Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Do expats need vacations?

P1050350I’m in the US on business for a couple of days, delivering a device prototype to Chicago that my Dutch designers finished in Maastricht last week.  They’ve done amazing work – moving from concept to prototype, successful data collection to accepted abstracts, in a few month: light-speed by medical device development standards.  This will be the last of the functional validation before completing the pre-production design: I’m back in the Netherlands on Monday to work with the design team on the touchscreen displays and patient interface evaluation.

When was the last time you were in one place longer than two weeks?

A European friend asked that: ‘given the pace of the past few months, both companies fundraising and moving into preproduction design and testing, it’s not surprising that I’ve been moving around.  It’s even more telling that I couldn’t come up with an answer without checking my time sheet.

You live in Europe: it’s like vacation all the time?

A US-based friend asked that: ‘given the pictures and stories that fill my blog, visits to art shows and mooie dorpen, its not surprising that I’ve appeared to be on break.  No checking was needed though: I was ready for a vacation without a time sheet.

These two questions touch on a paradox of expat life: I’m both working harder and leisuring more intensely.  Don’t they balance out?  Why should expats need a vacation?

Three thoughts:

  • Breaking training.

Even though I’m living in Europe, it’s not the same as vacationing in Europe.  There are a thousand elements of establishing and living daily life that have to be learned, new language, customs, knowledge and processes that  have to pick up, apply, and correct.  I am always watching and learning: I love it, but it’s always active and adapting.

A vacation breaks with that – I visit somewhere that I don’t need to learn about or fit into beyond what is interesting and engaging.  

  • Breaking connectivity.

Since I have family and business connections spread over both sides of the Atlantic, my wired connections sprawl across means and times.  News from the US arrives overnight: calls to the US linger past dinner.  In between, my virtual organizations require constant coordination and communication, constant e-mail, Skype, phone and Facebook, to manage and motivate the group.  I love it, but my to-do list never clears.

A vacation snaps those connections: I advise everyone that I will be offline and I turn off all of the devices.  I’m available in emergencies, but otherwise don’t need to connect beyond informal conversations.

  • Breaking habits.

I live alongside a notepad and a diary, executing plans and visiting worksites.  In a startup, resources are scarce, funding is transient, opportunity feels fleeting.  So there’s a bias towards action: if I don’t do things, they don’t get done.  The result is 100,000 air miles, closets in three countries, the struggle to find time to read, exercise, practice language or play with charcoals.

A vacation restores balance and dimensionality.  I love sailing, the play of wind water propelling the boat, the set and drift of navigating, the scrolling panoramas of sky and shore.  The time to study clouds and immerse with a book.

I suppose the justification for vacation is no different for an expat than for anyone else.  But the intensity of entrepreneurial life overseas makes taking time off more important.

No, I still need to take vacations, even though I live in Europe.

And next year I need to plan for two weeks, in the same place.

Monday, August 27, 2012

A Swedish sail

archi mapThe Stockholm Archipelago is a wedge-shaped region of thousands of islands extending east from Stockholm, Sweden to the Baltic.  On the map it is a tangle of curved waterways  and irregular landforms.

archi2From the air it shows lush green forest and deep blue water.  You can get a hint of what its all about along the shores of Stockholm’s harbors and ferries.


But then there’s the view from a sailboat.


Along with Puget Sound, these islands have long been one of my favorite cruising areas. The waters are protected and not particularly salty.  They are, at 19 deg C, tolerable for swimming.

The Swedes leave the water around August 15, leaving it empty and moderately priced for the latter part of the summer.

There are nice southerly winds at 5-10 knots, warm days with impossibly blue skies punctuated by slow-drifting squalls, and cool lazy nights.

Red-sided, barn-roofed villages dot the larger islands, docks and electricity, a restaurant to discover or a shop to explore.  Others have a shoulder of rock and deep silent  forest beneath blazing stars.

We book through Boat Charter Stockholm, an outstanding group with well-maintained new boats at good prices.  Then we gather a group of friends, food, drink, a couple of decks of cards, and a vague idea of where to go.  And we take life as it comes, sailing, cooking, navigating, exploring for long days of total vacation.

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