Friday, November 18, 2016

Please Change My Password When I Go on Vacation

“The regulations read, ‘The supervisor and compositor shall be flogged thirty times for an error per chapter; the printer shall be flogged thirty times for bad impression, either too dark or too light, of one character per chapter.’ This helps explain both the reputation for accuracy earned by the earliest Korean imprints and the difficulty that Koreans found in recruiting printers.”
Daniel J. Boorstin. The Discoverers: A History of Man's Search to Know His World and Himself.

“I live the life I love
And I just love the life I live.”
Muddy Waters. I Love The Life I Live, I Live The Life I Love.

"Once [Sir Isaac Newton] inserted a bodkin—a long needle of the sort used for sewing leather—into his eye socket and rubbed it around 'betwixt my eye and the bone, near to the backside of my eye as I could', just to see what would happen.”
Bill Bryson. A Short History of Nearly Everything.

I've now been officially “semi-retired” for six weeks. In my case, that means I no longer have a day job. I am trying to avoid brain rot by staying engaged with the industry: advising a few startups and sitting on the Board of Directors of one. But I've otherwise given up the day to day office hours, the daily commute, and more importantly, the responsibilities of a full-time job.

Six weeks in, I have to tell you I'm happier than I've ever been in my life. I feel more refreshed and relaxed, I spend 3-4 hours a day biking, have dropped fifteen pounds in weight, my chronic back pain is under control, I'm in a better mood all the time, I sleep a full eight hours a night, I spend more time with family and friends, I am more patient and reasonable with people, I am just basically a happier human being. Highly recommended.

I don't mean to gloat. I know that would be mean since most people out there reading this still need to hold a day job and collect a paycheck. My main point is that, after thirty five years of working like a madman, I feel I'm just now realizing what life is supposed to be like. And it feels glorious.

I realize now that I have obsessed over work to the exclusion of all else for the past thirty five years. Okay, I knew this all along but I never stopped to think what it really meant. It has left scars not only on my life but also on the lives of those around me.  It is only now that I recognize the obsession with work, the twenty hour days, the lack of sleep and relaxation, all of it - was taking a huge physical and psychological toll on me. I loved working and work seemed to love me back. So all else be damned. It's a virtuous cycle (or a vicious one, depending on your point of view). The more you work, the more successful you are. The more successful you are, the harder you have to work.

So, what's my point? Barring the ability for most common folk to quit their jobs and start exercising like madmen, what am I proposing?

Take vacations. No. I mean really take vacations. Insist on taking real vacations. Ones where you unplug. Ones where you cannot connect with work except for emergencies. Ideally for four weeks or more per year. It should be a law enforced by congress that we should lose all access to our work related email and chat accounts when we go on vacation. I wish employers would just change the employee’s password for the duration of their vacation. If they need you, they will call. We have your number. Don't call us, we’ll call you.

I say this as I remember the last vacation I had with my family while still working. Last year, my daughter and son-in-law gave us (my wife and I) the gift of a vacation in Mexico. They spent five days with us in Puerto Vallarta. It was a lovely trip and we all had a great time but it was two days into the trip that I realized something. I had spent more time on my laptop and on the phone, working, than I had with my family. Every five minutes I had to check my email. Check a dozen Hipchat channels to see if there are any disasters in progress at work. Dial in a couple of meetings every day. Check Twitter to see if there are any major DDoS attacks in progress or any customer issues that need immediate attention. You get the idea.

Of course, the bigger problem is that even when we are not looking at the screen, our brains are working on the most recent set of problems we just heard about in an email chain or on a call. And we call this a vacation? No wonder we return to work more exhausted than when we left.

Business trips are even worse. On my most recent business trip to London last year, I found myself awake every night until 6 AM conversing with folks back in California, falling asleep at 7 AM for a couple of hours, before jumping up to go in for the day with the London office. Of course, you are also likely to catch a nasty bug on the flight out. Or, more likely, on the flight back when your immune system is weak from jet lag and sleepless nights. The flights used to be the only time when you could unplug. No more. I've spent entire fourteen hour flights arguing with colleagues - in real time. Thanks to In-flight wifi.

Of course, I realize that I'm describing my own personal problems. My obsession with work. But I suspect it resonates with a few of you out there. What I realize now is that my brain was on overdrive. Non-stop. Twenty Four Seven. And that can take a toll on you over time. Physically, mentally, and socially. The least we can do is shut it down - I mean really shut it down - once in a while. Hence the proposal for the vacation thingy.

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