Back from the Break

I have just returned to work after a Christmas and New Year break with my family. It was the first time in many years where our annual vacation was just us: my wife, myself and the two boys.

Immediately before writing this piece, I commented to my far better half that the last few weeks were just like being a boy again myself. There were long, lazy summer days, fresh watermelon, a few visits to the movies and frequent dips in the pool.

But the vacation was more than reliving old experiences. For the first time in many years I turned off the mobile phone and my voicemail reported to callers that I was uncontactable until early January. To my wife’s amazement I even stubbornly refused to access my work emails in an attempt to get over the 24/7 political work cycle.

Frankly it worked and I have never felt more invigorated and refreshed after a break than I do now.

That says something about how work and leisure are becoming increasingly entwined. More specifically, workplace demands are intruding more and more on our leisure time through the constant demands of email, mobile phones and the desire to access the latest news via the Internet.

At its most basic level, one can witness the scramble by airline passengers to access mobile phones as soon as their plane lands. With some exceptions, one wonders what can be so important that every message has to be accessed within minutes of hitting terra firma. Unfortunately, I already know the answer because I am one of those who instinctively reach for their iPhone as soon as possible.

The question is why?

Rather than enjoy the blessed relief from the incessant demands of modern communications, too many of us seem to crave the ego boost that comes from knowing someone else wants to make contact.

When the phone doesn’t ring or the new messages don’t ‘bleep’, rather than cherish the peace we are more likely to question our relevance to the world. It seems the only thing worse than being interrupted by electronic gadgetry is the thought that we might not be needed.

It is hard not to think that this constantly ‘on’ mind-set is having a negative impact on family life. As kids scramble for the family computer, dads immediately respond to their unremitting Blackberry messages and mums are bombarded with an avalanche of telephone calls, one can only wonder at the lack of real communication among family members.

The past few weeks have reminded me of just how important that is. By sharing experiences with my family, undistracted by the binds of modern communications, my holiday (and theirs) was enhanced immeasurably.

In the cut-throat world of politics it is easy to think that a call unanswered or an email unread could be the equivalent of career suicide. In fact I am sure that many people in many different vocations would feel exactly the same.

However, as the past few weeks have shown, despite a temporary withdrawal from business as usual, the world continues to function. At the very least it is humbling but at its best there is a great lesson for many of us.

At the end of the day, when work demands have diminished, the only people who will be remembering our ‘lifetime achievements’ will be those who shared them with us. More likely than not it will be our family.

They won’t be remembering our personal career highlights but the special moments we managed to share with them – even if that means scaring yourself half to death by falling 39 stories in a few seconds on a crazy amusement park ride called the Giant Drop!

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