Since SHIFT announced its sabbatical program about four years ago, I have been thinking long and hard about what I would do with this precious time off. In fact, in true B2B PR fashion, I often thought about the ROI of the vacation spend: how I could be optimize the time and leverage it for the highest possible level of personal enrichment (you like those buzz words?!). Should I use this to complete the 100-hour yoga teacher training that I’ve been long putting off? Or should I go somewhere really far, like Australia or Fiji? Do I go off the grid and digital detox like SHIFT AD Julie suggested or stay connected?
Then, a lot changed in those four years, as life often does. I found myself no longer thinking about this time in a solo-trip way, but instead focused on how I could use this time to enhance and enrich relationships with others in my life.
Ultimately, I decided on Laos and Thailand because of my cultural and family connections. While I had already visited both countries right after I graduated, I knew this trip would take on a whole new meaning for me, my family and my fiancé this time around. The grandparents I have left are getting much older and much frailer, my first cousins are having children of their own and my fiancé had never been to Southeast Asia – all roads pointed to the “motherland!” (I was born in Massachusetts but my parents were born and raised in Laos.)
For anyone who is planning a long and exotic vacation far from home, here are a few things that I found really helpful during my sabbatical:
Try to “Do” Less and “Just Be” More
As PR agency professionals, we are so hyper focused on “doing more” for our clients all day, every day. It’s hard to get out of that mode. But as many a yoga instructor has told me, the deepest learning and personal growth happens when you focus on being present and in the moment. Our trip was go, go, go for the first and middle parts – Chiang Mai cooking classes, elephant sanctuary trips, Laos family time and running around the country to visit temples and ancient stupas. But we ended it with total veg time on an island resort in Thailand, something I never really do because that’s “wasting time.” It was THE BEST idea. We woke up when we wanted to wake up and took the day moment by moment. Over 7 days, we did one adventure (snorkeling and chased a shark) and I don’t regret a single moment.
Since returning to the office, I’ve tried to instill this attitude and approach to time and “being in the moment.” While the jury’s still out, I think it will really help me with my productivity. I can already better identify when I should work on hard deliverables versus softer deliverables like catching up with a team member, an office neighbor, clients, etc.
While it is one of the cheesiest (get it!) SHIFT values, a smile really does go a long way. Because we tried to let go and not plan too much (for example, we would book hotels in the airports before going through immigration), we naturally ran into some hiccups along the way. Stuff will happen and you just need to take it in stride. Like when you decide to get your hair cut in Thailand and, despite extensive conversations and showing numerous pictures, you lose 7 inches of hair the year before you’re getting married. But it’s okay (insert nervous laughter). As TLC said, you can buy your hair if it won’t grow. In all seriousness though, keeping a positive attitude will make those darkest moments a little brighter…and funnier.
Don’t Feel Too Guilty About Not Disconnecting
I really wanted a digital detox, truly. You read so much about what constant connectivity is doing to our minds and bodies. In the beginning of the trip, I felt very guilty that I wasn’t disconnecting enough. So I limited myself to using my phone only when I absolutely needed it – for directions, to book a hotel in the airport immigration limbo space, to translate things from Laos to Thai to English, etc. Let me tell you, in those moments, it was SO needed. Like anything, use technology in moderation. We couldn’t have done this trip without our smartphones and I wouldn’t have been able to share all the precious family moments with my parents in real-time. So don’t beat yourself up if you can’t completely disconnect and use your devices to enhance your trip.
Thank you, SHIFT senior management. Thank you, Jen and team. It was an unbelievable trip of a lifetime and I feel so lucky to be a part of the SHIFT family. I’m going to try and take all the positivity and happiness that I felt in this moment feeding this granny elephant and instill it in all that I do, personally and professionally.
Senior Account Manager