Photo by Jacob Walti
“A master in the art of living draws no sharp distinction between his work and his play; his labor and his leisure; his mind and his body; his education and his recreation. He hardly knows which is which. He simply pursues his vision of excellence through whatever he is doing, and leaves others to determine whether he is working or playing. To himself, he always appears to be doing both.”
I love this quote from L. P. Jacks. It describes some of the most inspiring, happy, and successful professionals I know. The main message is clear: find a job that you love—one that allows you to be your best self—and it won’t feel like work at all. The corollary is also important, however: we must approach our vacations with the same tenacity as we do our vocations, and use them to come back to the office better than before.
Consider my friend John, the former chief executive and chairman of a top professional services firm, who is now active in several remarkable social initiatives. He sees holidays as a way to clear and sharpen his mind and has, for the past 25 years, organized annual hiking trips with his wife and three other couples. They walk for about a week in stunning mountains, national parks or nature preserves, pairing off differently each day so everyone gets a chance to chat. Before retiring from the CEO role, he would try to take these breaks just before his global partners’ meetings because he found that his ideas, initiatives, and even speeches would become much more focused, rich, clear and powerful as a result—even though he didn’t spend any time actively working on them!
You and Your Team
Make the most of your time away.
For Richard, a respected academic and world authority on leadership, vacations are also serious stuff. He and his wife consciously vary the way they spend their time off. Once or twice a year they take “learning holidays” to places they don’t know well. They research all the must-see sights and must-visit restaurants in their chosen destination, meticulously plan their itinerary and often book a guide and driver if neither of them speak the local language. When there, they truly explore and spend a lot of time talking to the natives. They supplement these busy holidays with two kinds of relaxation: one annual stay at a quiet and interesting boutique beach hotel (no family-friendly places), to which they bring only books, sun screen and snorkeling gear, as well as frequent visits to their own beach house for “chill-out time”—no guests or work, just reflection and gardening.
What can we learn about how to take leisure time from these true masters in the art of living?
- Move and exercise. Evolutionary science tells us that our fancy brains developed not while we were lounging but while we were working out. Our ancestors moved around all the time. And we should use our holidays to do the same—especially those of us in jobs that keep us at meeting tables or desks all day.
- Find peaceful, beautiful surroundings. Nature not only helps you listen to your inner voices; it can also inspire new purpose and passions. My wife María and I were walking through the solemnly beautiful Júcar Canyon in Castilla-La Mancha, when we decided to move from Madrid to Buenos Aires so I could make the most important and successful job change of my life.
- Meet different, interesting people. In one of Leonardo da Vinci’s notebooks, there is a to-do list of 15 tasks. At least eight involve consultations with other people and two focus on other people’s books. The world’s most productive people are deeply curious and collaborative and constantly seek out new acquaintances and allies – even when they’re on vacation.
- Be willing to invest. Many of us are biased toward tangible luxuries. We spend more on houses, cars, clothes, and other things, which very soon lose their initial attraction and generate all sorts of worries and maintenance needs, than we do on experiences, which, according to research, offer more long-term satisfaction, providing not only pleasure but also a chance to learn and grow. Quality vacations are one of the highest-return investments you can make.
- Plan properly. Never leave your holidays to chance. Seamless air travel, nice accommodations, guaranteed restaurant and tour bookings—all of these will make your time off more productive and enjoyable. Besides, the preparation itself can be fun. Imagine everything you might possibly do, then pick the places and activities which will give you best opportunities for renewal and reinvention and let you create the most unforgettable memories.