Unplugging Halfway Around the WorldOctober 9, 2018
By Maggie LaMaack, Account Director
Writers note: Not everyone is able to totally unplug, so I would like to start by saying thank you to my amazing team for taking over my responsibilities while I was gone.
I will not be the first or last to write about the importance of taking a vacation. Article after article has instructed busy professionals to “just turn off your email,” or “take your vacation days!” Until this year I have been the person these articles were making those pleas to. Addicted to email? Check. Constantly my cell phone? Um, the new iPhone update that tracks your screen time legitimately makes me anxious.
But when I heard my fiancé tell his mom he was excited not for our upcoming vacation but for me to “have a few weeks away from all the emails,” I knew it was probably time for me to try out this crazy thing called “turning off.”
We left for Japan and Vietnam three weeks ago and I did my best to spend a full 14 days away from work responsibilities. And I only cheated once! I turned off so much that I didn’t even bother to write captions on most of my Instagram posts because it seemed too much like work. I’m sure my mom was not impressed.
So, what happens when you spend 14 days offline*? Here’s what I found out:
Turns out, I’m not the most important person in the world. Crazy, right? I spent the week before I left asking my boss what he was going to do without me (I was only half joking), and stressing out about every possible thing that could awry. Don’t get me wrong: Preparation is important before a two-week trip. However, when I came back and asked how everything went, I got a shrug and a, “fine, nothing out of the ordinary.” I was honestly almost offended until I realized maybe I get a little too high off of all the madness I encounter in any given week, and I work with a bunch of smart people whose job it is to handle problems. Maybe I should chill out a little bit.
A new world gives you new perspective. If nothing else, vacation is a great reminder your entire world is just a dot on the map. You’re not the only one out there who is creating and trying to solve problems, and most people’s problems are a lot more important than your own. Spending a significant amount of time in another place also opens your mind to a whole new world of thinking. For example, Tokyo was unlike anything I have ever experienced. It’s a giant city that runs on a system I never thought was possible when 9 million+ people are trying to go about their day-to-day lives. People there are respectful and orderly (what a concept!) to the point it was almost creepy at times. While I always conceptually understood the way America runs is far from perfect, being in Tokyo made me rethink how simply spending time raising children to be respectful not only of people but also their environment can create a city and culture that feels a lot less chaotic than the one we live in here. I am more than aware Japan is not without its issues. It might have been the fact that I was finally relaxing for once, or maybe it was the city itself, but during the week I spent walking around Tokyo’s garbage-less streets, I felt more inspired than I have felt in years.
Trying to turn off? Try not speaking the language. A strange thing I realized halfway through our vacation was how much I listen to other people’s conversations. I’m a naturally curious/nosy human being, and I like to know what is happening around me. I didn’t realize how much baggage you can take on just by listening to people complaining about their lives/jobs/the state of the world on a daily basis. Spending two weeks in countries where the majority of the population doesn’t speak your language allows you to turn your brain off in a way that is impossible when you travel domestically. You can’t listen to anyone because you can’t understand them. So you can focus all your attention on being present in whatever moment you’re in. For us, that was usually eating or drinking. But concentrating on how delicious ramen can be is an important part of enjoying Asia.
Creativity comes from everywhere. It’s no secret that getting out of your comfort zone can help boost creativity. During my two weeks in Japan and Vietnam, I ate crazy seaweed and octopus, drank cocktails that looked like a garden and watched people make food on the street that was better than anything I could ever imagine cooking myself. From food to fashion, I saw and tried things that were not only brand-new to me, but opened my mind to new ways of creating art out of everyday life. We even bought a new Japanese knife so we can continue getting creative with our food now that we’re home.
The fashion! I was so inspired by the fashion in Japan. Anyone who knows me knows I’m a sucker for clean lines and muted colors, and walking around Tokyo was basically like attending a real-life fashion show created just for me. After a few days of ogling at all the woman walking to work in the morning, I realized I’d gotten in a rut with my own wardrobe. I knew that had to be fixed immediately, so I pulled out my credit card and spent roughly three days repairing the problem. It’s amazing how a few (OK several) new pieces can really make a difference in your wardrobe. I’m aware how insane this paragraph has sounded so far, but over the last few weeks I’ve been so excited to mix and match my new clothes. I’m able to wake up and get creative to start the day. I have Japan to thank for setting me straight.
Vacation is worth it for nothing else than clearing your head. Since my return, I honestly feel like a weight has been lifted off me. My head feels clear and I’m excited to take on new projects – not only at work, but in my life as well. I even feel like I’m sitting taller. Who knows how long it will last, but at least next time I’ll be able to recognize the signs and put those frequent flier miles to use.
*By offline I mean off work email. Lol at me being totally offline.