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What a vacation can teach you about life, happiness, and your career

Life lessons from a vacation...

Lily Tomlin once said, “For fast-acting relief, try slowing down.” She was right. Taking a vacation taught me new life lessons that led to a change in careers and a lot more.

Three years ago, I was having the time of my life. Managing a social media care team at an ambitious tech startup meant 12-hour workdays, quite a bit of travel, and very little sleep. It was crazy, but I was loving it.

I’d just made the switch to marketing after 10 long years in sales and tech support, and it was my first startup experience. Surprisingly, adjusting to the new workplace was easy. I was working with a great bunch of people, and even the long hours were fun. My first startup job was off to a great start!

My first startup experience was off to a great start!My first startup job was off to a great start!

Fast forward 10 months and I wasn’t feeling the love any more.

The daily commute was too long, and I was working late evenings on most days. We were growing fast—from 30 to 500+ people in a year—and yet, work was piling up. I’d be working in the cab on the way to the office, on my way back, and some more at home. It was exhausting.

Left with no time for family, friends, and myself, the pressure of being always-on was getting to me. I was so frustrated that I wanted to quit!

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Vacation, all I ever wanted

I had to get away, so I took a vacation instead, and it changed my life. The catalyst? A family of digital nomads that I met on the beaches of Gokarna, India. Ann and Lavie were traveling the world with three kids. They were working full-time jobs, being full-time parents, homeschooling the kids, and traveling all the time! I soon realized that while it wasn’t as easy as they made it look, I could learn a lot from them. My experiences from that vacation helped me put things in perspective, reassess my priorities, and achieve a better work-life balance. 

Here’s what that impromptu vacation taught me about life, happiness, and my career:

  1. No job is worth your health, really
  2. Good mental health unlocks a new you
  3. Happiness is in the now, not the distant future

No job is worth your health, really

A paycheck is important, of course, but stressful jobs can cause harmful health disorders and more. Hectic workdays meant I got by on just five to six hours of sleep and skipped meals without batting an eyelash. Not a big deal, until I started feeling tired and depressed all day, every day. Recurring migraines made me less productive, so I put in more hours to get things done, worsening the situation. Taking a vacation gave me a much-needed break to re-assess these habits and observe how they were impacting my health.

I tried to take better care of myself after the vacation. I talked to my manager about the situation, got better at delegating work, and tried to stop letting work follow me home. Years of slouching in a chair had unfortunate side-effects on my waistline, so I followed a friend’s advice to do a little cardio every day.

Taking lunch breaks with colleagues helped avoid the temptation to skip meals. The hardest part was getting out of work on time, but by doing that I could go to bed early and get at least 8 hours of sleep every day. Surprisingly, I found myself being more productive even though I was working fewer hours than I used to.

Good mental health unlocks a new you

A healthy mind in a healthy body simply does better work. Mood swings, anxiety, and depression are invisible productivity-killers, so managing mental health should be a top priority. Good mental health gives us a sense of purpose and the ability to deal with everyday challenges—at work and at home. It’s as important as physical well-being and unlocks the best version of ourselves.

Long work hours, bad eating habits, and little sleep had turned me into a grouch with a very short fuse. The vacation was a chance to de-stress and relax, and Ann’s passion for meditation turned out to be infectious. Before long, I was meditating every day to get my thoughts in order after a long day’s work. The best part? It helped me become more self-aware, so I was now more motivated and less anxious at work every day. 

Try it for yourself with apps for guided meditation like Calm or Headspace.

Happiness is in the now, not the distant future

Pursuing happiness is all well and good, but it’s important that we focus on being happy in the now. Being miserable now is not a magic bullet to future happiness; I’d been chasing a vague idea of what success might look like while losing sight of the why.

At that point, I'd been working for about a decade, transitioning from sales to tech support to marketing. I’d moved cities half a dozen times and the last move was just a year ago! This vacation was the first time I stopped to take stock and I had a lot to be happy about. But I wasn’t… and I wasn’t sure what I could do to fix it.

There was no easy or instant solution. Lavie and I chatted about how he adopted a minimalist backpacker lifestyle and gave up a comfortable job to travel the world as a freelance photographer, but I knew that wasn’t for me. I like my comforts and I love shopping too much. ;) But I did learn from them how less can be more, and I saw for myself how a better work-life balance could lead to a happier, more fulfilling life.

Om Beach, Gokarna, IndiaA lazy afternoon on Om Beach, Gokarna

"When work is fun, it’s easier to be happy—even on a bad day!"

We talked about how I wasn’t happy with my job. Lavie’s response was to ask me what was stopping me from changing things. In his own words, “Take some more time off, find something you love to do, and turn it into a paying job. When work is fun, it’s easier to be happy—even on a bad day!” 

Well, it was not easy, and it took me a while, but that’s exactly what I ended up doing.

Finding happiness after all

Back to the daily grind, I spent a lot of personal time figuring out what makes me happy. I rediscovered the simple joy of spending time with family and friends. I like traveling, so I went on weekend trips to nearby attractions. One step at a time, I was reclaiming my life.

At work, I was writing ad copy for some of our marketing campaigns and I thought writing would be fun to do full-time. That idea kickstarted a Medium blog where I published a few short stories and haikus. Writing made me happier than analyzing spreadsheets or running ad campaigns on Facebook, and that sparked a job hunt that made me change careers (again) and become a content marketer at Flock!

Taking some time off for a vacation led to a lot of realizations that ultimately helped me achieve a better work-life balance. It could happen to you, too. When did you last take a vacation? 

The Flock Way