A couple of years ago, I had a huge problem.
I got to the final quarter of the year when I realized that I had only taken two days of vacation and I literally couldn’t use my time off before I lost it.
I found a way to take one week off and just sat at home, doing next to nothing. But, that week, I realized that I had become a statistic. According to one study, I was one of 54% of Americans who didn’t use all of their vacation time (although there are some signs of this number improving).
Stepping Away, Slowing Down, Leaping Forward
During that week at home, I committed to using all of my vacation days the following year and only transfer what I could for a big anniversary trip with my wife the next summer.
One of the gifts of this extended time away has been a different perspective, which has led me to make important changes as a leader. Best-selling author, Mark Batterson, has a mantra that goes like this – “change of pace + change of place = change of perspective.”
To get to that new, better perspective, we have to step away and slow down.
While I can’t speak for all leaders, here are some reasons which keep us from stepping away.
- Lack of Trust. “I don’t trust the people in the room to do the right thing if I’m not there.”
- Control. “I’d have to give power away to really step away.”
- Inadequate Identity. “I don’t know who I am outside of my work.”
- Insecurity. “What if things go on and I’m not as needed as I think I am?”
- Fear of the Quiet. “I’m afraid of what I’d hear if my life weren’t so noisy.”
- Work-Life Imbalance. “I’ve neglected my personal life for the sake of my career.”
- Work is Easier. “It sounds bad, but it feels easier to win at work than it does at home.”
Many of us avoid the reflection vacation often brings because it means having to face things we don’t want to face. While there’s value to consultants, coaches, books, and conferences, I think a lot of us have the answers we’re looking for already inside – we just need to unearth them. This is what Parker Palmer gets at in his book, Let Your Life Speak, when he says, “Before I can tell my life what I want to do with it, I must listen to my life telling me who I am.”
Why Our Best Leadership Lies on the Other Side of Vacation
So, when I went away on a recent vacation, I thought about questions like these:
- Where am I manufacturing energy?
- Where am I foggy on my vision?
- Where do I need to become a different kind of leader, husband, father, friend?
- What do I want? If I could design my life, starting from here, what would I draw?
The answers we have within us, which might actually come to the surface when the waters calm could lead to change. We might end up saying yes to some things and no to others. We might walk down a road we never imagined.
In fact, this article is one of my changes. This is my last piece for Thin Difference. I started writing for Thin Difference four years ago, and I’ve written about 50 pieces on leadership over that period. But, with some reflection during my recent time away, I realized it was time to end this season – to not keep adding more to my life, but acknowledge that saying yes in some places means saying no in others.
Like a lot of leaders, I have a hard time ending things, saying no, and letting go. The clarity needed to make those decisions rarely comes in chaos but often comes from quiet moments of rest. Beginnings and endings can be scary. Yet, leadership growth always requires a battle with our fear(s).
As Jack Canfield once said, “Everything you want is on the other side of fear.”
Stay brave, my friends!