The first two weeks of August my family went on a camping road trip from our home in Maine to my brother-in-law’s wedding near San Diego. It was the first two week vacation I’d taken in at least five years. It won’t be that long before I do it again.
Here are are a few lessons I learned (or was reminded of ) while on the road.
You see differently close up and open.
I’ve come to think of myself as a homebody because I spend so much time in and around my house. I am NOT a homebody! I’m an introvert who telecommutes. I love new experiences, traveling, and being with people. Attending to inner and outer worlds is important for balance. Daily routines need shaking up with adventure.
There’s so much adventure to be had out there, in the real world, without an internet connection or device. In 15 days we drove 7,463 miles and were in 24 states. Though we had a destination every day, we were totally open to the experiences of the road- good and bad. We had our share of both. Getting out of “my” world helped me see the rest of it more clearly. It’s all so beautiful and interconnected.
We saw purple clouds in Pennsylvania and a brush fire in Indiana. We toured Mount Rushmore with hundreds of bikers and traded stories with a couple from Quebec. I saw bathroom with graffiti that said, “You’re Beautiful. Love Yourself”, and a road sign to No Name Rest Area. Our car was surrounded by sheep in Wyoming and corn and clouds in Minnesota. We saw prairie dogs, elk, and fireflies. My eyes welled with tears at the ancient majesty of the Rocky Mountains and the ecological misery left by mining operations. We camped in Kentucky!
My favorite place is outside.
I’ve always been an outdoorsy kind of gal. I grew up camping, hiking, cycling, and playing in the dirt. For the better part of 2 weeks we slept in our tent with the top off, feeling the breeze and watching the stars. Being close to nature brings me closer to myself. I forget this because there so many other “important things” needing my attention indoors. Returning to indoor life was unexpectedly difficult. I had to challenge my own assumptions and habits about being inside. With the help of extension cords, the deck is a viable morning office. Lunch–take it outside, maybe have a picnic. Card games, board games, puzzles, reading, crochet- all possible outside. It feels good to end the day by stepping outside, taking a deep breath and saying good night to the stars. Try it!
Less stuff brings more ease.
In two weeks we camped, visited family, and attended a destination wedding at a fancy-schmancy resort. Everything we needed for these diverse experiences fit in the back of our small car. Our house was a tent and the “kitchen” fit in a milk crate.
We ate simply and packed healthy snacks. Though we had some fast food, we usually found grocery stores for supplies, making sandwiches for lunch and dinner in camp. Our camp dinners were delicious: spaghetti and meat balls, brats on the grill, shrimp gnocchi. (OK, once the day went horribly wrong and we had to choke down canned “Chinese” “food” in the dark. The dark was a blessing. Let’s not speak of this again. )
One small duffle bag and carry-on sized suit case carried clothes my daughter and I. We still had more than we needed. I enjoy having limited clothing options when we camp and have since gutted my closet. This feels good.
I use research to help people.
I brought only three books and didn’t open any of them the first week of the journey. The second week (on my birthday, actually), I read a decidedly work-related book. I kept track of every instance where the authors identified the need for more research, a gap in knowledge, or an opportunity to translate research from one setting to another. Highlight after highlight my excitement grew.
After finishing a book about personal talents and passions that I’d started and stopped months ago, something occurred to me. Every job I’ve ever loved has involved research. Much as I love conducting research and learning about new theories and approaches, generating new knowledge is not enough. Research should help people. This is why I connect so strongly to the applied social sciences and scholar/practitioner professions. Action researchers, evaluators, designers, social workers, nurses, writers, teachers, librarians. We all use research to help people. So simple and obvious. It felt profound at the time. Perhaps it was from spending so much time at elevation.
Being away from my job for two weeks reminded me that there are any number of work related experiences that would serve others and bring me joy. I don’t have do this work, in this way, in this organization. As it happens, I enjoy what I do, how I do it, and the people I work with. They’re bright and wise and thoughtful and creative and daring and caring and dedicated and fun. We help brilliant people find new ideas, work together, and take risks. My job is to help us do that better.
It’s an adventure worth coming back for.
What did you learn on your summer vacation?