Changing Perspectives, Lessons Learned…

Each and every year, for about a decade running now, I’ve made it a tradition to take the Fourth of July week off and head about four hours east to play in the massive Hoopfest 3-on-3 basketball tournament in Spokane — then spend the remaining days resting and recuperating my knees on the shores of Lake Coeur d’Alene.

This year was no exception, and while I’ve just returned with a whole new installment of family stories and memories swimming around in my brain, I won’t bore you with a “verbal slideshow” of my personal adventures — although the story of my terrier’s head accidentally catching on fire IS a pretty wild one.  Luckily, we put out the flames almost immediately and she wasn’t permanently harmed…

What these annual vacations do for me, however, and I’m sure do for you, too, is provide a rare cushion of perspective between “life” and “work” that can be tough to achieve when you’ve got your head down, day after day, racing from one work-related project to the other.  It’s far too easy, in such scenarios, to take your employment responsibilities a little too seriously and lose sight of the other elements of your life that are important to you — and that are actually under your complete control, as much as it may not seem like it, at times.  Given that I tend to read a lot of historical novels during my time off, too, I often get whacked with an even greater dose of perspective.  For example, the moment I start to get stressed out thinking about the avalanche of e-mail that piles up when I leave town, I’ll come across a passage in Bill Bryson’s “A Short History of Nearly Everything” (a terrific book that I just re-read) that talks about how scientists discovered that we, as humans, share 50% of our DNA with bananas — or how the 1964 Alaskan earthquake shook the ground so hard that it sloshed water out of swimming pools in Texas!

Given the size and scale of these kinds of events, it seems a bit silly to get all bent out of shape worrying about whether your television can convert the new digital channels or whether your neighbor accidentally might have raked some leaves into your yard, by mistake.  And in the past two weeks (sorry, going to be morbid for a second) we’ve also been exposed to the bracing perspective of seeing a number of well-known celebrities (e.g. Michael Jackson, Farrah Fawcett, Steve McNair, and even “infomercial king” Billy Mays…) pass away well, well before their time.

At any rate, what can we learn from all this?  To yank this blog entry back to a career context, I’d encourage you to ponder the fact that any sort of vacation (even the long, unwanted kind) from the demanding rituals and routines of full-time work provides fertile ground for perspective, learning, and self-growth, should you decide to consciously bring these elements into play.  Would most people choose such a learning opportunity, voluntarily?  Heck no!  But if the universe gives you one, you might as well seize it.  Along these lines, I’ve recently had the good fortune of helping several clients celebrate the landing of new jobs after MANY months out in the market (in one case, over two years!)  And in each case I found the opportunity, amongst the merriment, to hit them up with two questions: “What have you learned during your time between assignments?” and “As a result, what will you do differently, this next time around?”

Alas, it’s probably some deep-seated survival skill that we, as humans, allow ourselves to so easily get boxed into viewing our lives from a single set of narrow priorities or a single point-of-view — but having just gotten back in the saddle from some time off, myself, it struck me that vacations (as well as periods of unemployment) are among the best times we ever get to reset, recharge, and rethink our priorities.

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