"The Great Wall of China" - 长城

Image by SmokingPermitted - "Cosa sono? La bambina dei no" via Flickr

Angela Petitt has what I would call ‘time freedom’. She woke up one day, twenty years into her corporate career, took stock of where she was versus where she wanted to be, quit her job and went on a one-and-one-half year sabbatical. She reduced her debt to the point that she could comfortably live on her savings while investing in herself.

“I believe we all have deep-rooted desires that we want to accomplish, but we suppress them due to the daily grind of life and responsibilities.  We tend to think ‘One day I will do it’ or that they are pipe dreams and not possible.” She climbed the Great Wall in China, froze in Siberia, escaped the unfortunate earthquake and tsunami in Japan, learned how to fly a small plane and started working on her doctorate.”

Her adventures have been documented on her blog, Sabbatical Scapes. For her, the nineteen months she’s spent discovering the world brought her closer to herself.

Isn’t that what travel is all about? Travel is a stretching experience. Where will your life take you?

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Forest Bathing

August 18, 2010

The Japanese are at it again. No, I’m not talking about their being replaced by China as the second largest world economy. I’m referring to their most interesting way of looking at life, Nature and well-being.

The other day I stumbled upon a New York Times article about forest bathing. Before you think you’ve got to grab a zinc tub and some Ivory soap and head for the woods, think again. Forest bathing refers to the Japanese term, “Shinrin-yoku”, which means to literally surround yourself with forest air. The airborne natural chemicals, phytonides, that plants emit to stave off insects and strengthen their immune system have been proven to increase our natural killer cell (aka white blood cell) activity. In a 2007 study of men who took a two-hour forest walk twice a day, their white blood cells increased by 50% in just a few days!  Japan’s Chiba University conducted another study that found the forest air let to lower concentrations of the stress hormone cortisol, a lower pulse rate and lower blood pressure. Now those are even more reasons to strap on your boots and go for that nature walk.

Although the University of Sussex claims a nature walk reduces stress only by 42% (as determined by pulse rate) while reading just six minutes brings your stress levels down by 68%, the side benefits of walking through the woods are very compelling.

So the next time you find you’re teetering toward burnout, push your chair back, walk away from your computer and head for the wooded hills for a slow walk.

Take a dip in the forest air. Your heart will thank you for it.

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The Great Wall of China at Mutianyu
Image via Wikipedia

“China?” My friend’s face dropped a notch. His company was sending him on a six-month stint to the coldest part of China starting September. He knew his career depended on it. His wife seemed philosophical.

“I’ve always wanted to visit The Great Wall,” she smiled.

And so he went with a tear in his eye while he left his wife and kids to fend for themselves.

Project work can be stressful. If you work for a project-oriented organization as my friend does, work-life balance is an Ivory Tower term. It sounds great, but doesn’t exist. While I advocate words such as ‘alignment’ and ‘life’s purpose’, we all know what is meant by the work-life analogy. Work is a part of life. It’s not everything.

Rodney Turner, Martina Huemann and Anne Keegan reported on the challenges of work-life balance for project-based organizations in the International Journal of Project Management 26 (2008) 577-585. They concluded that project managers are self-selecting (meaning they really do like the diversity project-based work brings and therefore choose their projects as they wish). The greatest challenge is with shorter term projects, such as the one my friend had to lead. Budgets are made well in advance so you risk not having the resources to carry out your job. You also have a high level of intensity the entire time due to tight timelines. Larger projects are more foreseeable. You can pace yourself better and spend time with family in between.

“The ideal project-oriented organization,” the authors claim, “has a specific management culture expressed in the empowerment of employees, process-orientation and team work, continuous and discontinuous organizational change, customer-orientation and networking with clients and suppliers.”

In other words, they have more time to be human.

Interviewing over 50 managers in 15 organizations throughout Europe and the US, the authors inquired as to the ethical treatment of the employees. Many of the employees opted to work 60 to 70 hours per week simply because they enjoyed the work. As any consultant will tell you, we enjoy the feast before the famine. And contractors are under pressure to bid the lowest while still building in a profit margin to get the work done under budget.

“For companies undertaking large proejcts, the work environment is less dynamic, less frenetic and so tehre is greater cope for balancing the work load.”

If you find yourself in a hectic work environment, ask yourself if it’s really worth it. In the case of my friend, he had no choice if he wanted to remain employed. And the kicker? He wants to go back to China every now and then to check in with his former team. Somehow, despite all the hardship he learned a lot and realized his potential in ways he never imagined.

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