Take a Break – Fallow ground; fallow times.

Here in the northern hemisphere – from where I am writing – many of us are wrapping up the stack of work on our desks and looking to taking a break:  getting away from the office or the demands of the daily routine and looking to a more relaxed time with family and friends and time in the garden, or by the sea, or in the workshop, or with a stack of fiction.   We are moving into vacation mode for the next few weeks. 

But each year I inevitably have a conversation with one of my colleagues or peers who insist that the demands they face and carry mean that they simply do not have this option.   Their job is “more than full time” and there are a whole host of pressure points such than any kind of leave, let alone an extended leave, is simply not something they can afford to do.   A fellow president who has been in office at a sister university has not had a vacation or significant break in over eight years.

The case needs to be made that our organizations are best served when there are rhythms – times of engagement, perhaps with quite long hours, over an  extended period of time, and times of dis-engagement.   The New York Times inevitably has at least one “making the case for taking a vacation” about this time each year.  And this is surely welcome in that even though it is a non-negotiable in my life, I like to read the NYT op ed if only to keep me from anything approaching a mild level of guilt that my vacation is going to happen. 

We need sabbath; we need extended Sabbaths for the sake of body and soul, for the resting of the mind . . . for there to be fallow times in our schedule when there is time to walk, and think, and pray and read without the pressure to perform or deliver outcomes or get things done.  The net result is a higher level of personal and emotional health and a greater capacity to be truly engaged when we are back “at the desk” and on the job.

Some are no doubt more rigid on this than I am; they do not check their texts or their e-mail.   And some even fast from the daily news – which is likely a wise course of action.   But, while I do not disengage entirely and no doubt some readers will insist that then perhaps I do not get it, it works for me:  I am away and over several weeks I do not tend to anything that comes anywhere near causing me stress [that is, work related stress]. 

I am sure that it works differently for different people, but in my case, it takes me about two weeks to completely dis-engage.  This means that the vacation leave itself needs to be long enough so that there is a substantial amount of time post those “two weeks.”   Years ago my wife and I both read a piece that argued that for a holiday or vacation leave to be truly effective had to be long enough . . . that is, long enough that the body and the mind and the heart are truly rested.   And that, further, it takes longer when we grow older; our bodies and our minds need more time to renew and replenish and that this needs to be taken into account when it comes to our holiday leaves.  The proposal from the article was that we need one week for every decade of our age to truly come to renewal and restoration.  So, if you are 54, they would argue you need a minimum of five weeks of continuous disengagement.   A few days here and there will not do it; the body needs the fallow time of disengagement.  And we need to respect our bodies and be attuned to them and accept the limits of age.   Though, I should quickly add, that while it may take more time, more perhaps actually happens in our times of disengagement.  We process things more slowly but with the greater synthesis that comes with the passage of time and a few more years under our belt. 

Take a break; and make it long enough so that there genuinely is a season of rest and renewal.

Institutional Intelligence is the capacity to work effectively within organizations.