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My twitter stream this morning had a conversation between Kara Swisher and Chris Sacca about a TED video from Jill Bolte Taylor. Kara recently had a TIA (minor stroke) and wrote about it. The conversation between them prompted me to watch the TED Talk by Jill Bolte Taylor about a massive stroke that she’d had. Taylor is a brain scientist, which makes the whole discussion even more incredible as she had a chance to study and think about her own experience of having a stroke.
I strongly encourage you to invest 18 minutes of your life in this. It’ll change how you think about your brain, as well as possibly a few other things.
I’m off to run the Zeitgesit Half Marathon in Boise, Idaho with my friends Mark and Pam Solon. It’s another beautiful day on planet earth.
I’m back in Boulder after living in Paris for the month of July and Tuscany for the month of August. I had an incredible time in both places, got a lot done, enjoyed being with Amy continuously, and had a very successful experiment of “working in some other place for a month” that I intend to repeat many times over the course of the rest of my life.
David Cohen (TechStars CEO) and his wife Jil were two of our many visitors in Tuscany. We stayed at a magical place called Casetta run by Xenia Lemos who we now consider a lifelong friend. David did a ThisWeekIn TechStars segment with me while we were together at Casetta in which you get to see the place, watch me swim laps in a pool while David interviews me about Occipital, the book Venture Deals, volatility in the stock markets and how entrepreneurs should think about it, and then some thoughts at the end of work-life balance.
I had an awesome time, but I’m glad to be back in Boulder.
I go off the grid four times a year for a week at a time. During these weeks I put up a vacation reminder that says I’m off the grid, not checking email or phone, but if it’s an emergency I can be found by my assistant Kelly. While I leave her email and phone info in the vacation responder text, she still checks my email to make sure that nothing critical is going on. While this works well, Josh Kopelman blew my mind with his awesome vacation responder a few weeks ago.
I am currently out of the office on vacation.
I know I’m supposed to say that I’ll have limited access to email and won’t be able to respond until I return — but that’s not true. My blackberry will be with me and I can respond if I need to. And I recognize that I’ll probably need to interrupt my vacation from time to time to deal with something urgent.
That said, I promised my wife that I am going to try to disconnect, get away and enjoy our vacation as much as possible. So, I’m going to experiment with something new. I’m going to leave the decision in your hands:
- If your email truly is urgent and you need a response while I’m on vacation, please resend it to email@example.com and I’ll try to respond to it promptly.
- If you think someone else at First Round Capital might be able to help you, feel free to email my assistant, Fiona (firstname.lastname@example.org) and she’ll try to point you in the right direction.
· Otherwise, I’ll respond when I return…
From now on, I’m going to set up an account at email@example.com and leave this in your hands. Powerful – and fucking brilliant.
Rosabeth Moss Kanter has an excellent post up on the HBR Blog titled Should Leaders Go on Vacation? Recently, I’ve seen plenty of commentary in the popular press (especially Fox News articles) about the inappropriateness of leaders taking vacation. Kanter does a nice job of dissecting the dynamics around leaders going on vacation and suggests the leader address five questions in the context of the vacation.
- What is the vacation narrative?
- What is the vacation timing?
- What is the rest of the team doing?
- Are there continuity, backup, and contingency plans?
- What is the vacation symbolism?
I’m a huge believer in the importance of vacations for leaders, entrepreneurs, and everyone else. I work extremely hard – usually 70+ hours a week. This is simply not sustainable, at least for me at age 45, over a period of time longer than about three months. I eventually burn out, get tired and cranky, become less effective, and get sick. Vacations are a way for me to recharge, build my energy back, explore some different things, spend extended and uninterrupted time with the most important person in my life (Amy), and just chill out. This vacation usually takes the form of a Qx Vacation that is off the grid which is now well known to everyone who works with me.
Amy and I ordinarily spend the month of July at our house in Homer, Alaska. While this isn’t “a vacation”, it’s a change of context that has become a very important part of our routine. I work while I’m there, am completely connected and available, but have a very different life tempo. And – most importantly – zero travel.
This summer we spent July in Paris. We both love Paris and went there to just “live.” We rented an apartment in the 8th, ran in the local park, shopped at the Monoprix down the block, ate lunch at all of the nearby restaurants, and had some amazing meals out. But mostly we just hung out, worked remotely, and spent time together.
I’ve had a fantasy about renting a house in the Tuscan countryside and spending a month in Tuscany for many years. We decided to do it this summer and we turned our month in Alaska into two months in Europe. However, rather than travel around and be tourists, we just lived. We had plenty of friends visit, but we spent the days exercising (I ran a lot), reading, writing, and working.
I plan to write at least one post about what I learned in my “summer in Europe” after I return to the US next week. It has been an amazing experience, especially since I was completely connected to my regular work, yet was able to observe a lot of activity from a distance and reflect on what I really thought was going on.
In the mean time, if you are a leader, entrepreneur, or anyone else, I hope you read Kanter’s post and think hard about both the value of time away and the expectation setting around it. Life is short – make sure you live it.
I did eventually solve my Paris smart phone problem. Here’s what I did.
- I paid AT&T some absurd amount of money for unlimited international everything for my iPhone.
- The nice senior people at Orange sent me a SIM card that is good until the end of the month for free unlimited everything for my Android.
- Maxroam sent me a super cool device that gives me 3G and international calling for $15 / day.
But none of it matters. Because after two weeks without a smart phone, I simply don’t give a shit anymore. In general, I hate the phone and try to stay off of it. I spend my time in email, IM, and Skype when I’m in front of my computer, which is a lot. However, when I’m wandering around between things, I’ve actually started to realize the joy of looking around and noticing all of the other humans staring at the little pieces of glass they are holding in their hands. During dinner at a restaurant, I’m enjoying the idea that I’m unreachable while I shower 100% of my attention on my beloved and anyone else I’m dining with. And, when I go to the bathroom in a restaurant, I’m actually enjoying the notion that I’m not going to return to the table distracted by the emails I’ve scanned while doing my business.
Basically, except for Google Maps, I haven’t missed the phone one bit the past two weeks. And, given that I haven’t had Google Maps, I’ve gotten to wander aimlessly around a few times, using the old fashioned approach of asking for directions. Each time, I’ve ended up where I needed to be pretty close to when I was supposed to be there. Refreshing, retro, interesting – call it whatever you want – but even for this directionally impaired American it worked out ok.
I now have 3G access again everywhere I go. But I don’t really care. I’m hardly using it (at least I haven’t the past few days). I’m going to start turning off my phone at meals completely and see how that goes for a while. Or maybe I’ll just leave it in the apartment since I’m with the only person (Amy) I want to be talking to anyway.
I learned a lot from this experience. But most importantly, I once again learned the value of thinking about the problem differently and challenging a key assumption. Do I really need my phone with me and email available all of the time? Clearly not.
I’m going for a run now in the rain in Paris. Without my phone. See y’all in a while.