Get Away from It All (with Your Computer)

On Sunday night I’ll be leaving for a long-delayed trip to Viet Nam to visit some family: aunts, uncles, cousins and my dear grandmother, most of all. I’ll be back in early December, at which point the year will be practically over, save for the customary holiday craziness. In the spring I went to see my mother, sister and nephew in California, and of course I also just returned from a week visiting my father in France.

With relatives in so many far flung locations, I spend most of my vacation days each year simply traveling to visit them. With the balance of those days, I try to get away with my girlfriend as much as we can — and that’s basically all the time I have away from my desk between January and December.

I’m not complaining about the way I spend those days, because I enjoy the time with my family and the traveling my girlfriend and I do together. But I’ve started to think also that I should perhaps be devoting some portion of my holidays to just me, specifically to some personal growth.

Working Holidays in the Sun

In the past I’ve expressed a longing for a holiday with a stack of O’Reilly books as a kind of lighthearted daydream, but as I get older, I’m beginning to think that something like this is a necessity. It’s just too difficult to get out of the day-to-day grind of entrepreneurship, management and even regular blogging. Finding sufficient time to focus on learning something new, to really immerse oneself in unfamiliar territory, is just too difficult without a concerted effort, without a specific plan.

People pay good money for intensive, week-long courses to address this sort of itch for self-improvement. But I don’t see a need to shell out hard cash if you’re self-motivated, and if you’re planning on taking on something you passionately want to master, be it Ruby on Rails, photography, pottery or what have you. The required elements would seem to be: an honest capacity for self-motivation, a realistic curriculum of reading and learning exercises, and a quiet work area free of distractions — away from family, friends and telephones.

It’s a simple recipe, but I’m convinced that, if I could devote just four or five days a year to this kind of retreat, I’d benefit from it enormously. Surely, I’d know a heck of a lot more about the programming side of the work that I do by now, which has basically been the main source of frustration in my halting and digressive advance towards becoming the world’s smartest Web designer. The trick, I think, is working out the personal obligations and explaining, with tact and delicacy, to my girlfriend why in the world I would want to spend four days away from her and alone with my computer.

  1. I heard that Bill Gates does this kind of thing bi-annually — isolating himself and just reading up on technical topics of interest. One can see the enormous innovation brought to Microsoft as a result of those getaways. 😉

    More seriously, as someone sharing your situation, I have the same feelings as you. But I guess one also has to carefully choose which passion to go after, based on a realistic expectation of whether or not you’ll later be able to do anything with what you’ve learned.

  2. Man, what I wouldn’t give for 7 days of isolation to study. Since graduating from college about 2 years ago, I haven’t had a single day of study. At first I never missed it, now I long for it. I miss intensive learning sessions. I think I’m slowly losing my ability to learn…

  3. I’m in whole-heated agreement. One if the core elements of my job description is the development of my skillset. There never seems to be chance to do that, though, with all of the deadlines and fires to put out.

    I’m going to Miami with my girlfriend later this month – she’s going for an art fair, I’m tagging along and plan to sit around with my laptop and do just this.

  4. I’ve been thinking about setting one day a fortnight aside as a reading/study day — it wouldn’t be quite as effective as a week a year could be, but probably easier to organise. I seem to only be able to get away from my desk if I leave the country… last time I tried to go to the beach for a week, I spent half of it installing operating systems and setting up a wireless network for the B&B I was staying in. Bah.

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