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?


Following my own Advice

Here’s how I did following my own advice for navigating the spectacle of ASAE in Nashville last week.


Nashville showed us a great time!

Nashville showed us a great time!

1. Take time for silence and be mindful. Grade: C

On the positive side, I noticed the wonderful music and thoroughly enjoyed the delicious food and drink of Nashville.  Staying fully present in each session allowed me to experience ASAE in a new way.  It’s amazing what you can notice when you’re paying attention.  The C is because I did not accomplish my full 20-30 minutes of meditation each day. I managed only about 10 in my room and occasional snippets throughout the day. The biggest challenge was the sheer discombobulation of traveling and having to look fully professional before leaving my room.  Getting to sessions early was a nice way to find pockets of peace, even if only for a minute or two.

2. Use what comes naturally to help engage with others.  Grade: B+

Meaningful conversations started before I even got to the airport.  I shared a cab with a young woman from Seoul, South Korea, participating in the Bowdoin International Music Festival and visiting Maine for the first time. She’s a pianist and loved our verdant scenery and fresh air. We talked about classical music, following a passion and tea.  She ate 10 lobster rolls during her visit and says she’ll never think of lobster the same way again. I’d probably feel the same way about kim chi after visiting Seoul.

Asking people how they came to work in association management was a wonderful conversation starter and got straight to interesting stories.  Many people fall into association management and stay. The breadth of educational and professional backgrounds at the meeting was incredible- talk about interdisciplinary! And, every day I met someone else who works at a distance from their official place of employment.  How encouraging!

3. Reflect on what you see and hear. Grade: I (Incomplete)

I did a fair bit of reflecting on what I learned each day while I was at the conference.   The afternoon I got home was taken up by a nap. I was understandably exhausted from being up at 3am for 5:30am departure from Nashville.  Posts about what I learned are in development and I’ve done some research to answer questions that popped up during the week. I have at least 3 new posts based on different facets of the meeting.

4. Take fewer pictures and use the ones you take. Grade: B+

I took only 56 pictures at ASAE and used two of them in the previous post. One I tweeted to a friend during the meeting and I will use the other good ones.  The downside of taking fewer pictures was that  I missed some shots inside the conference center. I didn’t have my phone out as much and forgot.   It’s OK.  I noticed and appreciated the art while I was there and can remember without the photos.

5. Do mini-missions.  Grade: A-

I’m working on an entire post about my adventures in mini-missions. This turned out to be a fun way to focus on the parts of the conference that were meaningful to me.  I had fun following the event on Twitter and engaging with new colleagues that way.  I won’t tweet during a learning session because that, for me, is against suggestion #1 (be mindful and present).   I found authenticity everywhere, from the music permeating the streets, to the the woman caring for the rest room, to presenters and award winners.

6.  Do things just because they make you happy. Grade: A

I did visit Canada (well, the Canadians) and it did make me happy. I also visited the beer garden.  It made me happy to say “no” to some things like forcing myself to find a new session when the one I wanted was over full.  The Green Bay Packers were in town for a pre-season game and were staying at my hotel.  Had I not been up at 4:45 am that day, I would have stayed up to see them come back from the game, no question.  Instead, I called it a night.  It made me happy to say, “Go Pack, go!” to the Packer gear-wearing people I saw in Nashville during my visit, though. Getting a silly picture taken with my colleagues on the expo floor made us all happy.  The hamburger hat was my personal favorite.  We also went to Husk for dinner.  Happiness all around, even in the pouring rain.

Tootsies Orchid Lounge

Tootsies Orchid Lounge

I would also amend this advice for the next trip.

Do some things just because it makes someone else happy.

My colleague and her friend are big country music fans.  It was fun to see them enjoying the music and simply being in Nashville.  We had a drink in the famous Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge on Sunday and they got me out on the floor to “learn” line dancing during the closing celebration at the Wildhorse Saloon.  I wouldn’t have done these things on my own and it was fun.

All in all, I did pretty well.  We’ll see if I can improve at the next conference.


Six ways to be more intentional and have more fun at a conference

Have you ever come home from a conference exhausted and wondering what the heck just happened?

This happens to me, especially at large conferences like the American Society of Association Executives annual meeting and expo.  ASAE is large (5,000 people here, I think) and has more going on than one simple person like me can follow. I am a dust bunny and it’s Spring Cleaning.  The glitz factor alone fills me with awe. The meeting in Los Angeles  was book ended by private concerts with Melissa Etheridge and Cyndy Lauper.    Country music is not my thing, so I can’t be as enthusiastic about the big name musicians here this year.  My country loving colleague says they’re amazing.  The speakers are top-notch too.  We’re hearing from Adam Grant, professor at Penn’s Wharton School about his book, “Give and Take” for the opening session. I’m chuffed!  ( I picked up a few of British expressions living in Canada.  I love this word and will not give it up.)

ASAE 2014 Annual Meeting

ASAE 2014 Annual Meeting

There is a certain echelon for whom all this would not be entirely unusual. To me, it is another universe. I prefer to sparkle quietly, and in a small group.   These are the strategies I’ve developed  for giving my best and having a great time at this big, bold, bodacious meeting.

1. Take time for silence and be mindful.

My meditation and mindfulness practices help keep me grounded and bring me back when I get swept away. Every meeting has spaces  away from the swirling energy of the crowd. Find them and use them during breaks, even if it’s only 5 minutes.  You can also practice mindfulness by simply noticing what you eat, how it tastes, and how it smells.  It’s a good way to avoid overeating and proves especially useful when trying to find the appetizer line in a crowded hallway like we had last night.

2. Use what comes naturally to help engage with others.

My intentions for this conference are to deepen my connection to my colleagues, to collect and share useful nuggets of information, and to have more meaningful conversations, even if it means having fewer of them.  My evaluator question-asking skills can help here.   “Where do you work?” can beecome “What’s the most rewarding part of your work?” Job titles reveal nothing.  Stories get to what matters.

3. Reflect on what you see and hear.

Too often conference wisdom stays in our notebooks. This year I’m writing an abstract about each session and sharing it with my colleagues. I’ll post the best stuff here and tell you why I think it matters.

4. Take fewer pictures and use the ones you take.

Snapping pictures takes me out of the moment and I usually do nothing with the photos. This year, if I’m taking pictures I intend to use them. Here’s a picture of the delicious Goo Goo Cluster the fine folks from Nashville had waiting for us at the airport.  Chewy, chocolate perfection!

Nashville treat, the Goo Goo cluster.  Yum yum!

Nashville treat, the Goo Goo cluster. Yum yum!

5. Do mini-missions.

What’s a mini-mission?  It’s a small, fun, self-imposed activity that you think will improve the conference experience for you or someone else.  This year I’m stretching  how I use social media.  Not just tweeting and snapping pictures but trying to add value.   I’m also on the lookout for  expressions of authenticity to balance the high production factor of the meeting.  Last, I’m hunting for pithy phrases and quotes.

6. Do a few things for no other reason than you know they will make you happy.

I’m going to visit Canada  in Nashville!  Why? Because Canada and Canadians make me happy, like heart filled with joy, can I please come home with you happy.  Business Events Canada is in booth 1517. Visit them. They’ll make you happy too. If my recommendation is not enough, they have a beer garden.

How do you bring your best to conferences?

Small Kindness

I’m on a trip doing important evaluation business.  Yesterday morning before leaving for what I knew would be a long and also enjoyable day, I left a tip for housekeeping with a note that read:

Thank you for making this a more beautiful, peaceful and comfortable place to be.

Housekeeping staff have an under appreciated and difficult job.  My sister used to be the front desk manager in a hotel and I’ve heard the stories.  I hoped a note of thanks might brighten someone’s day.

When I returned to my room, this was waiting for me:

Unexpected rose

Unexpected rose

Maybe it was “give every guest a rose day”.  I don’t know.  But I was touched and so pleasantly surprised by this small, generous gesture.

This morning when I left a tip for housekeeping I left two notes.  One said,

I’d rather have roses on my table than diamonds around my neck. ~Emma Goldman

and the other said:

Some people are always grumbling because roses have thorns; I am thankful that thorns have roses. ~Alphonse Karr

When I got back to my room today, I found this:

Two roses?!  Wow!

Two roses?! Wow!

Two roses in my room! Now, I am pretty sure today is not “give every guest two roses day”.  I’m going home tomorrow (weather permitting), so this little quotes and roses exchange will come to an end. It seems to me that someone, or maybe multiple someones and I have had a lovely exchange.  This is a small kindness I will not forget. In the book of things that matter in my evaluated life, this is an important impact.

Now I’m off to find parting quotes for tomorrow. Any ideas?