Go Ahead and Take a Break

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View from the Rim – cc photo by J. Delp

This week I took a break.

I packed up some of my gear and headed into the mountains near Payson, Arizona for a two-night camping trip. October in the mountains in Arizona is true fall weather — something I don’t often experience in Phoenix. It was beautiful, with highs in the low seventies and lows around forty (or a little below).

After setting up camp in a large stand of Ponderosa pine, I spent the rest of the day — and a significant portion of the next — fishing in a picture-perfect mountain stream. I use the term “fishing” liberally. I caught one fish (a beautiful brown trout) and spent the remainder of my time untangling my line, changing flies, standing in the cold crystal clear water, and reading and writing under the trees that lined the stream bank, and taking a mid-morning nap in the refreshingly warm sun.

The purpose of my trip was to get out of the office (our school is on fall break) and quit thinking about anything related to work. I needed some time to unwind and recharge. For me, the forest is a good place to do that. If you know me, you know that leaving work behind is a challenge (you can read about that here: Okay With Being Still). Lately, it has been a struggle to find my “rhythm” at work. Our first quarter was busy and chaotic. It probably was no different than it always is in junior high school, but as a ninth year principal, I think things are wearing on me. It has felt different and I seem to be continually operating in crisis mode. Long story short, it was time to getaway.

Amid this beautiful setting, where the only thing that constitutes noise is the rustling of the pine trees and gurgling of the stream, work began to creep back into my mind. But, it was different. It wasn’t the stress-inducing thoughts brought on by thinking of a to-do list or other minutia. I found that with a clear mind, no expectations, and a quiet setting I was thinking of potential solutions to some of our school’s most pressing issues. This thinking felt good. Instead of draining, it was invigorating.  For the first time, in a long while, I felt creative. The opportunity to problem solve and think critically — without interruption or obligation to immediately “fix” something — was refreshing.

On the second day of my trip, I began to consider how I can bring this kind of thinking back to the office when I return on Monday. How can I carve out time for deep thought and creativity? How do I reduce the time I spend in crisis mode, dealing with the “little stuff” so that I can spend more time on those things that matter most? Astonishingly, I began to come up with some realistic options. I stopped my fishing for about thirty-minutes, found a nice spot under a tree, and began writing down my ideas. That blog post will be coming soon.

In the end, not only was my quick trip to the mountains restful, but it was also mentally rejuvenating — offering hope for a better way to work. And, I caught a fish. It was a good two days.

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