You’ll have noticed that my last blog post went up in early May, shortly after we left for two weeks vacation. Before I return to our regularly scheduled programming, to blogs on (more or less) professional topics, I wanted to say a few words about this vacation and its impact on my state of mind.
From a purely vacation point of view, we had a wonderful time. My sister Marsha (the more outgoing of the two of us who runs a personal injury law practice), her attorney husband Irwin (whose birthday we were celebrating, and who never saw a workout program he didn’t want to try), Jan Fretwell (a close friend, charter member of the Brazen Hussies, and a star implementor of HRM software), and Sue French (also a close friend and charter member of the Brazen Hussies who’s running the apps process for a major financial services firm), Ron, and I rendezvous’d in Monaco to begin our travels. From there we visited Nice, St. Paul de Vence, Eze and more before heading across Provence to Arles to join our riverboat, the Avalon Scenery, for a slow cruise up the Rhone River and a final few days in Paris.
Great wines, cheeses, and ice cream seemed to top the menus on and off our boat, and we visited some wonderful villages and cities along the Rhone, but the best part of the trip (at least for me) was having quality time with people I love. And that was in spite of doing a couple of hours online each morning and evening in order to stay on top of the never-ending stream of relevant industry news and ideas.
Today, the activity stream never stops
Which brings me to the reflections part of this travelogue. Once upon a time, when I went on vacation, I was unreachable, truly unreachable, and totally out of touch with world events, let alone anything going on in my professional world. I remember sailing vacations in the Caribbean, climbing Maya ruins in Mexico, wandering the English countryside, and traversing Humboldt’s Trail along the high caldera in Ecuador without the slightest concern for who would acquire whom or even what country would dissolve into a new civil war.
Sue French and I had to wake up the owner of the only bar in San Christobal de la Casa in Chiapas, Mexico (now that’s a story worthy of its own post) with a satellite dish in order to watch Bill Clinton’s inauguration — and only days before subcomandante Carlos led his uprising there. And there was also that time, at Saltwhistle Bay on Mayreau in the Caribbean, when we tried valiantly, using the only pay phone on the island, to do a conference call with a client whose executives expected him to debrief them on our project while we were sailing.
But those days of blessed disconnection are long gone. News breaks faster and more often, commentary on that news is immediate and widespread. The activity streams never stop, and there’s no way to recover if you’ve missed a few days of them. And that’s before considering the hundreds of emails, direct and via LinkedIn/Facebook/Twitter/etc., that just keep coming.
If you don’t spend a few hours per day while on vacation to at least skim through and delete this traffic, there’s simply no way to ever catch up when you return, let alone hit the ground running after re-entry. The technology makes it possible for us to be hyper-connected from anywhere at all times, and even my disciplined approach to minimizing the need for clients to track me down on vacation can’t reduce that larger, more universal need to be in the know and “in the known” at all times.
No work/life boundaries if you have a career
Bottom line — I had a wonderful vacation, but I couldn’t help but be struck by the fact that I appeared to be working (or at least to be plugged into work) in the eyes of my less continuously engaged husband, sister, etc.
I can now say with absolute certainty that there are no work/life boundaries for those of us who have chosen to have careers rather than do jobs. Jobs have working hours, after which you’re done — truly done. No matter how demanding, how technically complex, how important to society the job, even the very highly paid pilot of the biggest airplanes works to the company rules, and doesn’t need to focus on how to fill their next flight with passengers or cargo. They may worry about whether or not their industry and company are doing well enough to ensure their job security, but their role doesn’t include doing much about that.
This lack of round-the-clock engagement, this ability to walk away mentally when the job is done for the day/week/month, may be one of the reasons that many such jobs don’t pay nearly as well in general as the careers which have no OFF button, but it may also be the reason that many such jobs also have so little security, satisfaction, or future prospects for enhanced financial or other rewards.
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But always on/always engaged/always learning careers demand so much more of us. We’re expected to know what’s going on in our field, our firm, our industry, our geo-political context, etc. — and what it all means for our actual work. We’re expected to care about it, to have and share our opinions on it, and to build a career that not only transcends these developments but which ultimately drives these developments.
We’ve lost the ability to disengage
When I became active in the world of social tech, I wrote about the good and bad of these terrific collaboration, learning, communication, and influencing tools, from my own point of view. What I didn’t know then but do know now is that social technology has made those of us who are career-minded work even harder and more continously than ever before to find and use our voice to help shape the context of our careers and not just those careers themselves.
And while we’ve gained a great deal in terms of reach and influence, in terms of the pace of innovation and the adoption of new ideas/technology/practices, we’ve also lost our ability to disengage completely for more than a day or two before the effort to catch up becomes overwhelming.
We’ve got many more vacations planned, from local trips on M/V SmartyPants to an exploration of the Amazon, and I’m looking forward to each and every one of them. I’m at peace with staying connected, with giving a few hours each day to my professional life even as I’m restoring my mind and spirit in a way that only travel can do — at least for me.
But I am beginning, just beginning, to envision a time when my career is behind me and the sound of the water lapping at SmartyPant’s hull won’t be disturbed by my search for cellular reception, when I won’t give a damn if that Amazon freighter has wifi.