Learning from Vacation…about Work

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!

A few bits of beauty

A few bits of beauty

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!

All the "entertainment" I need.

All the “entertainment” I need, especially those sheep.

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.

By posting this picture I do not in any way condone drawing on rocks, even to make a smiley face.

By posting this picture I do not in any way condone drawing on rocks, even to make a smiley face.

What did you learn on your summer vacation?

Four Other Valentine’s Day Gifts

Not everyone goes in for the unaffordable expectation version of Valentine’s Day.  Love is worth celebrating.   You don’t need a romantic partner or Scrooge McDuck’s money bin to spread Valentine’s Day love.

1. Give the gift of  your attention.

There’s a freedom that comes from conscious, wholehearted listening.  By deeply listening, we free ourselves from the constant chatter in our minds and allow another person to feel the experience of being truly seen and heard. I have been submitting a listening self-assessment each day for the past few weeks as part of my ULab homework.  Evaluators say, “What gets measured gets done”.  In this case, “What gets measured gets noticed”. Paying attention to listening has been a gift to myself and those around me.  Try it.

2. Start a conversation on the topic of love, compassion, and forgiveness.

The Fetzer Institute created a set of 52 Love, Compassion and Forgiveness Cards.  You can download them for free.     Each card has a quote on one side and a conversation point and an idea for action on the other.

A Love card quote says:

There is an old South African proverb that says the reason two antelope walk together is so that one can blow the dust from the other’s eyes. This sort of friendship enables joy.  Mark Nepo

A Forgiveness card poses the questions:

What role does empathy play in forgiveness? When have you been able to put yourself in anther’s shoes.

The associated action suggests, “Bring to mind a person who has hurt or offended you. Ask yourself: What qualities does this person possess that I would like to eliminate in myself”?

3. Consider sharing a crowd-sourced mindfulness-based Valentine.

Parallax Press engaged their readers to create 13 Zen inspired Valentine’s.  My favorites are #7 and #12.

 4. Tweet some love to your favorite non-profit organization or charity using the hashtag #npValentine.

The Chronicle of Philanthropy has images available on their Facebook page you can tweet or email.   The Twitter feed will make you smile.   As a bonus, the Chronicle has an opinion piece by Jennifer and Peter Buffett about the place of love and compassion in philanthropy.  The Buffets say:

In a world in which everything is a commodity, we’re going to try to turn money into love. Jennifer and Peter Buffett

I sincerely hope they do. Every day people can do this too.  My friend Jennifer Iacovelli is on a mission to turn all of us into philanthropists. You can also visit ServiceSpace and explore the gift economy in action.

How are you going to spread love in the world this Valentine’s Day?

Chocolate is a totally acceptable answer. 🙂

Learning JUST for fun

Hi, my name is Anne and I’m a recovering edu-holic.

I’m addicted to reading, learning, courses, credentials, anything with a syllabus, merit badge, gold star or that might result in a new strange combination of letters at the end of my name.  If I’m not doing these things, I am researching these things for….for I don’t know why.

It’s been over 5 years since my last credential.  At the end of 2013 I got twitchy about that. I’d participated in webinars, courses and conferences but it didn’t feel enough. I was about to spend a lot of money to take a test and get a credential just because I could and felt I should. Not because I deeply wanted to.

At best that’s nonsense. At worst it’s crazypants.

I took a deep breath and walked away.

I declared (to myself) a moratorium on professional development without a personal connection for 2014. I decided to learn, read, and study purely for the joy of it- not for approval, credentials, recognition or because something would make sense on my LinkedIn profile.

What a relief!

(OK, to be fair, I still LOOK at courses and certificates and degrees, etc.   But, I have given myself a break from the suffering and frenzy that can come with it. That’s progress.)

A few weeks ago I signed up for my first MOOC (Massively Open Online Course)- The Science of Happiness through the Greater Good Science Center. We’re studying happiness, connection, compassion, kindness, forgiveness, reconciliation, mindfulness, and gratitude from an interdisciplinary perspective. The course draws on neuroscience, evolution, physiology, complexity, anthropology and psychology and sprinklescphilosophy, religion and humanities throughout. More relates to evaluation and the conference our program is having on Collective Behavior  than I anticipated or intended. Oops!   These things happen.

Each week we’re invited to try evidenced-based practices to increase our happiness.  Putting research into practice?  Yes, PLEASE!

Through the course I found out that KindSpring was starting a 21-day kindness challenge on October 2nd.   I signed up for that too.  Why not? It’s a way to strengthen kindness muscles and find new ways to be kind  with a group of people.  For Day 1 the kindness challenge was “Pay forward a surprise treat”.   We left a home-made banana muffin and note for our postal carrier.

Kindness matters

 

It doesn’t matter what course is. It could have been sewing, or watercolor painting, or a foreign language, or astronomy or ancient Greek literature or swimming lessons.

The point is that we ought to give ourselves a break from achievement and learn for fun more often.

Yes, I’m still eying the John’s Hopkins data science specialization through Coursera so I might finally learn R.  But not this year.

Right now I’m selfishly studying happiness to make the world a better place.

It doesn’t have to make sense.

It’s fun. It might make a difference.

That’s good enough.