Holiday Tonic

The small matter of holidays and the benefit they give us all occupies this post. An obvious subject for me to write about since I have just returned from holiday (thus why this blog is out of sync with the usual fortnightly pattern).

In my decade working as a banker, holidays evolved from being inconvenient necessities at the outset (the chance to catch up on greatly needed sleep but a catalyst for guilt at the same time) to what I ultimately felt my sole purpose of working was for. I know many people, from a whole range of careers, that share the perspective I had reached of considering a job to simply be a means to a holiday end. However, I don’t want to focus relentlessly on the all too common situation of people disliking their jobs but feeling trapped in them for the purpose of financing a holiday that they believe will be the panacea. Instead, I want to explore the actual benefit that holidays bring to us all, beyond the simple escapism from our day-to-day realities.

As my husband and I discussed when and where we were going to go on holiday, I made it clear to him that I thought he should be the determinant of how long we needed to go away for, feeling as I did that my whole life is something of a pleasant experience nowadays that I feel no need to break away from. I recall a guy I used to work with who would periodically enjoy highly extravagant mini-breaks — on one memorable occasion he flew from London to Barbados for the August Bank Holiday weekend just because he fancied it. Typical banker behaviour one might think (to be clear, that’s not the case), but I recall asking him when I saw him a few months after he had been made redundant and was embarking on an MBA, how he now managed without his ridiculously excessive trips away. His reply? That once you’re not in such an intense working environment, all of sudden everything else re-bases somewhat and none of your holiday ambitions are quite as extreme as they once were.

These words had been ringing in my ears since my husband and I had been talking about holidays and I felt somewhat undeserving of the whole concept of some time away. Although obviously I wasn’t going to pass up the opportunity of some sunshine! Still, I definitely left Gatwick feeling that the holiday was for my husband, while I was lucky enough to be tagging along.

I now realise how wrong I was in this assumption. The first thing that happened upon setting out on the roads of Sicily in our hire car, was that we discovered that we could not access any mobile data. Of course this was a blessing for the most part — we both agreed that a digital detox was necessary for us both, getting me off Facebook and him off BBC News. Yet, we hadn’t thought as far ahead as the more pressing matter of navigation on an island that we became rapidly aware had little concept of the import of road signage. I won’t go into the entire story of our circle driving in central Sicily and our four-hour late arrival at our destination, suffice to say that there were many tears and angry words and close shaves with Sicilian pot holes.

One remark that my husband said to me during a particularly emotionally-charged moment was that my lifestyle nowadays, of experiencing little in the way of typical workplace challenges, meant that I was less equipped to cope when things did not go the way I planned. This was an interesting, and likely true, observation. But rather than dwelling on what that statement says about me and my current career choices, I think it raised a broader notion of the importance of being outside of our usual routines.

Holidays, particularly where they do not unfold according to plan, have a great way of revealing to us that we are usually capable of muddling our way through a situation. A small reminder of “what’s the worst that could happen”. This seldom happens in the workplace — projects are stopped before they go too awry, risk-taking tends to be tightly managed; in short we operate in a world of work that is extremely controlled. This is of course no bad thing, particularly in light of the devastating impacts that the credit crisis caused globally in an environment of lax regulation. But at the same time it means we seldom have the opportunity to test our resolve when unexpected obstacles confront us.

In a similar vein, as our holiday continued (in a happier vein than the navigation issues of day one) the same could be found in the joy of being a tourist in a country where you did not speak the language. Shopping for food became a real adventure, never entirely sure what we were purchasing and whether we would like it. Asking for directions was impossible. But it became a cathartic and enjoyable practice that we embraced. After all, we had the blessing of time and so it was not the end-of-the-world if everything didn’t work out as planned. As someone of a controlling nature, I can tell you this is a deeply uncomfortable state for me, but I also know it is very good for me.

I used to wonder why, in my old life as a banker, I would always be more assertive, feel more confident and generally perform more capably when I returned from holiday. At the time I would put it down to feeling refreshed, having had the chance to have had a partial switch-off from work colleagues and emails and to have caught up with my husband or friends with some proper conversation and fun-filled days. Now I’m not so sure. I sense those benefits were actually down to having exited my comfort zone and escaped my routine (no matter the unpredictability within that) while on holiday. Shaking up the status quo and allowing me to reconnect with who I was outside of the bubble.

While I don’t believe I was in a rut of any sorts before we went away on this holiday, still it’s been good to have a change of scene and come back with a fresh perspective on life. Although I am not returning to an office nowadays, I have most certainly arrived back with a greater energy to embrace change and a more open-mind to accepting new directions in my life.

Georgina Stober is Director of the Rebalance Retreat (http://www.rebalance-retreat.com/ or on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/RebalanceRetreat1/)

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