On March 27 this year, I lost my mom. She was my favorite traveling companion and one of my best friends, and even though at 90 she’d had a long and rich life, I still wasn’t ready for her to go. The next two months were pretty rough for me as I dealt with this loss on top of the pandemic stress of the last year and half. I also found myself in the middle of a weird guilt trip, feeling that experiencing joy or letting myself be happy would be the same as forgetting about—and therefore betraying—my mom. In short, I was stuck.
When some dear friends called to invite me on a two-and-a-half week vacation to Greece in mid-June, I realized that I needed to shake things up in my life. Without even checking my calendar, I went full-on carpe diem and said yes.
And I am so glad I did. In a nutshell, this trip saved my soul.
Being in a new (to me) place with thousands of years of recorded history reminded me to hold on to the wonderful memories of my parents (my dad passed away in 2005) but not to let those memories hold on to me. I remembered that life does indeed go on (a perspective I had lost for a while) and that the best thing I can do to honor both my parents and myself is to live my life in the now and to the fullest.
This whole experience reminded me of how important it is to not get stuck in our lives—both professional and personal. Sure, routines can be helpful for “automating” some tasks. For me, routines ensure that I structure my work time efficiently, make steady progress toward my career goals, and maintain good dental health. (Let’s be honest here: how many of us would actually floss regularly if we didn’t do it automatically as part of our bedtime routines?)
But too much routine can be bad, because it can close doors to new opportunities and ossify your thinking. Because routines can be comfortable, occasionally you have to give yourself a kick in the pants to break free of them. Here are three tips I’ve codified from my Greece travels…
First, resolve to do something new every month.
At work this could take the form of learning a new skill, or making the effort to get to know one of your colleagues better (say, by inviting them to grab coffee or lunch with you). At home maybe you’ll pick up a new hobby or try a new recipe. The possibilities for new experiences in both areas of your life are endless. The sky truly is the limit here.
Second, take the road less traveled.
Don’t spend all your time on the path you already know well—you already know what that’s like. Instead, open yourself up to the unexpected, to explorations, to new challenges. That’s where growth opportunities lie. If you make a list of the most successful business leaders, odds are good that each of them has at least one “take the road less traveled” experience in their past that contributed to their success.
Third, find joy in your life.
I know, that can be hard to do when you’re dealing with deadlines and family obligations(and, of course, a pandemic too!). If you’re struggling to locate joy, take a look at some of my earlier posts on the subject: “Creating Joy Amid the Chaos” and “Leading with Gratitude: No Longer a Hippy-Dippy Theory.” (And if you’re having trouble finding any light at all, recognize that sometimes we need to get help from others—and then seek the help you need for yourself.)
Do you need to go to Greece to help yourself bust out of your routines? Of course not. (Though if you have ever had any interest in visiting Greece, I say go for it—it’s absolutely amazing!) Your own “road less traveled” doesn’t have to take you across an ocean. In fact, it could lead right through your own (metaphorical and literal) backyard! Here’s some suggestedreading to kickstart your thinking in new directions and help you plan your next step:
- “Stop Whining and Go After Your Dreams”
- “Secrets to a Successful Career Change”
- “Revealing Your Inner Passion: 3 Simple Steps to Uncovering Long-Dormant Dreams”
- “Opening Your Own Business: 11 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Going Out on Your Own”
- “What to Do When Job Change Happens to You”
- “30 Days / 30 Ways to Accomplish Your Goals (part 1)”
- “30 Days / 30 Ways to Accomplish Your Goals (part 2)”
If this last year and a half has taught us anything, it’s that life can change (or come to a screeching halt) in the blink of an eye. Don’t wait to look for ways to shake up your routines and make changes: start that journey today. So take those unused vacation days, make that career change, volunteer for a new assignment, go after your dreams—whatever form your own “road less traveled” takes, do it now!
All my best! Val
P.S. To kickstart your Greece travel plans, here’s a great article from Travel+Leisure detailing “10 Mistakes to Avoid on a Trip to the Greek Islands.”