The Importance of Time for Renewal, Relaxation, and “Disconnecting”

karan powellSummer is halfway over! Leaders and team members across the nation are finding and creating time for vacations, for staycations, and/or just time for rest and relaxation. Throughout my lifetime, I have made time for a week or a few days here or there. Rarely do I recall being away for more than one workweek plus the ensuing weekends. This summer was different. We took two weeks for a cruise and international travel. I must admit I did so in fear and trepidation, wondering what would happen at the office, with strategic priorities that need attention, etc.

I found myself wondering, “What was I thinking when we scheduled this vacation?” Mostly, my concern was how would I manage being “disconnected” for two full weeks? In other words, would I be able to set aside the tether of the mobile phone and email and really just be present to family, to myself, to the events and experiences of the day? Would I really be able to fully unwind and rest, given the following facts: 1) I really felt the need for a break, for renewal and rest; 2) the team in place is very competent and capable and I have great confidence in them; and 3) the cost of mobile interaction on a ship and also internationally is outrageously expensive. It was a challenge I was willing to embrace.

Before departing, I agreed with members of the team that I would not check my email while I was away. To my leadership team, I said, “If something “urgent” (and we defined what that meant) comes up, text me; I will check texts while I’m connected on land/in port.” I also asked that they not copy me on all emails and that they spare forwarding messages to me, agreeing that we would catch up together on my first day back in the office. Off I went, feeling a bit anxious and uncertain about being away for so long and simultaneously also feeling excited about the time with my husband, on the water, and the opportunity to explore new countries.

How did it go? Well, as the plane doors were closing and I was signing off for the trip, an email came through that was “one of those strategic issues.” I had to just send it forward to someone else to be addressed. What a way to start my “disconnected” vacation! The first few days were tough, as I wanted to constantly check emails or texts and was unable to do so for most of those days being at sea. Constantly running through my head was the phrase, “let it go.” About five days into the time away, I finally felt I was relaxing. And the good news was I had over a week left to really enjoy, rest, renew, be.

I did receive a couple of texts. I did check in and had two more “strategic issue” situations. The truth is that they were all addressed and/or responded to, with formal actions to be taken when I returned. Throughout it all, however, I kept saying to and reminding myself throughout my vacation time, “Breathe deep,” “Let it go,”  “Relax,” “Be,”  “Have fun,” “Explore,” “Meet new people” . . . . and I had encouragement from my husband to do so as well. Actually, the theme for the vacation in my heart and in my head emerged as “let it go” and it was reinforced throughout the vacation by the song from the movie, Frozen, “Let It Go.”  How synchronous is that? (Yes, we were on a Disney cruise – see my previous post on quality customer service . . or customers first always!)

Two weeks later, I returned to work renewed, refreshed, and rested. While it took a couple of days to re-acclimate to the climate/humidity of the Washington DC area and to get “caught up,” I am grateful I had the time and the break and that in fact I embraced it (though reluctantly at the start). Now we have been back for two weeks and I am deeply grateful for this time. Clear thinking, humor, perspective, and a renewed commitment are gifts/attitudes I now embrace in new ways. As we enter the strategic thinking as well as strategic planning and budgeting time in our year, I feel renewed and ready to embrace the challenges of being an enterprise leader in a complex and rapidly changing higher education environment and preparing a vision and strategy that positions APUS distinctively and sustainably for the future.

In an Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges (AGB) article this weekend, The 21st Century Presidency:  A Call to Enterprise Leadership (2017), author Terrence MacTaggart elaborates on the features of enterprise leaders. One of these features, “the ability to sustain one’s personal mental health in a fraught milieu” is highlighted with the statement “at regular intervals, presidents need to take time to refresh and renew their commitment to their work and to reframe their strategies . . . .coaching and periodic respites are essential supports for effective leadership, not as prerequisites or icing on the cake.” (p. 6)

Clearly, time for rest and renewal is essential to leader and organization well-being. I am eternally grateful for the support and the time and for re-embracing what it means to “disconnect”/“let it go” in order to more fully lead and live. I am also deeply aware that this need for time and space, for “disconnecting” does not require two full weeks, but requires discipline for a weekend/few days/week at a time. This message of disconnecting is also one to be shared with the leadership team as essential for all of our success and the success of the University System.

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