When I was a 16-year old exchange student in Switzerland, I read a quote by Anaïs Nin that said “We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.”
Writing to you from a café in Paris after almost two weeks not thinking at all about work (quelle joie!), I am reflecting again on its relevance.
I booked this trip to Edinburgh, Scotland and Paris, France with my daughter Angie for one primary purpose: to give us time to really find each other as we get ready to be in a different stage of life together with Josh off at college.
We both love to travel, and prior to this trip have been sending TikToks back and forth, making lists and sharing in advance things we were going to do, see and experience while here.
The reality of the trip has been a mixture of some of what we had planned, and new insights I did not expect.
Here is a travel photo essay with some of the things I learned.
1. Little spoons – what we miss when we are in a well-worn pattern
Life at home is busy. Work, school, clients, bills, business development, friends, events, homework, email.
While I take time to hang out with the kids as much as possible, there is a lot we miss about each other when we are busy moving through our daily routines.
When Angie and I were sitting in an outdoor cafe drinking coffee and eating ice cream, Angie said “I am obsessed with little spoons.” “You are?” I said, a bit incredulous. “How long have you loved little spoons?”
“Since forever,” she said.
I did not know this about my 15-year old. What else do I not know about her likes, dislikes and dreams? Probably a lot.
Which is why breaking out of our routines and spending deep time together is so important.
Photo: Café de Flore in Paris
2. Purpose matters, not checklists
There were a lot of things we wanted to do on our trip — visit places, eat food, see attractions.
The lists of what to do were more than we had time for. And as we got into the rhythm of the trip, we realized that neither of us like frenzied days. We like to do about a half day’s worth of walking and visiting, either in the morning or evening, then spend the rest of the time just chilling out.
We also had some different priorities — I spend about 7 minutes on my hair, and let’s just say Angie spends a lot more than that on hers. In a few situations, I could have been pacing, itching to go out and visit a bunch of places while I waited for her to get ready.
When that anxiousness crept in, I kept remembering that the purpose of the trip is connection with Angie, not checking off a mythological list of attractions or adhering to a rigid routine. So what if we get to the Monet gardens just in time for the last admission of the day. We had a relaxed morning. And a nice train ride. Then the light was beautiful in the afternoon.
Purpose matters, not checklists.
Photo: Monet Gardens, Giverny, France
3. It’s ok to set boundaries
I spend most of my life in community, hanging out with family, friends, clients and neighbors. I also spend my work weeks glued to my Google calendar, some days watching the seconds between appointments, not just minutes. When I go on vacation, I like to live with no pattern, no agenda, and interestingly with less community. I don’t want to talk to a bunch of new people. I hold back from turning every conversation with a stranger into a career or business conversation, like I do at home. I want to feel and understand who I am, and who my traveling partner is in these beautiful new environments.
We did plan two visits with friends in advance and had a great time together, but I reluctantly turned down a lot of meetups with wonderful friends because I knew it would mean filling up my Google calendar with places I had to be. And putting Angie in a situation where she had to either be alone, or spend hours with my friends, trying to be interested in our adult conversations.
It felt uncomfortable to say no to meeting up, but I am so glad I held my boundaries. My girl and I got to experience uninterrupted time dedicated to each other.
As Angie said “Most mothers and 15-year olds would not enjoy spending so much time together. But we do.” I know how rare and precious this is and I am grateful for it.
Photo: Princes Street Gardens, Edinburgh, Scotland
4. Live for Golden Hour
My Dad was a photographer and always pointed out the light to me. There is a certain time of afternoon, especially on a cloudy day, that brings an amazing glow to everything.
The Instagram kids call it “Golden Hour.”
This trip, I have been very tuned into the light, remembering my Dad. And when Golden Hour hits, I have been unabashedly capturing it, with more selfies than usual. Because not only do I want to remember this light and beauty, but I want to remember how I felt in it.
Photo: St. Andrew’s Castle, St. Andrew’s, Scotland
5. Embrace your way when it matters
Scotland celebrates alcohol like Texas celebrates football.
Pubs and bars sit on most corners. Posters tout the joys of whiskey tours and tastings. Waiters look a bit shocked when we pass back the drink menu.
When you don’t drink like me, it can feel weird sometimes to miss out on such a fun-filled part of the culture. But coming from a long line of Stewart alcoholics (most in recovery, thankfully), drinking is not fun for me in the long run.
Angie and I found ways to enjoy watching people enjoying the drinking culture, while finding our own fun beverages and hangouts. We did not have to compromise our values to enjoy ourselves.
Photo: Stewart Brewing, Edinburgh, Scotland
6. The highest point is worth the climb
Our AirBNB host in Edinburgh told us about a beautiful place to see the whole city, called Calton Hill.
We were walking all afternoon one day, and I realized we were close to the location. Edinburgh has a lot of hills and stairs, so our legs were pretty tired.
“Shall we do it?” I asked Angie.
“Sure,” she said somewhat reluctantly.
We made our way up quite a few stairs, breathing hard.
But once we crested the top, we looked around and it was quite breathtaking. You can see 360 degree views of the city. And we happened to hit at Golden Hour, and you know how I feel about that.
Whether your hill is physical or metaphorical, in general, if you have the ability and desire, I suggest going for it.
Photo: Calton Hill, Edinburgh Scotland
7. Trust that what you knew will return, eventually
My brother Brian was an exchange student for a summer in Belgium, which inspired me to do my exchange year in Switzerland a few years later.
While there, he taught me my first French swear word, “Merde,” which became a favorite family curse word over the years.
I took many years of French, but things did not kick in until I was in Switzerland, immersed in the language and culture. I came back extremely fluent, both in the written and spoken language. It stayed with me in the back of my head, but in subsequent years I learned Spanish and Portuguese, which I speak much more frequently.
So on this trip, 40 years after my stay in Switzerland, while I understand a lot and feel the language swirling, the words have had a harder time finding my tongue. Most shop owners quickly turn to English which makes perfect sense, but I have been frustrated that I cannot immediately go back to my level of fluency from the past. My ego battles with my brain, trying to force me to recall words.
So instead of frustration, I am practicing curiosity, playing out the words in my head when I leave a situation where I choked, gently probing my memory for the French language.
Photo: Didn’t get the name of the shop in Paris! 🙂
8. Extraordinary times involves extraordinary planning
Without question, this is a luxurious trip that we feel very lucky to have the resources to have taken.
This was a very deliberate investment of money and time, which took over a year to make happen.
Because I am the primary income earner in the family and we support a community space in addition to a household, taking time out requires a lot of pre-planning, bursts of intense work blocks and investment in extended team.
This process has reminded me that A) yes, we can build an exciting life we love filled with adventure and B) in order to do that, lots of planning, saving and energy is involved.
Photo: On tour with La Petite Frenchie, Paris, France
9. Rely on your team
In years past, I would not have felt comfortable to take two weeks away from all communication with clients and prospective clients.
But because I have been cultivating a wonderful team these past few years, I was fully confident that there was no issue they could not have resolved without me.
As anticipated, absolutely no issues were unattended to when I was gone.
On the home front, my son and husband took care of everything, and I came home to a clean office with new upgrades.
Next year, I aim to stretch time away for even longer (hopefully with the whole family this time), and encourage my team to do the same thing in their own businesses.
Photo: My amazing team clockwise from top left: Jeff Catanese, Pamela Slim, Darron Padilla, Tanika Lothery, La’Vista Jones
10. Leave something in the well
Ernest Hemingway famously shared writing advice to “leave something in the well” when stopping writing for the day:
“I had learned already never to empty the well of my writing, but always to stop when there was still something there in the deep part of the well, and let it refill at night from the springs that fed it. I always worked until I had something done, and I always stopped when I knew what was going to happen next. That way I could be sure of going on the next day. ”
Before leaving on vacation, it is natural to feel you have to finish every last project and tie up every detail.
This is usually impossible, and can make your last moments at work crammed and hellish.
Instead, seed ideas with your team that they can work on in your absence, start a piece of writing to finish when you return, or begin to sketch out new ideas, then leave them to percolate as you are unplugged.
As my husband Darryl says, “Live the questions.”
You might find like I did at the end of my vacation when writing in an outdoor Parisian café that an idea for a brand new workshop jumped to the keyboard with little effort and a lot of enthusiasm. I had lived the question “What would be a cool topic that is relevant to people not quite ready for our certification offerings?
When it was ready to bring it to life, it flowed.
Photo: Inside Claude Monet’s house at Fondation Claude Monet, Giverny, France