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Why A Vacation Won’t Solve Your Problems At Work (A Candid Reflection)

Why A Vacation Won’t Solve Your Problems At Work (A Candid Reflection)

I’m a big believer in practicing what I preach.

Up until recently, I openly admit that I wasn’t living up to my own preaching in one specific area: vacation.

Readers of my newsletter, Thinker, know that the US workforce leaves an unbelievable amount of vacation time on the table every year (though evidence suggests that vacationing makes employees both happier and more successful).

I was no exception to the rule, which is precisely why my wife, Katelyn, and I decided to take a full two weeks off — totally disconnected — to travel across the beautiful mountains of Italy and Switzerland.

What follows is a candid reflection on what I learned about myself and about work in the process and why vacations might not be the answer you’re looking for.

The Importance of Fully Disconnecting

Over the years I’ve become a pro at the workation.

What’s a workation?

A workation is when you take a vacation, but you bring your work with you in the form of email, Slack, and the several other ways we stay connected to our jobs.

Whether it’s for a week or two, or just an extended weekend, workations have allowed me to travel the world while relieving the guilt and anxiety that often comes along with taking a real, fully-disconnected vacation.

Brian with the locals in Switzerland

Check an email here, respond to a message there… what’s the big deal?

My first (and most important) learning is that you won’t truly feel the positive effects of vacation unless you fully disconnect.

It sounds silly saying this out loud, but the hardest thing to admit before going on vacation is that, unless you’re the CEO or founder, your company and colleagues will get along just fine without you.

Say it with me: The world will go on without me and that’s alright!

We all bring unique skills and assets to our employers, it’s why they hired us in the first place! But two weeks away from your job will not discredit your past achievements, value, and/or worth to your company.

The tasks that you think need to be done today, can wait. The emails can wait. The Slack messages can wait.

What matters is that you take some time for yourself. Fully disconnecting from your work will allow you to relax in a way that you can’t imagine unless you experience it. It’s a strange feeling having absolutely no cares in the world… have you ever tried it?

Plus, you’ll be surprised what you learn about yourself in the process.

You Might Not Find What You’re Looking For

One of the biggest misconceptions about vacationing is that you’re supposed to come back with some big, life-changing revelation or a brand new perspective on the meaning of life and work.

That’s simply not true (and highly unlikely).

Yes, taking a vacation can provide you with a renewed sense of purpose. Vacations might also help to remind you of what’s important in your life and things that you likely take for granted.

The Famous Switzerland Bridge

A delicious cup of coffee, for example, is something I take for granted.

I also take for granted the ability to eat dozens of different types of incredible cuisines by simply walking down the street (and salads).

And living close to friends and family.

But you won’t come back from vacation knowing what you want to do for the rest of your life. Or with the next great product idea. Or with dozens of dazzling new projects to explore when you return to the office.

There’s an inherent danger in using vacation for the latter — as inspiration for your work.

Vacation is personal. I believe it’s better and more effective to use vacation to discover who you are outside of work, rather than to use vacation as a tool to shape who you are at work.

If you’re thinking about work the whole time, how are you truly supposed to experience the sights, sounds, smells, and people around you?

Vacation Won’t Solve Deep-Seeded Issues at Work

A lot of people I’ve talked to in the SaaS/tech industry use vacation as a way to relieve burnout.

Work 10–12 hours a day for six months and then take a vacation. Repeat.

Or worse, they take a vacation as a means to escape a job that they’ve fell out of love with.

The problem with this approach is that it’s only a temporary solution.

Sure, you’ll likely feel energized and motivated when you return to work, only to experience the same nagging emotions of burnout or contempt a few short weeks later.

Brian in Swiss wine country

Should you still take vacation in these situations? Absolutely!

However, if the symptoms of burnout remain when you return or if you’re not enjoying your work like you once did, these issues are going to require more than a vacation to solve.

As I mentioned before, use vacation as a means to discover more about who you are personally.

What you learn in the moments away from work will help to shape your decisions at work in a healthier and more sustainable way.

For example, you might realize (like I did) that all of the pressure we put on ourselves to perform at a high level every single day is self-inflicted.

Yes, external factors affect our behaviors, but at the end of the day we control our own destiny. We alone have the power to determine what’s important to us, rather than measuring success based on what others have achieved.

At the very least, vacationing will help to make the path forward more clear.

Vacation is an Opportunity to Do More of What You Love

Vacation might mean one hundred different things to one hundred different people.

For some it’s drinking Mai Tais on the beach while watching the waves crash. For others it’s eating exotic food deep in the heart of Thailand with thousands of people, sights, and foreign smells.

For me, a vacation has little to do with relaxing. In fact, I’m mentally and physically occupied 90% of the time. I’d rather be trail running than sitting by the pool, hiking than lounging, reading than napping.

That’s what makes vacations beautiful and so rewarding. Don’t think you have to do nothing to reap the benefits of a vacation.

You’re making up for lost time doing the things you love, but can’t because you’re hard at work.

Trail running through Lauterbrunnen

It’s easy to forget that our work is not who we are — exploring your hobbies and passions outside of your 9-to-5 can make you feel like a kid again, even if only for a week or two.

Whatever you’re passionate about — reading, hiking, skiing, eating, drinking, speaking, flying, fishing — soak it up. You’ll look back on these wonderful times one day and wish that you only had time for more.

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in you sail. Explore. Dream. Discover.” – Mark Twain

Why Learning is My Only Career Plan

Why Learning is My Only Career Plan

Current résumé:

  • Insurance salesman (2012–2014)
  • Marketing assistant (2014)
  • Social media manager (2014–2016)
  • Digital marketing strategist (2016–present)
  • Strategic partnerships manager (2018-present)

I’m 29 years old, six years out of college, have worked for (still do) some awesome brands, and yet the fact remains, I have no idea where I want my career to take me (or what my career plan is).

None.

What I do know is that whatever career plan I choose to pursue, I’m going to make constant learning a priority.

Comfort is Growth’s Biggest Rival

As Calvin Coolidge once said, “All growth depends upon activity. There is no development physically or intellectually without effort, and effort means work.”

Over the past few years, I began to realize that if I wanted something in life that I don’t currently have (job, health, financials, relationships, etc.) then I would have to do something that I’ve have never done before. And that something would most likely make me uncomfortable.

Let’s take skydiving, for example.

Sure, half of the fun is free falling 12,000 feet to earth with only a parachute and a random stranger strapped to your back. The other half, however, is the journey to that point. The fear, the planning, the anticipation, the immediate regret, and the excitement. Until the day finally comes when you do something you never imagined possible.

How to Create a Career Plan GIF

As Thomas Oppong discussed in his article on growth, “comfort zones are most often expanded through discomfort. Discomfort is a catalyst for growth.”

It makes you yearn for something more. It forces you to change, stretch, and adapt. And while being comfortable is easy, it’s also boring and un-motivating.

In order to grow personally and professionally (or simply want to get more out of life) I needed to get uncomfortable.

The Most Effective Way to Learn

No matter what point you’re at in your career, it’s never too late to start learning new skills.

For me, the quickest and most effective way to learning something new is to dive right it — no questions asked. I could read 20 blog posts about starting a podcast, spend 10 hours researching the optimal podcast topic, and talk to 5 podcasters… or, I could just start a podcast.

The same holds true for many other career disciplines such as marketing, sales, or computer programming.

Ask most engineers and they’ll tell you that their education was an important part of developing their knowledge base, but most of what they know about computer science today is from doing.

However, I don’t want to take away from how important reading and researching can be as part of the learning and growth process. In fact, Warren Buffet is said to have spent 80% of his career simply reading and thinking (by his own account).

It’s what Michael Simmons calls, Compound Time. “Like compound interest, a small investment now yields surprisingly large returns over time.”

How to Learn Using Compound Time

But often the biggest missing piece between reading and skill development is that we fail to actively apply what is learned in books to real-world situations.

Knowledge becomes expertise with repeated practice, constant experimentation, and inevitable failure.

“In my whole life, I have known no wise people (over a broad subject matter area) who didn’t read all the time. None. Zero.” — Charlie Munger

Read. Apply. Read. Apply. Repeat.

It’s OK Not to Have a Career Plan

If you’re anything like me, there are going to be times in your career when you feel like you’re in a rut.

My suggestion to you during these times is to seek out a challenge.

Push yourself intellectually. Find what’s hard. Pursue a course that will test your imaginary boundaries.

Science shows that mentally challenging yourself makes a huge impact on your brain and health by creating dense new networks of cell connections.

Recently, I had the pleasure of attending my sister’s MBA graduation ceremony from The University of Chicago Booth School of Business (a top 5 MBA program in the nation). Needless to say, there were lots of folks there smarter than I.

One commencement speech really stuck with me.

The speech was from Booth alumnus, Richard Wallman, who had recently donated to the university — an amount that was in the tens-of-millions. $75 million to be exact. Here’s what he had to say:

“Choose a job not for how much you’ll earn or the status that you’ll gain. Choose a job for how much you’ll learn.” – Richard Wallman

If you allow yourself to pursue a career plan full of learning, then opportunities and money will naturally follow.

The way you make yourself indispensable and the way that you create value for the brands you work for is through knowledge and experience.

You can’t have either if you don’t make learning a priority.

Before you go…

If you enjoyed this post, you’ll love my newsletter called Thinker. Thinker is all about stuff that gets you, well, thinking. Join 500+ readers to receive one email every Friday morning that you’ll love (it might even make you uncomfortable!)