A vacation as a time for taking stock02 september 2013, 11:20
A lot of people take vacations to chill out and not think about things. For me these breaks from work have always been about taking stock: deciding what I’ve done that’s been worthwhile in the past year, and where I should be going.
Some people take stock at New Year’s or on their birthday. I do it on vacation because I want to be a million miles away from where I’ve been living Being away from your normal work and home environment when you take stock helps you do it in a more detached manner, I believe.
And that detached manner, in turn, helps you see things you ordinarily wouldn’t have seen.
Recently I took a vacation to Portland, Oregon, to be with family. It was a great place to take stock.
From the porch of my daughter Angie’s home I could see snow-covered Mount Hood 90 miles away. That breathtaking sight and the quiet of Angie’s neighborhood caused me to forget the mundane problems that bug all of us week in and week out.
When you’re not thinking about those problems, you open your mind to seeing the bigger picture of where you are and where you ought to be going.
But it wasn’t just the view of Mount Hood that relaxed me to the point where I could think clearly about the bigger picture.
It was also two magical meals on the outdoor terrace of the La Provence French restaurant in the Portland suburb of Lake Oswego.
The owners are French, so the food was superb. The other diners were clearly enjoying themselves. And everywhere I looked I could see nothing but the green that Portland is famous for – leaves, bushes, trees. It was like eating in a garden.
Seeing my family making progress also helped raise my mood to a level conducive to taking stock.
Angie was changing jobs after being a tech writer at the same place for seven years. She was relishing the change, and her optimism cheered me.
My son Dan, also in Portland on vacation, told me how much he enjoyed his U.S. government job in London. And, though Dan doesn’t brag, his conversations with me indicated he was doing well in the vital position he held.
Angie’s 2 1/2-year-old son Ethan also helped put me in the frame of mind to take stock. He is a bright extrovert, captivating children and adults. And I noticed that he had incredible strength for a little guy, a reflection of family genes that had created state wrestling champions.
All these mood enhancements – ones that could have come only during a vacation -- helped me look at my career, my life and my future in a fresh way.
One of the courses I’ll be teaching at Nazarbayev University this fall is called “Risk and Crisis Communication.”
I’ve never taught it before, although at IBM and other companies I had experience dealing with crises that posed risks to an organization’s business and image.
One of the biggest challenges in teaching is putting together a new course. You not only have to get the material right but the teaching approach, too – or students won’t learn as much as they should.
In the serene atmosphere of the porch in Portland with the view of Mount Hood, I was able to come up with a teaching plan that I believe will be effective and that students will enjoy and learn from. It will include video examples of organizations that handled crisis communication well and of those who screwed it up bigtime.
After thinking through other facets of my job at the university, I turned to the future.
Longtime friends know that one of my dreams is to write novels. I’ve thought for some time that Thailand might be a good location because its people are friendly, the food is wonderful and prices are cheap.
I finally took a trip to Thailand this summer – to the beach resort city of Phuket – to see firsthand whether it could be my novel-writing paradise. All went well, and I concluded that it could be.
The next question became: When?
It won’t be right away, I decided some time ago. For a while I want to continue playing a small role in helping Nazarbayev University become a truly international higher-educational institution, one that Kazakhs can be proud of and that those overseas will take notice of.
What the vacation in Portland gave me about Thailand that I hadn’t had before was a rough time frame for making a move. It wouldn’t have happened without the quiet time and the detachment that the vacation afforded me.
When I finally make the move, it will be a big change for me, a new direction in life.
And it will have started with a moment of taking stock on a vacation in Portland.