I’m not a travel agent, and I don’t work for an airline or cruise ship company. This article isn’t about where you should vacation, what places you should visit or what foods you should eat. For the important point I hope to make in the next few hundred words, those parts of our vacation matter very little.
As a business owner and leader and writer about personal and professional development and growth I am often asked about, and challenged by questions about vacations. Can we have a vacation if we are working? How connected (via our phones and email, etc.) can we or should we be on our vacation? While these are important questions, I’m only going to answer them indirectly.
Why? Because the advice I am about to give I believe answers a more important question and with those answers you will be able to make your personal decisions about the details of phones, laptops and more.
The question shouldn’t be “what can or should I do on my vacation?”, but “what does it mean to take a real vacation?” What follows are four criteria for a real vacation – regardless of who you are, the position you hold, the place you go or who you go with.
Consider these four criteria carefully, think about past vacations through this lens and put your next vacation through it as a preview. If you don’t like your answers, you have time to make adjustments to the choices you will make during that time away from work and your daily routine.
Was I mentally removed? If you spend most (all?) of your time thinking about work, wondering what is going on, concerned or worried about things at the office, you never really left. In order for a vacation to be a real vacation you need to mentally remove yourself. This is of course, a matter of degrees. Does this mean you can’t think globally or in a big picture about your work? Not at all! Sometimes the change of venue, routine and scenery will create breakthroughs and ideas! Be welcome to those without spending too much mental and emotional energy back at your desk. Can some people check their email twice a day and still “turn it off” the rest of the time? Perhaps. If that is you, fine. If you know that to be truly removed you must truly unplug, then you have your personal answer to this question.
Did I create a lasting memory? At the end of the vacation, do you have things, small or large, that you will remember forever? Are there things that will make you smile? Are there moments or places where you can return in your mind and recapture the magic and value of your vacation? To the degree this is true, you’ve had a real vacation!
Did I return refreshed and revived? One of the important things about a vacation, mentally and emotionally, is that we can recharge our batteries. Think about “refresh and revive” in four areas (physical, emotional, mental, spiritual), and do what you can to make all of them happen on your vacation. Your personal balance of reinvigoration in those four areas is up to you; but consider all of them!
Was I in a place or with people I love or enjoy? When you come back from vacation this is what most people ask: “where did you go?” This is an important part of your vacation puzzle, but it is highly personal and subjective. A week at the beach might be perfect for some, but other would prefer museums. Some prefer to be in a far flung locale, while others can have a true vacation 20 miles down the road. This criteria is important, too, and I share it last on the list for a reason — if the other three criteria are met, you are far down the road to a real vacation regardless of where you went and how big your budget was.
Some Final Thoughts for Leaders
What I have shared so far is important for all of us as individuals.
As a leader, you have a responsibility and opportunity at a higher level. Your responsibility to your team is to model these ideas. If you believe in the value of vacations, you must take them. You will want to communicate your values clearly and behave in ways that match your beliefs so that your team members don’t get mistaken perceptions. Your actions must match your expectations for others! When you live up to this standard, you have the opportunity to improve the energy and engagement of your team members, their physical and mental health and their quality of life.
Even if you don’t feel you need vacations in the same way you feel others do, unless you are modeling the behaviors, you are sending a loud and clear message to others about what you really expect of them.
Lead (and vacation) with your life, not just your words.