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October 13, 2003
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A Walk in the Woods

The HR Doctor just returned from a shopping trip to one of the giant outdoor sporting goods stores in the area. A new backpack now lives at the Rosenberg house. Thoughts immediately turned to our forest property in the Sierras, far from Florida. I recalled the hiking, camping, stargazing, music playing — things that all seem to be more fun and more peaceful in a mountain wilderness than in its urban counterpart.

I also recall how the problems of a county chief administrative officer or a director of human resources would start to fade away in the forest. Or, and this happened frequently, some creative solution to an annoying issue would suddenly enter my brain.

When the new backpack was opened up, important points jumped out for public administrators to consider. The first was a reminder of an approach to reduce tension and help with creative thinking. A person doesn’t need to own a small forest or even live close to the mountains to visit there.

Albert Einstein used a "journey of the mind" technique to imagine a situation such as a rocket approaching the speed of light. While walking in his European urban environment, his mind would be focused on how the situation could play out and what the answer to the problem might be. It’s hard to argue with a technique that worked for Al!

When you are sitting in an interminably long staff meeting with speaker after speaker droning on about the number of paper clips purchased in the past year, try doing two things. Learn from the boredom and annoyance of this type of sleep-inducing meeting so, as you grow up as an administrator, you will not subject your colleagues to naps before their time.

Second, go on a "journey of the mind" to a favorite place, such as a forest. Go for a mental walk in the woods. Focus on a particular issue that is bothering you and look for a solution amid the sounds and sights of the scenery. Of course, it is important in the middle of a meeting that you not appear to be enjoying yourself too much! If you practice this approach, you will likely find some, but sadly not all, of the answers you seek.

The other backpack wisdom to share with you is the importance of recreation … of doing something you love.

Make room for more of it in your life. There is a saying among guitar players, "You don’t stop playing because you grow old, you grow old because you stop playing." Recreation is one of the major life activities. It is increasingly important to the best candidates for top jobs. An important component in a decision to accept a new job and perhaps move to a new community will be the access it affords the new employee to places where recreation can be enjoyed.

Just as a strong library system is a key marker of a strong community, recreational access is another marker. These words should make the hearts of park and recreation professionals beat faster. Living close to a recreational treasure makes for a better life and a better community.

The joys of recreation are definitely not only athletic. The passions of "re-creation" apply equally to art, music, reading, chess, and writing HR Doctor articles. Recreation for many people involves community service and volunteerism as well. This doesn’t mean that we should all apply to work in those places like Mariposa County, California — home to Yosemite National Park. It does mean that policy makers need to pay greater attention than ever before to the work-life/family-life balance important to employees and applicants.

HR policies such as flexible schedules, telecommuting, combined leave policies and more will be the HR markers distinguishing a modern agency from one that is only now beginning to plan for millennium celebrations.

The personal bottom line for public administrators is that the pressures of work, the growth in complexity of decision making, the risks of liability or failure are all forces that need to be balanced in our lives. Finding things that excite us and people to share them with helps us to see life from a vantage point other than the edge of our desks.

Don’t wait until you retire or become seriously ill to discover what you have missed! Don’t worry about missing some time from your office. That’s what leave time is for. Just remember that when you die, your in-box will still be full. Now, about the concept of a sabbatical for professionals other than educators … !

On that note, the HR Doctor invites readers to "take a hike!"

Phil Rosenberg


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