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Curbside Consult with Dr. Jayne 7/18/16

July 18, 2016 Dr. Jayne 6 Comments


I recently spent a week off the grid. I have to say that it was one of the best things I’ve done with my time this year. Six nights in a tent will definitely give one a new perspective on things, especially when you’re used to being connected 24×7.

Most of my work lately involves being barraged with a continuous stream of issues that my clients feel are critical, but that often turn out to be blips in the grand scheme of things. I spend a lot of time talking people out of high-stress situations and putting together plans to mitigate potential disasters. That kind of work takes its toll on you after a while, so I was looking forward to my trip.

During my week away, the biggest plans I had to put together revolved around keeping the area clean of bear-preferred smellables and helping newbie campers get through the week. While some of my colleagues elected to do some hard-core rock climbing, trail building, and even a trip to the summit of a neighboring peak, I spent a good chunk of time watching clouds reshape as they came around the mountain and listening to the aspens quaking in the breeze.

I hiked to a couple of overlooks and just sat, doing nothing, until I was done. There was no time-boxed agenda, no deliverables, and no follow-up meeting planned. I enjoyed responding to the question of, “What did you do today?” with, “Hiked over there, then sat, then came back.”

While sitting quiet and still, I had some wild turkeys come within feet of me, pronounce me uninteresting, and go on their way. That’s definitely something to think about for those of us in high-pressure jobs who are used to being in the thick of things. Guess what? The rest of the animal universe doesn’t care who we are, what we do, or how many deals we’re closed this quarter. Nor do they care about the number of email messages accumulating back home or the number of meetings we’re missing. And maybe for our own human sanity, it would be better if we stopped caring so much too.

For the first couple of days, we had a couple of people obsessively checking their phones and trying to get a signal, hiking here and there to see if they could pick something up. None of them were trying to catch up on anything truly critical like a sick family member. They generally just couldn’t disconnect from work enough to enjoy where they were and who they were with.

I’m fortunate to have coverage I can trust when I’m out, but it takes a lot of work to get ready to leave and there’s always a mountain of work waiting when I get back. Not everyone has that level of trust with their coverage, but still, most of us would be better off if we could get back to being able to put it aside at least for a short period while we are away.

Many of the clients I work with offer to call in to meetings when they are on vacation. They’re so afraid of missing something at work that they miss the point of getting away. I’ve been known to resend invites and drop those people off so that they don’t have an excuse to put their vacation on hold. There are rarely meetings that are truly critical enough to abandon your R&R. But it’s hard to make those determinations when you don’t have perspective on what happens outside your circle of work.

Over the past year, I’ve watched my friends be laid off, reorganized, repositioned, reclassified, and generally run through the corporate wringer. I don’t think any of them wishes they’d been more loyal to their employers or that they’d have attended more meetings while they were supposed to be on vacation. Most of them wish they had worked less and had better balance, because even their best efforts didn’t make a difference in how things ended up.

It’s increasingly rare for people to spend their entire careers with a single employer, or even with two or three. As corporations churn and our industry evolves, people are constantly forced to reassess where they stand and whether they still want to be doing what they’re doing in a year, or three years, or even in a month. Being away from civilization definitely helps with that introspection, especially if you’re willing to give yourself over to the moment and watch what is happening around you.

The place where we camped had been involved in a forest fire in 2013. Since the fire hopscotched across the property, it spared certain features while destroying others. Sitting under untouched pines and looking at devastation 20 yards away reminds you that life is truly unpredictable and that if we think we have everything under control, we’re kidding ourselves. Out of the ashes of the fire, new plants are coming that haven’t been seen in years due to the overgrowth of certain species that the fire took out. It’s gratifying to see the new growth and wonder what things will look like in a decade, or two, or three.

I can’t say that my entire week was stress free. This was my first time having to deal with bear precautions, and although I was confident in my preparations, I wasn’t sure the people camping in the tents next to me were as diligent with their own. I was also keeping an eye out for altitude sickness and trying not to get sunburned while also having fun. There was a brief interlude involving a camp-style cooking contest, but if that was the most major stressor I faced, I’m good with that. And as an aside, mixed berry cobbler cooked in cast iron over charcoal doesn’t need high-altitude modifications (although the sheer amount of butter used might just have made any baking problems irrelevant).

Although it’s good to be sleeping in an actual bed again, I miss having deer surprise me on the way to get water every morning. I also miss having hummingbirds buzz me while I contemplate the mysteries of the universe. It was a great trip. We didn’t have any wildlife problems and I might have even returned home with a cooking prize.

What’s your strategy for getting off the grid? Email me.

Email Dr. Jayne.

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Currently there are "6 comments" on this Article:

  1. I’ve tried off the grid and I hated it and not for the reasons you mention. The challenge for me is that I enjoy the work I do so much that it’s punishment to take it away from me, not a vacation. Spending some time checking on work is fun for me. I realize I’m unique since I started doing my job nights and weekends in my free time. Now my “hobby” is my job and so telling me to not do my hobby and take a vacation is not fun for me.

    That said, I do think there’s times to disconnect. I try to turn it off at 5 PM every day and spend time with my kids and family. That’s valuable and makes me better at what I do.

    Life’s a tough balance and the balance is even harder with kids 🙂

  2. When I was a CIO and I’d get panicked calls when I was out of the office or on vacation, I usually asked the caller, “What would you have done if you couldn’t reach me?”

    The answer was almost always reasonable and on point. It was a great lesson for both of us, one that reassured them I had their back and reminded me that, no, I shouldn’t regard myself as indispensable.

  3. I’ve been a parent for 20+ years for a gaggle of kids while juggling a 25+ year career in implementations. I am always off the grid when on vacation, no exception. Just how I can be present at my job when needed, and present at my most important job, mother, when I need to. My mantra to keep life in perspective is a Jackie O quote “If you bungle raising your children, I don’t think whatever else you do matters very much.” In 25+ I delivered all kids working up to last day, traveled as a consultant through month 7 of pregnancy…but when I’m on vacation and using up my benefit – end of story, I am unreachable. I have been through dozens of implementations and have never had issues, I’m 100% present and hard working as needed then. But “crisis management” is usual in HIT and I refuse to up the ante and take away from my family (see mantra above) for some made up “crisis”. Apologies if this seems harsh, but I think I have my priorities in line, managers are out of line. I do not check my email til walking into the office the day I return, not Sunday night. Takes a few hours to dust off cobwebs, but isn’t that what vacation is about? Maybe that’s why I’m best in a real crisis – I know how to get to root cause quickly and then determine crisis or not and act accordingly. They just have to hope that doesn’t happen when I’m on vacation 🙂 I’m glad Jayne has seen the light and continues to realize the value and how it actually improves one’s work, whether you have children or not is irrelevant.

  4. Great discussion on the role of work in our lives.

    My father had a saying that has stuck with me. “Take your hand out of a bucket of water. The dent that is left is how indispensable you are at your job.”

    Organizations are supremely adaptable to personnel changes. They are designed that way. You may very well be important, good at your job, unique even. Let’s imagine that you are the best in the world at your particular specialty. When you leave the workplace, someone else will do your job. They may do it better, different, or worse than you. It’s part of corporate life that the corporation continues even though the people do not.

    That said, for some of us our professional lives are interesting, fulfilling, and rewarding. I’m with John Lynne on that score. I want a career that adds to my life, not one that I have to do for money, resent, and have a poor attitude about.

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