10 Tips for a Successful Staycation

by Joan Garry

Since the pandemic started, I have been a total workaholic. So I took a 2 week staycation. It didn’t exactly go as planned…

Since the pandemic began, I have been sheltering in place at my home on the Jersey Shore.

And since then, I have been a total workaholic. I suspect I’m not alone.

Now, I totally get that given everything going on in the world, I’m privileged just to be able to work. So many don’t have that opportunity right now. But still.

I live inside my house in front of my laptop. Up with the birds, coaching, consulting, writing a second edition of my book (coming out in December – be on the lookout), and lots of virtual keynotes and webinars. Literally obsessed with helping leaders during this unprecedented time of pandemic and social unrest.

But after months of working long hours, right through weekend after weekend, I definitely needed a break.

There was a thought we might travel to Acadia National Park and find a pristine AirBnB but we got nervous about the risk. So we decided to stay right here.

A two week staycation.

It didn’t start off great. After a whole two days, I was convinced the entire thing was a bust.

Spoiler alert. It wasn’t the weather. In fact, it basically rained the entire time.

But then something changed. Something really important.

And so as someone who preaches about self-care to nonprofit leaders, I thought I’d share the lessons I learned during my staycation.

1. Manage your expectations.

We have a sign on our front lawn. OMG Please Make it Stop: 2020.

It’s been a year where so much has gone wrong. Where you start to think it can’t get worse. And then it does.

So let’s say there’s a tropical storm and you lose electricity. That’s not a hypothetical. There was a tropical storm and we did lose power.

Rather than hope we’d be back on track that same day, we just assumed it would be longer. We assumed 2 days. Then we doubled it.

Right now, at this moment in our world, you just have to know there aren’t going to be any “grand slam home run” vacations. And that’s OK.

For the record, the power came back on after 4 days.

2. One rough day does not spoil the whole “thrilling” staycation.

Part way through my staycation, I had a toothache. Oh boy.

Now, I hate going to the dentist, but I just did it.

But I couldn’t just go to any dentist. I have to drive an hour to “my” dentist – the one who embraces my phobia and gives me nitrous oxide to clean my teeth. Looking back, the nitrous was a highlight.

On the one-hour car ride, our vet called to tell us that it was time for our beloved family cat Lou to “get his things in order.” His cancer had returned. A couple of months, she said.

I’m not sure if the word is comatose or morose but I was both of those things for 24 hours as I confronted the news about Louie (with no nitrous oxide available for relief). As I sat there, I thought, “Ok, I should just go back to work and cancel my staycation.

But I didn’t. I emerged from the darkness and kept working at this staycation thing. I am a nonprofit leader in my DNA so I’m pretty resilient.

3. Reframe from “staycation” to “work slowdown”.

A lot of the work I do with clients involves a change in mindset. You know, like shifting from “my board is MIA” to “how do we get your board fired up about something and then maybe the board will do something.

So I thought I’d take a lesson from my own playbook. I think this was during the blackout, in the pouring rain, as I was helping Lou get his “things in order”.

I slowed down. And you know what? Once I stopped thinking that 2020 had stolen my vacation from me, it worked. A new mindset.

Now, I did try to create boundaries so that my wife could count on my good company (after I stopped being morose).

I also made choices about the kind of work to do. I reorganized my office. I worked on bigger projects – the ones best done without interruption. Like a new webinar I’m excited to share with you in September. Like, REALLY excited. I’ve got some “tough love” to share with my nonprofit superheroes (you) and you’d better listen!

4. Figure out a way to get away.

Yes, I know. By definition, a staycation means you didn’t go anywhere. But that doesn’t mean you can’t go anywhere, at least in your mind.

For me, it’s always been a good book. I read two of them. Of course I wanted to read three and feel a bit bad I only got through two (being an overachiever can be such a burden).

I highly recommend them both. Erik Larson’s The Splendid and the Vile. Yes it’s about Churchill’s first year and how Britain survived a year of relentless bombing. But it’s about leadership and the power of words. So I was fascinated.

Then, Maybe You Should Talk to Someone – nonfiction – a memoir written by a clinical psychologist about her patients and how they shape her and her own therapy during a tough time in her own life. It’s fascinating and funny.

When I read, I kind of disappear into that world. And getting away from this one is not a bad accomplishment for a staycation, especially in 2020.

5. Go to the “oh, I really should call…” list. And call.

It may be hard to imagine, but picking up the phone in the evenings is hard for me.

It is hard for my wife to grasp the notion that I can actually get “talked out”. But I do.

But with a work slowdown and very few meetings, you can sit on your front porch and chat with a friend. Or invite family to sit six feet away from you in your backyard on one of the three sunny days you get during your fourteen.

6. Learn something new.

I picked up three new skills during my two week staycation (again that overachiever thing is hard to shut off).

First, pickleball. I had been steering clear. I thought it screamed, “you are old but still want to do something!”

But hell, I “came out” as an older American with underlying conditions back in March. So what the heck. Pickleball is FUN and now I have a portable set to put on my street.

Next EventBrite. What Joan? Decided to organize a Zoom fundraiser for my daughter and her husband. My daughter is producing my son-in-law’s next album and there is money to be raised. I created an email campaign, a subscriber list and am more than halfway to my goal. Maybe all the way to my goal of being a good mom. At least during this staycation.

Lastly, stand up paddleboarding! OK, you got me. I needed to offset the stigma I created for myself about the whole pickleball thing.

I took a 90 min lesson and I was pretty good! I think the instructor saw me coming and rolled his eyes. I am pretty sure I exceeded his expectations. It was hard work, super fun and I felt an extraordinary sense of accomplishment. To accompany the extraordinary shooting pain in my feet.

7. Make a list of stuff that just needs to get done and just do some of it.

I’m back at my desk this morning feeling good that at least a few annual checkups are on my calendar. I know you have a list too. Pick a few things and just do ‘em.

8. Take lots of pictures.

Enjoy the view in some way you typically don’t have time for.

9. Laugh.

What will I remember about the 4-day blackout? Laughing until we were breathless cleaning out the fridge.

10. Count your blessings.

When you hear your brother talk about his grandchildren and watch his eyes light up (behind his mask), it reminds you of what a great big brother he was.

When you wake up and read the news about the pandemic and you continue to be healthy.

When you sit on the beach with your wife and partner of nearly 40 years at dusk and critique the surfers wiping out (not on my “learn something new list”)…

When you see how hard your team is rooting for you to have a real vacation.

When you take a long afternoon nap with your beloved cat on a rainy day, nodding off to the sound of a purr that tells you that at least in that moment, life is very good.

Small things are not small things. Small things are big things. Count ‘em all.

Now Go Take a Staycation

So there you have it. I survived my staycation. I didn’t break my hip on the stand up paddle board and I have the nicest cleanest fridge on the block.

Nope, it wasn’t hiking through the natural beauty of one of our national parks. Or fine dining in a great international city. But in this moment, at this time, when every breath is precious (literally), I took a few deep ones.

Grateful for the time and grateful to be back.

And please stay safe.

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