Vacation can be a waste of time
For 2 years now, my wife has (lovingly) been on my back about taking some “real" time off and going on a trip. And as she said, not one of those fake vacations where I’m really just working from home.
So recently, she took matters into her own hands and started organizing a trip to Greece. I have to admit, I was torn. Greece is an awesome destination but I'm really having a blast working on our startup and we are finally gaining some traction in some difficult areas. It didn’t feel like it was time to pause.
So I didn’t really get involved in the planning. Rather, I focused on getting as much work done as possible before leaving.
Time flew and before I knew it we were there. Stepping off the plane, my first thought was something along the lines of "damn I'm not ready for this". I had not even taken the time to learn the basic "yes/no/thank you/beer". In fact for the first 3 days, my idiot brain defaulted to Spanish because it though "trip = Spanish". I must have said "gracias” and “si” at least 30 times, confusing my hosts and probably embarrassing my country - although I'm hoping they thought I was American (*wink* to my friends below the border).
Modern transportation realities don't help either. One moment you are in Montreal, then you are flying through the air and BAM! suddenly you are in a whole new part of the world. Because my wife had spent time imagining this moment, to her it must have felt like “yes, we are finally here! Lets enjoy the fruit of all this planning.”, while in my mind, it was more like “what the hell just happened?!”
I actually had to check Google Maps a few times in an effort to wrap my head around the concept.
On the second day, we went to see the Parthenon. As I'm standing next to this historical behemoth, all I can think about is… “crap… I'm not worthy of being here! I don't know enough stuff about what I'm looking at to fully grasp the significance of what is standing before me. Philosophy and democracy were born here and I chose to spend my time on the plane working on technical specs instead of preparing for this moment?" So I’m standing there, surrounded by Japanese tourists taking pictures of every rock with what seemed like a disproportionate sense of mission, and I’m not feeling well. I’m feeling like I’m somehow being “disrespectful”.
It took about 5 days and a steady regiment of Greek salad and “ouzo” to get into the flow of things and stop over-intellectualizing what was going on. But I think I came out of this with a lesson. And that lesson is that in order to really appreciate and value something, we need to feel like we worked for it (or at least contributed to it).
Though this nothing new, I unexpectedly found myself surprised by this experience. It’s a lesson we can apply to things like change management, user adoption, employee engagement, customer loyalty etc... Really anything that touches the psychology of motivation & engagement.
A few years ago as product manager at Mega Bloks, I had worked on improving the product development process. In an effort to limit the impact on people’s time, I took on most of the effort myself. The new process was sound but was not well received. I remember feeling really frustrated, even angry at my team. But looking back now I realize that the root cause was that this “new reality” was just sprung on them much like Greece just “happened" to me and it must have felt somehow… alien to them.
Participating in the crafting of change makes you open to change.
To my wife, I'm making a commitment to get more involved in the planning of our next trip. Not only to help her, but also to make sure I’m going to enjoy it more!
A cautionary tale for all those of you travelling outside the country this summer: keep it up, but get involved!