A Vacation’s Gifts Are More Than Souvenirs

Aerial view of a single red beach umbrella at the line between the blue sea and the light sand

Ahhh, summer! Life at NIH and NLM doesn’t really slow down this time of year—in fact, with all the interns and visiting scholars on campus, it can seem even busier, more frenetic than normal—but the long days and warm weather still bring with them a welcome ease. They also usher in vacation season for many, including me.

I’m on vacation right now, spending time with family (including, at different points, my 25-year-old son, my 89-year-old mom, eight of my nine siblings, and at least a handful of my 27 nieces and nephews), exploring Atlantic Coast beaches with friends, knitting, reading, and relaxing.

Sometimes a vacation’s most important gift is time away, breaking free of the everyday, dabbling in novel pursuits, opening up to unexpected opportunities and surprising vistas. In fact, I cherish my time off for that, for the chance to press the reset button. It helps me feel better, and it’s critical to finding fresh perspectives and uncovering new ideas once I return to the office.

My being away also allows those back at the ranch to experience work life without me. My absence gives them a chance to grow by tackling issues on their own or negotiating a temporary shift in duties. And once I’m back, I appreciate the skills they’ve learned and must sometimes develop a few myself as I adapt to changes that occurred over those two weeks.

But vacations are also about what we do during them, and this doing delivers its own gifts.

I’m going to use some of this vacation to catch up with one of my sisters. We usually see each other three or four times a year, with quick visits squeezed in between work events or hectic family gatherings. But this week we’re just going to hang out, enjoying the luxury of a few days of unstructured time together. I’ll watch her garden (I never help, but I love seeing her creativity), and she’ll try (once again!) to learn knitting from me.

Mostly though we’ll talk, and I’ll devour this wise woman’s insights. We’re similar in a lot of ways, including some career overlap. She has worked as a health policy expert, leaving government to join a university faculty, while I—long the die-hard academic—joined government after a career in the academy. So aside from the family chatter and sisterly banter, I look forward to learning from her again, whether that’s how to manage an issue or ways to move within the government labyrinth.

I’m also going to spend a few days with a high school classmate. We’ve been friends for 50 years—through career changes, relocations, and family milestones (for me, a child; for her, a dog). She’s a business woman who launched her own company about a decade ago. I’m continually amazed at how brave she is, how open to meeting the world head on as she grows her business. I look forward to our time together and the chance to continue to build our relationship, finding new ways to get to know someone I already know so well.

And even that helps me at work. After all, it occurred to me that, when you run an organization that is almost 200 years old, there’s tremendous value in understanding how to refresh what you do while holding true to first principles.

Which, come to think of it, could be considered the very purpose of vacation.

So as you enjoy your vacation or stay-cation, your long weekend or afternoon off, try to embrace both the respite it offers and the opportunities it brings. We’ll all be better for it.

Photo credit (beach, top): Christopher Rusev on Unsplash

2 thoughts on “A Vacation’s Gifts Are More Than Souvenirs

  1. Nursing for 40 yrs and my med-Surg textbook is ringing in my ear. Love that you are the Director of NLM. I retired federal worker as Clinical Research Nurse @ CC NCI.

  2. How refreshing to hear you speak of the value of time off – completely off – from work! Thank you for reinforcing the great need for that today.

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