My holidays define how I am feeling about my work. It’s something that I have long understood, and this year has re-affirmed my view. So, what do I mean by that? Surely holidays are holidays, and work is work, and never the twain should meet? That is true up to a point, but what I mean is that if I do think about work when I am on holiday, my feelings at that time are a very good indicator of how I am enjoying my work.
Being self-employed means that I cannot switch off from work entirely, but I do try to take time off at regular intervals throughout the year to recharge my batteries, spend time with my family, and just catch up with things that need to be done. I agreed with my client that I could take time off, made sure that someone else was available to cover my project, handed over the work to that person in a proper manner, and walked out of the client’s office without a backward glance. I will walk back into the office next Monday morning, feeling refreshed and ready to pick up the reins again. I don’t look forward to the stack of emails that will be waiting for me, but that’s just one of the inevitable downsides of taking time off from any job. But I won’t have feelings of dread as I approach the front door.
Compare and contrast this with holidays that I have taken in the past, when my work has not been as enjoyable or fulfilling as at present. It is not so many years ago that I would spend the first half-week of a two week holiday worrying about the work that I had left behind, and the final half-week with my heart in my mouth, wondering what I would go back to. That was not a healthy situation, and yet it occurred for several years running. Not good. Not good at all.
So why did I feel like that? I think it had a lot to do with the job I was in. Looking back, I can see that I was in a role that I did not really feel comfortable about. I did not really understand the organisation’s expectations of me, and therefore I never truly felt in control of the job. That meant that I was always expecting issues to arise that I perhaps should have anticipated, but seldom did. I was in a role that was wrong for me. And the interesting thing is that the whole management team went through some psychometric analysis, which actually confirmed that I had to adapt my own natural working style to such an extent that I was never going to be comfortable in that role. The role that I was most closely aligned to was project and programme management, where I could focus on delivery, measurement, and logic, rather than the more intangible aspects of pure relationship management, but that job was not available. Basically, I am delivery focused: always have been, and always will be. It is part of who I am. So I moved on, and set up Praefectus Consulting.
Did I enjoy this year’s holiday? Yes, I did. Have I thought about work? Yes, of course. Have I worried about it? No, I have not. Am I looking forward to going back? Yes, and hopefully my stand-in will have made some progress in my absence.
What does all of this tell me? Well, I think it is saying that I am now doing the type of work that best suits me, and which actually aligns with the sort of work that I have done in the past, when I have had similarly positive feelings about work when I have been on holiday. And that’s got to be a good thing.
Iain Millar, 20 July 2012