlue, and hopefully those points and status will pay off at a later date also. Work travel does have its benefits!