Retreat From Reachable

Written by Susan Hatten

I recently had the opportunity to take a vacation out of the country, where I knew in advance that I may have some issues with phone and Internet connectivity while away. It had been quite some time since I’d taken a true vacation (I consider a vacation when I set my Out of Office response in Outlook) —to the tune of two years.

I was thrilled to be taking time away from the daily grind but admit to anxiety upon our departure. What if I missed an email from a potential client who finally decided to move forward? What if we received that last sum of money for a large fundraising project I’m involved in and I didn’t respond with immediate gratitude? What if I could not react swiftly enough to offer my input on an actionable RFP?

It wasn’t until my return from the Dominican Republic that I read the blog post by Tammy Kahn Fennell called “I Turned My Smartphone Off for 72 Hours and the World Didn’t Explode.” Tammy experienced the same anxiety and worrisome behavior that I had felt prior to vacation and realized, after turning her phone completely off while on her family vacation, that the world would still rotate, sun would rise and set, and emails would still flow, regardless of her connectivity.

It was clear to me soon after we settled into our tropical resort that our wireless access was spotty (at best) and that emails were not flowing in sync. After the first day of secret anxiety, I began to relax. I felt a silky lightness by not checking my phone constantly and a bit of reprieve from the chains of immediacy.  I took time to read, to soak up some vitamin D, to nap (gasp!) and to truly feel the sand beneath my feet.

My days were no longer defined by meeting invitations, deadlines and conference calls. But rather, sunscreen reapplication, water aerobic offerings and the nightly congregation of soul and substance on the resort terrace.

While I did check my email at the business center once per day, I only responded to what was necessary and had traveled with several people who had my best vacation interests at heart. Without saying it, I knew that my time limit in the business center was frowned upon if it encroached on our usual it’s-5-o’clock-somewhere cocktail happy hour. Beyond this, I had no desire to sit in front of a computer screen as the palm trees were swaying and flamingos flocking, literally right outside of our door.

As we smoothly passed through U.S. Customs on our return and began receiving regular cellular access, I took a deep breath knowing that we were back to reality. Back to immediacy and reachability. Back to being available, as my Outlook Out of Office response shut off once again.

This vacation was unlike those of the past in that I felt a certain clarity and refreshment as I came home. It seems as though the picturesque sunsets and beauty captured with each warm breath reminded me of why I’m here. What is important to me—both personally and professionally—and why moments of solitude are absolutely invaluable.

My next retreat from reachable is already on my mind. Perhaps I will even follow Tammy’s lead and go completely off the grid. I’ve determined that it’s never too early to begin drafting your next Out of Office auto response.


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