Never has it become more apparent the different values, and principles of the two places I call home than as summer starts.
About 30 days ago, I setup the out-of-office response on email so I could let people know I’d be logging offline for two full months. This signaled the shift of answering everything asfastasipossiblycanatalltimesofdayandnight, so I could set expectations and manage any open engagements. Over 100 people remarked on it. Mostly effusive, high-five supportive comments. (And, notably, one complainer.) While I’m not the first to do this, it’s certainly not common.
Apparently, some were sharing the OOO note amongst their friends, saying they were going to do it, too.
The OOO message:
I’ll be 100% offline from July 1 until September 1 working on book III which Viking/Penguin will publish in 2016. It’s on Onlyness: Make Your Ideas Powerful Enough to Dent the World. If we’re already scheduled to talk, etc, and plans are confirmed, don’t worry. We’re still on. To everyone/all else: there’s only 1 way to get a big project done, and it involves narrowing the field of focus, and then actually focusing. So, ALL new emails/requests will be deleted; if it’s still relevant get back in touch in September. In the meantime, this is a good reminder that speaking requests / media opportunities are best handled by either of my two bureaus, links can be found on this “at the mic” page: http://nilofermerchant.com/at-the-mic/
What was interesting was the number of people who said they could never do such a thing.
One argument was “what if I miss some big opportunity”. After all, for most of us… the hustle is how we got where we are. We are now conditioned to respond, to take action, and to say yes. (all the time)… So taking time “away” from that hustle somehow signals something is wrong. What if, after a month away, no one needed you, and no one called you. So much of the momentum built up would slow to a crawl.
Too many of us are afraid that opportunities will only come once. I’ve never found it especially fun to live in fear (and trust me, when you’ve grown up in a house with holes in the wall from when that rolling-pin nearly got you, you understand living in fear) and I realize that this desire to always be on is a learned way to prevent losing ground. But after these many years, I am starting to realize that life is more like a sushi-boat-restaurant than a lightning-only-strikes-once world. You have probably witnessed it, too, where interesting things do come back around just when you want it, or something even better does.
And, yet, it’s hard to let the hustle go or slow.
One aspect of a slash-career is how you often lack someone else to lean on. I remember when I worked inside organizations. Colleagues can sometimes arrange for someone else to cover for them. The editor assigns her writers to a fellow editor. The non-profit founder parse her responsibilities over 2-3 people. When I ran pricing, I could do some pre-planning for what product launch work needed to happen before I left and who could cover me in the absence. That takes juggling and often works out well. But what happens to those of us who freelance, or are entrepreneurs? We don’t have someone else to turn to. I mean we could potentially hire an assistant or someone to manage the flow in our absence but that often means more monies when you’re trying to just take a break. That’s why I love it when I see freelancing friends offer to do email triage for one another. One is doing July for the two of them. The other August for them. Each gets one month away from always-checking-in and yet still gets credit for being responsive. Just like we used to arrange for colleagues to help us in an office setting, we can find colleagues to help us in the more modern economy.
The one person who complained was basically saying that I was confusing people, but she didn’t get what I was doing. I set up the warning 30 days of logging off, because I’m reminded of what Danah Boyd says, which is “ Warnings are the key to happy relationship maintenance.” I care about the people I get a chance to work with but I am often not organized in keeping tabs of all my open agreements. So I set up my autorespond 30 days in advance so they could know. And we could manage stuff together. (Interestingly, enough, the person who complained wasted several texts telling me the complaint but not one to manage our open item.)
To be fair, I’m not good at this. But, I’m not sure many of us are. (Well, maybe, the French. God bless the French with their 2-week long vacances, rosé wines, and fromageries!) In my case, what is tugging me forward is a dream I have to do justice to the idea of Onlyness that I’m writing now. I see I need to go deeper into the stories and ideas. If I didn’t understand this as a “must-do”, I might not be making this choice. I’d probably be working most of the time this summer so that even on supposedly-named vacances, causing my son to name my mobile device a “horcrux” — something I’m unable to put down and yet drains me of energy.
But most of us struggle. And, yet, what I found in my last 30 days of conversations was how much people YEARN for this. Maybe we can help each other to do it. We can say to each other….
Don’t live in Fear. Taking time off means recharging your creativity bank.
Trust Others. Let me help you to make that happen and you help me.
Be Clear. When you share with me what you need, I’ll help you achieve it.
I guess I’ll just wrap this up with this simple communication…
Am. Logging. Off. (If I crack, and you see me on Facebook or Twitter, feel free to kick me off.)