Let’s Go Chasing Waterfalls

I’ve been on “vacation” in Ecuador almost two weeks now, and it’s largely been great.  I’ve been able to do a ton of hiking, some horseback riding, some rafting, and some reading.  But along the way, I have not done a great job of letting go of work.  At all.  Part of this is that we have been dealing with a little bit of a situation that’s needed my attention, to the extent that I’m cutting my trip by about a week.  But I cut it, ostensibly, so that I could really relax and get away from work for this week.  And that has not happened.

And so today, I set out by myself on a 60-kilometer bike-ride down gorgeous Ecuadorean mountains, through small towns and near remote waterfalls.  But before I took off, a few Board of Director emails had stressed me out.  I felt that they essentially were telling me, 1) Enjoy your vacation, and 2) Fix the situation! Incompatible thoughts causing me significant angst.

And so, as I took off along the ride, I literally stopped every twenty minutes by the side of the road to pull out my phone and shoot off e-mails.  Which must have been quite the site. After one of these exchanges, my mind remained on work, and I was thinking about how to present some rather radical ideas to the Board at our next meeting.  At that moment, I slipped on a wet part of the road under a small waterfall, completely falling on my right elbow. It was a fall that was 110% caused by the fact that I was not paying any attention to the road.  After shouting a four-word expletive and realizing that I was okay, save for a few scrapes, I started cracking up while lying on the ground.  How ridiculous was I?  I was in the middle of a beautiful ride, and all I could think about was work.  All I could do was work.  I don’t really believe in signs, but if they exist, then this sure as hell was one.

I got up, dusted and dried myself up (after, of course, making sure my phone was okay), and started back down the road.  But this time, I stopped checking e-mails every few kilometers, and actually enjoyed the ride.  The gorgeous waterfalls.  The lush scenery.  The remote towns.  I enjoyed myself.  And I didn’t fall again.

Here’s the thing- this is not a new thing, I am really bad at taking vacations.  And I think a lot of us are similar in this respect.  About 18 months ago, I went to Puerto Rico with my then-girlfriend, and literally spent about 75% of the time by the pool with my laptop out, working.  Unaspiringly (and smartly, on her part), that relationship didn’t last after the end of the trip (while I’m traveling with a friend on this trip, I’m still working up to the ability to travel with a significant other again).  My parents continually get frustrated at me whenever I am with them at my inability to disconnect.  And the first thing I’ve done every day on this trip is check my email, respond, and have almost daily calls with my Managing Director.

The reasons for this, actually, are a little complex, at least I think.  I believe in hard work.  And there is no way Generation Citizen would be where it is today if I, and my team, had not put in the long days and nights.  I also, for the most part, genuinely like work.  It’s not a burden.

But I’m also realizing that I’m a little addicted to it, in an unhealthy way.  It allows me to feel needed, valuable, indispensable.  It allows me not to worry about other things going on in my life.

But something happened as I fell off the bike.  I realized that I didn’t really like parts of the person that I have become.  If I can’t be present when I’m bike riding through waterfalls in Ecuador, when can I be?  And who the hell wants to hang out with a guy who always has his mind on work and his eyes on his phone?

I don’t want to get on one of those rants that we’re all too connected and need to spend more time unplugging (we are and we do); people much more eloquently than me have and will continue to tout that line.  But I know that when I look back over this trip, I won’t remember work.  I’ll remember the hike around the gorgeous lagoon, the ride in the concrete truck after I got lost walking, the bike ride to the waterfalls.  And when I look back over the past few months in New York, work is important, and our Civics Days were wonderful.  But perhaps more memorable were the football games in Prospect Park, the hike up Bear Mountain, grilling in my back yard.

And so, as I get ready to officially head back to work, I’m realizing some things need to change.  It’s not that I will stop working hard- I am completely committed to Generation Citizen and its mission.  And I also know none of this will change overnight. But I want to be able to stop working when I need to stop working.  I want to spend more time with the people I care about and love.  I want to be able to say no to radio interviews at 10:45 PM on Sunday nights (which I did, today).  I want to tell Board members that they can’t contact me whenever they want to, because I want to have a life.  I want to be out with my parents and not check my phone ever 10 minutes.  I want to be able to take a bike ride, not fall, and actually enjoy the waterfalls.

– Scott, Executive Director