It seemed apt while here on holiday in the beautiful island of Bali that I reflect on this question. I’ve met many people who barely take a holiday, let alone more holidays. The main reason for this is they seem far more focused on doing, rather than thinking.
For me, a holiday is about spending quality time with my wife, to visit wonderful places and soak up different cultures, to rest and recharge, and to think. In those quiet moments throughout the day, you can let your mind wander, learning from the past, exploring the present and planning for the future. Holidays are great learning experiences for me, not only because of where I travel and what I experience but also, since the invention of the e-reader, an opportunity to delve into many different books.
So, every year, around December, my wife, Les, and I discuss our plans for the coming year. Once agreed, Les moves into ‘travel agent’ mode and sets about finding us the best, quickest, often the cheapest and most fascinating options to meet our needs. She is superb at this and usually requires only minimal input from me, for which I remain indebted.
Our pattern is usually a couple of large blocks of time supplemented by two or more odd breaks, often across a long weekend. As I write this post we are mid-way through our first of three weeks in Bali. Later in the summer, we are heading to Thailand for five weeks. Both places hold special meaning to us besides being fabulous holiday destinations. In particular, Bali feels like our spiritual home and is a place where we can reconnect with our inner selves. Thailand too has something of that nature. Both allow us to enjoy peace and tranquillity, a time to stop, reflect and relax.
Each holiday is, however, a new adventure, and we always try to do new things too. We like to see new places, meet new people and try new things. So, for example, this holiday Les is going to try scuba-diving. I’m not as I hate to get my hair wet! The truth is I’m not water-confident and would be happier scaling mountains. The thing is we both get to do what we want to do. Equally, we share a lot of time together.
We agreed on this pattern when I first went freelance in 2003. It became quickly evident that not blocking out time would mean I did nothing but work. I was in demand and could have worked all year. Fortunately, we both know that balance is needed. Quality time together is not optional. Most interestingly, work is no longer the central focus of my life, not any more.
However, I still see too many people who behave as if it is. They forego their holidays for the sake of the job. They indulge in ‘hamster-wheel’ activity, a kind of purposeless activity that is mostly about doing and little about thinking, let alone taking out time to think. Recent research by the Chartered Management Institute identified that 35% of managers failed to use their annual leave allocation. They typically work an additional five hours the week before they take a holiday. Over 57% of managers check work email at least once a week while on holiday. In the digital age, with increasing levels of connectivity, this is only likely to become more prevalent.
I behaved like this for too many years. It would take me two or three days to unwind at the start of my holiday. Two or three days before the end of the holiday I’d start moving back into work mode. Two weeks holiday collapsed into seven or eight relaxing days if I was lucky. I found that my first year as a Head of Service in Sunderland. I went back into the daily cut and thrust and felt I’d had no break.
To disrupt this pattern of behaviour required a new approach. I deserved time to unwind, rest, relax and gain a fresh perspective. With my wife, family, friends or complete strangers, it’s my choice.
I believe you deserve the same. So I urge you to take that opportunity, whenever and as often as you can.
What do you think? How might you improve on this aspect of your life? What help can I give you to restore balance to your life?