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July 05, 2004
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The H.R. Doctor Is In

Cruise Control

What an amazing place to be dictating the draft of this article - up on the Lido Deck of the MS Imagination, half way across the Caribbean between Miami and Cozumel, Mexico.

For more than half a century the HR Doctor has avoided going on a cruise, preferring to spend precious vacation time walking in the woods, in the mountains, or in exotic jungle surroundings, such as Los Angeles. However, it has long been a dream of the beautiful HR Spouse Charlotte to see the Mayan ruins at Tulum, Mexico. So, here we are!

Heading back towards Miami after four restful days gives pause to look at what happens when you work very hard during the year and then go on a great vacation. As the time off winds down, you start thinking about all the projects yet to be completed, the hundreds of e-mails which must have piled up, how your colleagues are doing, and what bizarre events have occurred while you were gone. This kind of thinking is depressing!

Years ago, a national men’s archery champion found himself in a slump, his aim and his consistency failing. He sought the advice of a coach who considered his dilemma, looked at him, and said, "When you wash the dishes, wash the dishes!"

The idea - and the main theme of this article, despite the beautiful view that I now have from the ship’s deck - is the importance of being able to stay focused on a particular goal or process.

We live in a society in which we are constantly bombarded by bits and bytes, by smells, sounds, sights, feelings and more that can regularly put us on sensory overload. The effect of the bombardment is that many people become "paralyzed" by the conflicting inputs our brain receives.

As a result of this paralysis, none of the dozen or more projects underway at any given time may receive the necessary attention. Instead of "washing the dishes" when we stand in front of the sink after dinner, we think of 20 other things, with the result that we leave bits of dried foods on the silverware, we cut ourselves accidentally on the kitchen knife hidden in the dish water, and we scald ourselves with hot water.

The advice to the archery champion is the same as the HR Doctor’s advice to you: focus on a specific project, see it through and move on to the next opportunity or task. Of course, this does not mean that we must all become guests in a monastery and think only of one thing to the exclusion of everything else. However, it does mean that when you are on vacation, be on vacation. Look out over the ship’s rail as I am now doing and enjoy the beauty of the water, the sun and clouds, and the breeze rather than thinking of phone calls, e-mails, and many other things.

If you are unable to do that, you might as well take a vacation, however briefly, at your desk looking at memos and paperclips, but only thinking of the forest or the water.

It may seem like a contradiction to write an article about focusing while on a vacation. Isn’t it contradictory to have the view and the experience described above, but to be out on the deck with a dictating machine?

The answer lies in what it is that makes you relax, what it is that you enjoy doing, and what it is that helps you put a life experience in perspective.

For the HR Doctor, the chance to have a different experience, see different places, meet different people and consider, in an article, or just in thoughtful meditation is in and of itself a mini-vacation. If you are passionate about things you like to do, doing them, no matter what the circumstances might be, becomes relaxing.

Your mind is on cruise control, your pulse rate declines, and you come away invigorated and refreshed. The lucky minority of working men and women is in that group which can find this combination of enjoyment, passion and relaxation by doing their work rather than by wishing that the clock and calendar would advance overnight 10 or 20 years in the future so that they could retire and be done with it. Such unhappy "trapped" people will die prematurely, and before dying they will be miserable, and probably inflict some others with their unfortunate condition.

In the HR Doctor’s case today, Mother Nature, along with Carnival Cruise Lines and its crew members from literally dozens of different nationalities, have combined to make this vacation a real exercise in being on "cruise control." In particular, Monika Roman, from, where else but Romania, "adopted" me and made the cruise particularly memorable with her superb customer service.

As I look back at this experience, I will recall the beauty of the ruins and the Caribbean, and the customer service which frequently exceeded my expectations. That is the package which will lead me back for another cruise. I wonder if the MS Imagination has any openings for an HR Director. Assuming the answer is "no," it will be back to work next week refreshed and experienced in the difficult art of thoroughly relaxing amid Mayan ruins, constant food, and very interesting people!

But then, life among the ruins sounds like the subject of a future HR Doctor article!

Hope you get to cruise smoothly!

Phil Rosenberg
The HR Doctor


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