How My Recent Vacation Changed Me

by Joan Garry

My recent vacation was life changing. But it also taught me an important lesson about gratitude that doesn’t require going halfway around the world.

I just had a real honest-to-goodness vacation. I’m still pinching myself.

Not one week. Not even two weeks. Three and a half weeks. Away. Not checking email. Not writing this blog.

And it wasn’t just the length of time that was remarkable. We traveled halfway around the world. The trip of a lifetime to Australia and New Zealand.

I learned a few things during my vacation. More than a few. Really important things that I need to share with you. They are kinda “Dorothy wearing the ruby slipper things” and I believe they will mean something to you. So, stay with me.

But I’ll start with a few basics.

There are five sheep for every one person in New Zealand. The genius behind the Sydney Opera House actually never saw it completed. Snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef is just as thrilling as you might imagine (and they should call it something more than ‘great.’ That’s SO not a big enough word.)

The whole kangaroo with the joey in the pouch – it gives you goosebumps. And yes, everything in New Zealand looks like a set from Lord of the Rings (actually, I believe every nook and cranny of New Zealand was a set element from Lord of the Rings).

And lastly, Jupiter has moons and Saturn has rings. I saw them with my very own eyes.

But I need to tell you the biggest lesson I learned. And it does not require a trip halfway around the world.


This isn’t the lesson but I’m getting there. It’s kind of counterintuitive.

You stand on the bow of a sailing vessel and stare at The Great Barrier Reef. You gasp at the awesome (using this word correctly) beauty of Milford Sound, a magnificent fjord on New Zealand’s South Island.

Shouldn’t these things make you feel small, affirm some kind of human insignificance?

They don’t. Experiencing the vastness of the universe actually had the opposite effect for me. I felt bigger, more important and, dare I say, part of some larger plan. A sense that we are not outside this vastness but rather part of it.

I felt stronger, like my part in this universe mattered. That I mattered. That I was here for a reason.

And as for the mundane parts of life back home, well they felt mundane. Does it really matter that my son got a parking ticket while using my car? Nope, not really. I’m sure he’s relieved to see me write that. But I could make an awfully long list of such things and so too could you.

Our best friend traveled with us and when asked about her favorite part of the trip, she talked about our long drives through New Zealand, the landscape changes, the turquoise lakes created by glaciers. And oh, the sheep. 

It was all about the view.


There was this tree in the rainforest. A fig tree.

Desperate to climb to the roof of the rainforest to find the light, it wrapped itself around another tree and grew around it. We saw the efforts of that fig tree – over hundreds of years. The tree it wrapped around had died. What remained was a climbing fig tree, twisting and turning heading upward.

It was remarkable. The tree told a story. It had history. And like me, it had an important role to play in this universe of ours.

And now to my lesson.


I am privileged. I know it. But my lesson doesn’t involve a 3-week vacation. You don’t need enough frequent flier miles to travel somewhere exotic.

Because truly, I didn’t have to go on vacation to a rainforest in Australia to see a tree. To look at a tree. I can go outside and just find a tree. Or I can sit and look out at the Atlantic Ocean from the Jersey Shore and consider my place in the universe.

We are all wearing the ruby slippers. The key to self-care, to rejuvenation?

The view. Your view. Go find one. It could be close by, a car ride or right outside your door.  A lake, the ocean, a hiking trail. Sitting on a park bench and listening to birdsong.


I’m writing this on an airplane ride home from a speaking gig. The first 30 minutes of the ride? I just looked out the window. Lights, homes, families, stories. Ah yes, a few stars.

I was dog tired when I boarded this plane. And then I considered the view and the wonder of that view has refueled me. I actually began taking photographs out my window. And it was my view out that little window that compelled me to write this blog post.

I was in Lake Junaluska today for a speaking gig and woke up this morning to this view.

Pretty awesome, right? Just outside my hotel room. Thanks to the lessons of my vacation, I took extra time with this view. And when I headed to the ballroom, that view fueled me.

I often say that when you are out of gas with the mundane work of nonprofit life, you should “go touch the work.”

Today I offer a different message. Make a commitment this coming weekend to go find something to look at that reminds you of the vastness of the universe.

Really look at it.

Consider the view.

One last thing, I looked forward to coming home. I love my work. I’m very glad to be back. That makes me lucky too.

So what does your view look like?