The World Is Better Offline

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If you took some time this weekend to unplug and focus on what really matters in life, the world probably seemed like a pretty okay place in which to exist.

Consider: It finally stopped raining in Michigan after a three-day deluge. The Ryder Cup, football, and the last day of the MLB season provided high sporting drama. And there was a hint of coolness in the air that suggests it’s finally time to visit the apple orchard for cider and donuts.

All in all, things were fine. Good, even.

But upon arriving at work this morning (or in bed this morning, if you’re that type) we were brought back to reality when we scrolled through our social media feeds.

Consider: Donald Trump is assembling his Twitter army to expose Hilary Clinton’s lies following the next presidential debate. The earth is the warmest it has been in 120,000 years. Hate speech on Twitter is limited only by the character limit.

I’m not saying that we should wrap ourselves in a comfy blanket and ignore what’s going on in the world around us. As responsible citizens, we must stay well-informed and understand the issues that affect us and our children so that we can make informed decisions when the time comes. But there’s something to be said for ignoring the constant barrage of bad news, even if for a weekend.

Now, please don’t confuse me with someone who thinks social media and technology are proof the Devil exists. (They don’t.) There are enough of those people who get paid good money to write about that.

I think social media and technology, when used right, do way more good than bad.

But we are constantly fighting a barrage of information and data that is left to us to be analyzed and scrutinized. It becomes overwhelming.

The next time you open the Twitter app, take a deep breath. You’re going to be bombarded with enough content to make your head spin; not all of it accurate and truthful. That’s the nature of social media today: it’s a platform for sneaks to go unbidden to influence your decisions.

Don’t let them.

Instead, close it down and focus on what you can control.

And, if you still can’t, listen to the Accused podcast, instead.

You can thank me later.

Cancer Puts Everything in Perspective

It probably doesn’t need to be said, but I’m going to say it anyway: When a loved one is diagnosed with cancer, it puts everything in perspective.

One day, you’re moaning over the fact that the couch you ordered hasn’t been delivered in the four to six-month time frame the store promised when you bought it.

The next day, you wonder if you will live long enough to enjoy the couch.

Even though prognosis can be positive, that’s just how our minds work. We, as humans, are programmed to think about the worst, even when the professionals tell us otherwise.

Suddenly, work is unimportant. As is grocery shopping, mowing the lawn, and cleaning the house.

You become more concerned with ensuring the kids live as normal a life as possible while their mom goes through chemo treatments so that they don’t understand the enormity of the situation she’s facing. Every bus stop drop off and pick up gains in importance; you begin to look at life through the lens of someone who may have limited time to enjoy these moments, no matter what the future holds.

But as you grow more comfortable with the situation, those moments that seemed unimportant a few weeks ago suddenly take on more importance, if that’s possible.

The house must be cleaned. The fridge must be stocked. The grass needs to be kept at an optimum height.

Everything must feel as normal as possible.

Even though radical cells are attacking healthy cells in my wife’s body, I don’t want her to endure more chaos than she needs to.

This is our reality, now: trying to act normal when life is anything but.

 

When Cancer Hits Home

My wife was diagnosed with breast cancer a couple of weeks ago.

While the prognosis from the oncologist is promising, it’s still, you know, cancer: a word nobody ever wants to hear their doctor utter.

She had a nagging feeling that the tiny lump she felt was something, even though her primary care doctor thought it was nothing. Regardless, she sent her for a biopsy to be sure and, well, here we are.

Less than two weeks later, it’s still so weird to associate this terrible disease with my wife. It doesn’t seem real. She still seems so normal. But I know there are renegade cells on the loose inside my wife’s body that want to do her harm because they know of no other way.

Over the next few weeks, I imagine I’ll have a lot more to write about regarding her battle. My aunt suggested that I continue to write everything down so that we may have a record of it some day.

I hope that we look back on this as a “blip” in what turns out to be a long, healthy life, and I’m confident we will. But for the time being, I need a place to talk, and this place seems as good of a place as any.

Don’t Let Your Labor Cause Your Life To Suffer

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We all need to make a living.

The work we do for our companies and organizations is what allows us, I hope, to enjoy a well-balanced life outside of our cubicle walls.

But we also need to maintain a healthy mental state so that we can enjoy the lives we’ve built outside of the workplace. Because if you’re not right between the ears, your friends and family are not going to like dealing with this version of you.

Early in my career, I was assigned a client who came with a caustic reputation. Their actions brought colleagues to tears. The sight of their name in inboxes caused panicked moans. There was a general sense of anxiety among the team because we were always wary of when the other shoe would drop.

I had heard the stories. And I was terrified to start working with them. So I went out of my way immediately to show that I was going to work as hard as I could for that client, but it was not going to come at the expense of my well-being.

In my mine, I was not going to let the actions of one person impact how I behaved as a person when I wasn’t working.

Through my actions, and those early phone calls and meetings, we came to an unspoken agreement of how the work would get done, and I think it saved me a lot of unnecessary stress.

I believe very strongly that we should work as hard as we can when we are, you know, working. But when we are not expected to work, we should be allowed to turn off that part of our brain and concentrate on being better parents and better people and enjoy life.

If we’re putting in the necessary time, we’ve earned the right to enjoy time off, unburdened from the confines of an inbox.

This client I speak of became one of the nicest clients I’ve ever worked with, and, I believe, part of the reason was that we came to an agreement as to how this working relationship would, well, work.

Our team showed that we had the chops to fulfill expectations. And, we were in constant contact when we needed to be. We worked hard so that when we punched out at the end of the day, there was no reason to be anxious that they might call on us unexpectedly and ruin our weekend.

So as most of us prepare to enjoy this blissful extra day off that caps off Labor Day Weekend, let’s take a moment to make a pact that we will do everything we can, to the best of our abilities, to stay true to ourselves.

Work is a necessary part of life, but it doesn’t have to be an extra stressor if you work hard (and smart) to make it so.

Can We Separate Work and Life?

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A few weeks ago, I took two days off work to drive to Brookston, Pennsylvania — a hamlet buried deep in the Allegheny Mountains — to bury my grandmother’s remains.

It was a necessary vacation for obvious reasons.

Thanks to my iPhone, though, I could monitor work-related matters while cruising down the Ohio Turnpike. (While my wife was driving.)

At my grandmother’s grave site, we came together to accommodate the dying wish of a Granny and a mother: gather the family to put her to rest next to my grandfather.

While standing atop a cemetery hill that holds older generations of the Marley family, sharing the myriad reasons why we loved our grandmother so much, I took out my phone to snap a photo and noticed that I was out of range of a cell signal.

I know it’s hard to believe that in 2016 there’s still a place in the United States not covered by cell reception, but this tiny burb that takes up less space on a map than a fingernail might be one of the last places you can go if you seek true solace from a world that moves at a thousand miles-per-hour.

Not having instant access to e-mail is a foreign, if not unsettling, concept today for those of us in the communications industry. Even when we’re on vacation, there is still some expectation to be connected. (Which is totally our fault, btw.)

Even though I was surrounded by loved ones, I felt a weird sensation caused by not being connected to the Internet.

I should’ve felt relief, but it was more like anxiety.

Something could be happening that I needed to respond to, but it was impossible to do so.

Here I was, burying my grandmother, and my brain wouldn’t let me forget about my real-life responsibilities.

***

Our connection to work is only as far away as our mobile devices.

Even though we say we aren’t going to check email while on vacation, we still do. Constantly.

Which begs the question: is it possible anymore to actually turn off work and enjoy your free time?

Consider this:

The Economist suggests our jobs have become prisons from which we cannot escape.

In The Week, the writer thinks we work insane hours because we’re afraid of someone taking our spot if we’re away for too long.

Still don’t see where I’m going with this?

Well, then take this statement from a story in New Republic: Burnout is a diagnosis for winners.

Can you hear me now?

We talk a good game when it comes to ditching technology and “getting away from it all” but we have put ourselves in a position where, except in rare instances, we don’t truly enjoy time away.

You even see it in our social media habits when we constantly share the great work our company or agency has done, even when we’re supposed to be off the clock.

It’s like we cannot forget about our careers, even for a couple of days, because then what is our purpose in life?

If we can’t stop thinking about work long enough to celebrate someone’s life, then something is clearly wrong here.

Maybe I’m asking the wrong question.

It’s not: Can we separate work and life.

The better question is: Do we want to?