10 insights I gained this summer instead of having a vacation

I desperately needed deserved  a vacation…this summer.

It has been over four years since the last vacation which feels like an ancient time ago.  After taking care of my father since 2015 after his accident while running an architecture practice, studio jonah,  it has been one of the most difficult four years of my life.

After my dad got released from the hospital, our family including myself has been the one providing the care at home for him since last year.  With dad being stable, all of us decided that we need a BREAK and we planned to have one this SUMMER 2019!

I have to admit I’m not one of those people who feels the need to take a vacation every year… However, after four years of just working or going to the hospital back and forth, I was exhausted.

I wanted to have a break from EVERYTHING!

In the end, the vacation plan did not materialize due to many conflicting  reasons, commitments, etc.  Mostly, I felt worried about leaving everything…there were too many “what if ” situations I was constantly worrying about and at the end, one item I can control-deleting vacation.

Now that we are all back in “Full force work mode”, (aka October) I am starting to realize that not all has been lost this summer. In fact, I came to realize what I had gained instead of a chance to lie on a  beach with books.

Here are the ten insights I gained…some profound, some not so much:)


1. Habit is stronger than discipline

I used to think that people who can get up early in the morning, (early like 5:00am) are super disciplined.   You know the type of people who eats right, works out, never late for anything… You know, the type of people you roll your eyes at, but secretly wishes that you were them.

This summer, I read a book, Atomic Habits which states that these people understand the power of habits, rather than being disciplined; they make their days easier to do the right things instead of trying to do the right things.   Hum…I was intrigued.

I Decided to test the theory of habit; combining my morning coffee (easy) with an alarm set at 5:30am (hard). The moment the alarm goes off, I’m smelling the fresh cup of coffee.

Somehow going out for a run (more like a walk) with coffee, on one hand, did not feel like a workout, and I started to look forward to my morning coffee(aka run) each day.

2. A connection can happen instantaneously

The human connection that is.

With limited time, it is not always easy to meet people, let alone making a connection.

However, that is exactly what happened over the summer when I met a person at an event. It was an event sponsored by the Ontario Association of Architects (OAA) and, while discussing many difficulties architects face,  I happened to hear one architect’s  blunt/ realistic assessment of Ontario architects’ situation. At the moment, I was concentrating on selecting the right cheese they provided, and I stopped!  In fact, everyone in the room stopped…

All of us were uncomfortable; no one spoke or asked questions after his speech.  However, I thought I met my soulmate…. soulmate in my profession!  Not only I agreed with his assessment, I respected his direct and candid way of speaking.

Guess what I did, I introduced myself after his talk, and an instant connection was made.


3. All junk mails are not created equal

The interesting experiment happened over the summer.

Like all of us. I get way too many junk emails in my mailbox. The only way to deal with this constant dilemma is to DELETE /DELETE/DELETE!

For unknown reasons, I happened to read one of those emails. It was from a construction company introducing their services and wanting to connect with Studio Jonah.

I hit the reply button with a phone call suggestion which eventually led to the coffee meeting with the President of the company. It was one of the most productive work meetings I had!

I would never look at the junk mails in the same way again:)


4. Sequin for a day

As everyone knows on this platform, I love fashion.

Everything about it, I love; checking out the latest trends in fashion magazines, scrolling down to see the street style images online, shopping for the latest /greatest items I absolutely need(?).  Especially, the last one, shopping!

What I love more than shopping is the  shopping with a huge sale tag on it.

This summer, I bought a shiny party dress (aka absolutely NON ESSENTIAL work outfit) because no one should pass on whopping 85% off SALE item! I couldn’t pass the opportunity…. it was too great of a deal… I convinced myself that the dress would pay itself  even if I use it for a few occasions.

Well, it turns out I didn’t have many fancy events to attend, but a few job site meetings with construction contractors.  Instead of trying to come up with ways (?) to wear shiny dress to construction job sites,  I thought the dress should see the daylight on a non-job site days.


5. Rejections may have nothing to do with me

Rejections are hard… Hard for all of us.

I think the reason for this difficulty is because we take rejections personally; somehow we start believing that it is our shortcomings rather than some external circumstances…like 1 job position for 10 or 20 or even more applying for the same position.

Whether submitting for a project proposal that didn’t get picked up, potential client deciding to go with another architect, and or some-professional contacts who do not return your calls, I take these rejections seriously.

They are hard to take….well, they are more than hard, they question us everything about me a professional; secretly questioning my ability.

This summer, instead of feeling bad about the application I submitted for the board position which I got rejected, I decided to find out why.

I learned that for one position, there were 14 candidates. And I was told that my application was being compared to the top candidate till the very last moment.

I don’t think I will ever get over the rejections easily…whether the competition level is at 14 or 140 candidates!  However, learning about the story behind the rejection gives the insight,  “it is not always about me” which would push me go for the next rejection adventure!


5. Writer’s block can be resolved by reading a lot

I didn’t believe this…. for a long time.

How can it be?  They are two different skill sets; reading is easy (just hold the book), but writing does not come easy for me, especially the beginning stage of writing.

This summer, I resolved to get serious about writing, particularly  the blog writing.  For a long time, it was me staring at a blank page( screen) whenever I decide to write a blog post.

Instead of keep looking back at the blank screen, one day I picked up one of the magazines on my desk and started reading ( more like flipping through).

An interesting thing happened while flipping the pages…. started to get some ideas on what to write about. I slowly started to type on my keyboard…I saw those letters becoming sentences, and then paragraphs, and finally a blog post!

It is still a difficult process…but I am noticing the minutes I stare the blank screen is getting shorter each time:)

7. I am a frog eater

It is an expression to describe a difficult/time consuming but important work  item that needs to be tackled the first thing in the morning.

With many bad habits acquired over the years –  too many coffees, long internet surfing in the name of research work, sudden desire to clean before the work- I learned over the summer, I do have ONE good habit when it comes to work.

It turns out, I am a frog eater when it comes to working. I am  doing the most important/ difficult task that needs to be done FIRST before anything else. It is another story  when it comes to the rest of the work items…

Although I may not finish many work items in a  day, I seem to complete ONE work(aka “frog”)  item that needs to be finished.


8. Standing desks is for production only

Although there is information out there for the health benefits of using  a standing desk, I’m not sure one can only have a standing desk to work.

There are essentially two different kinds of works in the world: creation and production.

Creative Work requires a lot of thinking, analyzing, preparing… The type of work where you spend a lot of time, but you’re not sure if there is an outcome at the end.

It is a type of work where one goes through a lot of frustrations… And also in my case, lots of coffee. For example, coming up with the first draft of a writing assignment would be a creative work.  I need to sit down for this activity!

Another example could be going through many iterations of hand sketches after a design consultation meeting with a client; coming up with the FINAL design idea for the client’s project.

On the other hand, the PRODUCTION stages of work are the “easier” part of work.

Essentially all the thinking part of the  work is done and therefore only the execution left.  Absolutely no thinking, no analyzing, no nothing!  I just have to PRODUCE!  Standing for good a couple of hours and banging out the work, I can do.  Besides, I am finding urgently to finish the work (need to sit down)!

9, relying on gut feeling does not always work

It is the biggest lesson this summer. Check out the post, How I made a hiring mistake by trusting myself too much.

10. Power of 5 minutes

This lesson is related to the first one, Habit is stronger than discipline.

After being late for a couple of meetings in the morning this summer, I decided that I was going to change. I was going to become a “morning” person.

Typically, my morning starts at 7:30 AM or later…I decided that I was going to become a member of the 5 am club and set out to change my alarm setting 5 minutes earlier each day.  The idea behind this incremental approach is that I was hoping that I would not notice 5 minutes difference each day.

After many failures of hearing the alarm sound,  I started hearing it more as the days went. About two weeks’ time, not only I was hearing the aIarm sound, (and also not pressing snooze button), it was getting easier to get up five minutes earlier each day.

I would not have ever believed that making small changes such as five minutes a day could make a difference, but it did.

From this experiment, I learned the power of small consistent efforts resulting in huge outcomes. It’s time to tackle another bad habit… Eating sweets.

Have you ever experience something negative (like missing vacation) which  turned out to be the most valuable thing?  Would love to hear your stories.

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