Last week I was in western Norway, "taking a vacation" with my husband, who is also an entrepreneur. It didn't work out nearly the way we'd hoped, and that had everything to do with our working styles as "always on" entrepreneurs.
It was as though being an entrepreneur caused vacation amnesia and we forgot how to be on one, even though we were very intentional about the planning and excited for how our time would go. We had researched places to go and things to do. We brought books to read. We planned to sleep late, and spend time out in nature. We'd do the things we enjoy most. You know, like you're supposed to do on vacation.
After last week, I've come around to thinking that maybe the idea of "vacation," at least for entrepreneurs, can be modified to more accurately reflect the realities of our chosen professional lifestyles.
Let me tell you what actually happened to our very intentional planning for Norway. We read, but not as much as we wanted to. We didn't sleep late, mostly because we're morning people by nature and, frankly, we like the quiet of the still, early hours. (Also, Norway in July means between 18 and 19 hours of daylight every day. So, good luck with all the shut-eye!) We did spend time outdoors, but not nearly as much as we thought we would.
In the end, we found that we came home from vacation feeling more tired than refreshed, and more energized by being back in our home environment. Which is, ironically, more peaceful and relaxing.
So what happened? How did our plans to relax get so far derailed?
I think it has to do with too many expectations (all that very intentional planning!) and not enough go-with-the-flow. Even more so, I think our plan to "unplug" was a disconnect. (Pun intended.) Is it realistic to think that, just because we're in a different country and a different environment, we wouldn't have the same desire to be productive? Probably not. We love what we do and we want to keep doing it, at least for some part of every day.
A more realistic and useful way to think about vacation could be to deconstruct it, since breaking it into manageable pieces actually gives us a framework for bringing vacation home, so to speak. Rather than one fell swoop of vacation all at once in some faraway destination, a more digestible alternative for entrepreneurs could be re-envisioning the elements of vacation so that they're more doable on a smaller scale, more often, and closer to home. Here are three ways that could happen.
1. Adjust the time frame.
Rather than a week or 10 days away, like a traditional summer vacation, consider breaking that time into two or three smaller vacations. Who set the rule, anyway, that vacations need to be a certain length of time? I love long weekends as an option and also occasional mid-week breakaways, which have the dual benefit of feeling a bit like you're playing hooky form school. Plus, they're easier to manage in terms of delegation and workload.
2. Do vacation-y things more often.
What made the shortlist of what we wanted to do while on vacation in Norway? Being together. Reading. Sleeping in. Spending time outdoors. Those are the kinds of things that I want us to be doing every day anyway, so why designate them as something that happens on vacation only? Doing them on a regular basis, at home, is like a built-in mini-vacation.
3. Let go of expectations.
The knee-jerk reaction may be to think that deciding not to take a typical vacation is unhealthy, and that unplugged vacations are better for your health. I'm sure that they are, for many people at many different phases of life. For entrepreneurs, though, "healthy" means something different: it means doing the work that brings us authentic happiness, and balancing that with our families and friends on a regular (not vacation-y or occasional) basis.
So let go of the expectation of how vacation is supposed to look. Reframe it for how you want it to look for you and your chosen priorities. It's a much happier place to be.