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Gift from the Sea: The Role of Retreat

a starfish is swimming in the water

Be a Star(-fish)!

MANY EXECUTIVES FIND they never enjoy the benefits of an “offseason.” Professional athletes have a true offseason. Military and uniformed service workers have set tours and shifts that seek to boundary work from “life.” Medical professionals adhere to rotating call schedules. Hospitals also organize staff into shifts. Unlike these high-performance professionals, technical and business consulting executives often struggle to utilize the time they are afforded, even while many employers offer excellent leave benefits and encourage taking time off with company-wide “disconnect” times.

Furthermore, working from home can often lead to virtually continuous work as boundaries blur amidst competing roles of professional, spouse, parent, and many others. It has become common for many professionals to underutilize their benefits, citing work overload, fatigue, and feeling guilty that others have to cover for them. They know they need to retreat from their many responsibilities for a time, but they find that they just can’t make themselves disengage. Consider the starfish…

In her classic meditation on modern life written during a brief vacation on Captiva Island, Anne Morrow Lindbergh acknowledges the inherent difficulty of disconnecting even for one hour. She writes, “For me, the break is the most difficult. Parting is inevitably painful, even for a short time. It is like an amputation, I feel. A limb is being torn off, without which I shall be unable to function. And yet, once it is done, I find there is a quality to being alone that is incredibly precious. Life rushes back into the void, richer, more vivid, fuller than before. It is as if in parting one did actually lose an arm. And then, like the star-fish, one grows it anew; one is whole again, complete and round–more whole, even, than before, when the other people had pieces of me.”

Reference: Lindbergh, Anne Morrow (2005). Gift from the Sea (50th Anniversary Ed.). Pantheon Books, New York.

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