Work/Life Balance?

Yes, that’s right, I’m going to talk about the big, pink and white polka dotted elephant in the room. Work/Life balance.

I guess it’s a little funny that I’m thinking about this so much on Administrative Professionals Day. The day people are supposed to remember to thank their admins for all the crazy stuff we do.

I’ve talked and worked with many admins over the years. One clear theme seems to always be present; working pretty much constantly. Checking email on your phone, booking travel for an exec on the weekend, staying up to 4am working on presentation for the board of directors, going on “vacation” but still answering emails, stepping out to answer a phone call during a romantic dinner with a partner. The list goes on and on.

And it isn’t just admins. It’s recruiters, bankers, TPMs, teachers, engineers, executives, sales people, PR, marketing. It seems like it’s almost everyone. And everywhere you look, you see people checking their phones, or iwatches. People are engaged, but they’re not really engaged in the world around them. They don’t see things. They take pictures and look at them afterwards trying to remember what it was like to experience something they never actually looked at.

What happened? When did it happen? Why did it happen? And how the hell do we keep it under control? Especially when it begins to effect our health. Not just mental health, but our bodies as well.

I’m not sure if technology is fully to blame here, but it definitely plays a role. It allows us to stay connected. All the time. No matter where we are. Even in Antarctica. Satellite phones and internet were available for a cost. I’m sad to admit, but that was the first time since I gave in and bought a smart phone in 2011 (yes, I waited a LONG time before I gave in) that I disconnected completely. In fact, I don’t have as many pictures as one would think because I took the time to experience what I was doing and actually look at things. I remember what the penguins sounded like because I sat there and listened to them for hours. I can recall the sound of skiing down a mountain in fresh un-tracked powder because I wasn’t recording it. I was living in the moment. I was mentally present.

Once back on land though, I synced my phone immediately and was checking emails, messages, Facebook, etc. Wondering what I missed. Especially for work. I was offline for 13 whole days. The world must have imploded. What did I discover? Nothing. That’s right, absolutely nothing had happened. And if it had, there was nothing I could have done anyways. I was in Antarctica!

Thinking about it now, I know when and where I developed this insistent need to be in constant contact with my job. The company that bought me my first smart phone. I was supporting 6 executives there and they had needs. Busy travel, calendars, errands, and meetings that needed attention on a whim. And so I became available 24 hours a day and I never looked back.

My x husband didn’t seem to care much that I took phone calls any time of day, booked travel on the weekends, and stayed up for 28 hours working on presentations for the board of directors. Sometimes I wish he had said something. Sometimes I wish I had more courage to speak up and say no. Instead it became “the norm” for me. I would go out to lunch with my fellow admins at different companies and it was expected that you would be on your phone the whole time. No one ever said anything and I continued to be on call 24/7. Until one fateful day. I don’t remember much about that day, except it was the first day of my life I actually wished for someone to smash into me in traffic so I could take a break from work. This thought was the beginning of a journey that continues to this day. Finding a way to be good at my job, but also being able to disconnect.

No one seems to disconnect completely anymore. No one. Not the executives, not the engineers, not TPMS, not the bankers, and certainly not the admins. I’m pretty positive, other than analysts and investment bankers, admins are the worst when it comes to disconnecting. We are always on our phones. We check our emails constantly. We check in when we’re “on vacation”. It’s almost like an addiction of sorts. We’re addicted to knowing what’s happening and what needs to get done. Prioritizing, organizing, helping. I’m so guilty of this, but I’m also not extremely proud of it. There are times when it is, in fact, an emergency and a meeting needs to be scheduled for the next day immediately, but most of the time, it can wait until I get into work at 7:30am.

Back in the day before the invent of smart technology, people went home and spent time with their families. They left work at 5 or 6pm and didn’t talk to people until 8am the next morning. Sure, sometimes there was an emergency, but generally speaking, I’m pretty sure everything was ok.

Some people like working all the time. So I’ll shout out to them and say, awesome for you, but that’s not for me. After a bazillion years in the admin role, I’m really over the overtime and the constant checking in. My stress and unhappiness and time spent working has manifested itself in anxiety, eczema, blood pressure, a cyst in my wrist, and re-curring trigger finger (the last two are also caused my incorrect posture and keyboard/mouse setup).

So here I am. I find myself wanting to back out of checking emails constantly, and being able to take real vacation. You know. The one where you go someplace amazing and experience new things… without my phone. I don’t want to constantly be worried about what’s happening at work after I leave. I don’t want to wake up at 2am in a cold sweat hoping everything goes smoothly for some meeting my exec is having the following day. I want to go home and focus on me and my family. My husband, my cats, myself.

But I don’t know that I can without being criticized. So many people seem to think that if you turn off work you’re not doing a good job. I disagree. I think if you have time to recharge, you’ll be able to do a better job when you are actually at work. I know there probably isn’t a job without any overtime, but perhaps there is one that allows me to de-stress more often so my body/mind can go back to it’s equilibrium. Or maybe, just maybe, I can find a better balance in the job I’m currently in.

My boss is pretty adamant about spending time with his family and it does trickle down to his directors/managers. Perhaps I need to take a good, hard look at myself and step back from the attachment I have to always being connected. I’m fairly certain that disconnecting more often will lead to improved work quality as I’ll be able to look at things with more clarity because my brain won’t be overloaded. It’s worth a try because option B is continued health issues and ain’t nobody got time for that.🙂

Drawing to a close – the mighty gyu delivers

As the days in Japan are drawing to close, we spent one final day on the slopes together. We headed back to Kiroro for another epic day of powder skiing thanks to the mighty gyu. The legend of the mighty gyu was started by Jocelyn’s cousin and his mates many many  years ago. They’ve been skiing in this region for over 20 years. Legend has it that if you visit the Gyu bar (the fridge bar) and appease the Gyu by drinking alcohol (double Bailey’s on ice, hot buttered rum, or spiced wine) it will snow. The amount it will snow is positively correlated to the amount of alcohol consumed.

So of course on day one we knew it hadn’t snowed for at least a couple of days, so Jocelyn insisted we head to the Gyu bar (because it has to be the first night of your ski holiday), in order to appease the mighty Gyu. And guess what? It snowed over night. And this continued during our entire holiday. There wasn’t a day when it didn’t snow.

Today was no different. Overnight in Kiroro it snowed 10-12 inches!

 

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Here we are on the chair lift excited about all the snow!

It was amazing today. So much snow!

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During our last run, I needed a break. So I took a short rest in the powder.

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Just unbelievable.

A perfect ending to our time here in Japan. Or at least, for the skiing. The other perfect ending was tonight’s dinner.

Yes my friends, that’s Kobe Waygu beef. Melt in your mouth. Words cannot explain how good it was. The best meat I’ve ever tasted. Ever. Today wins. That is all.

And of course, on our way back, amazing views of Yotei.

Chisenpuri – Backcountry JaPOW!

Today was the day we’ve all been waiting for since the beginning of time. Or at least the time we decided to come to Japan. Backcountry day. Jocelyn, who is the most amazing tour guide in the world, btw… set us up with Daichi San, our backcountry guide. He showed up ahead of schedule at 6:50am and no one was ready, but we still had to decide where we were going. He told us that Mt. Mekunnai mountain had the best conditions, so we loaded up his van and headed out.

We drove for about 45 minutes only to have to turn around because the road was closed.😦 No problem; there was a backup plan. Chisenpuri mountain. An abandoned resort outside of Niseko. Apparently they ran out of money somewhere between 2012-2013 and just left. There’s only one chair lift, but I’m sure it was a super cute resort while it was running. When we showed up it smelled like rotten eggs (AKA sulfur). Hot springs right at the base of the mountain; a friendly reminder that we are, in fact, on a volcano.

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Abandoned chair lift

We put our skins on and headed up with the sun shining.

After about 15 minutes, it started to snow. And then it started to REALLY snow. Layers went back on. It took about an hour to reach the summit (of the chair lift). Took our skins off and skied off into the JaPOW!

It was better than I could have imagined. 6-8 inches. Light, fluffy, marshmellow amazingness! Down we went. Through the trees, off mushroom shaped powder puffs, and into the snowy wonderfulness that was Chisenpuri. Until we reached the random hot springs located halfway up the mountain. Sulfur goodness. Part of me wished we could kick off our skis and have a quick bath.🙂

We hiked back up for another round and another fresh track. 2 more times before stopping at the hot springs for a quick lunch break. Amazing!

 

Falling was no problem as it was soft and fluffy. I had at least one spill when I accidentally went off a small cliff.

Something no one tells you is how solitary back country skiing is. Even though you’re in a group hiking up and skiing down, you don’t really spend any time talking unless you’re stopped. You’re in your own head thinking about whatever happens to be in your mind at that given point. For me, it was a lot of Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger”. Thinking about what life is really about. Is all this stress I feel most days from my job really worth it? Especially when it’s beginning to manifest itself with various health issues including eczema, anxiety, insomnia, and high blood pressure. I don’t think it is. Life isn’t about work. It’s about experiencing life. People, places, adventures. The problem is these things cost money, so there’s a catch 22. I must work so I can afford these things, but how much work is too much? That’s the question of the hour.

I took many moments to just breathe. Take in the scenery. Watch the snowballs we were causing as we skinning rolling down the mountain. The perfectly white, untouched snow that seemed to go on forever. The snow lightly falling. Nature. It was so incredibly beautiful. DSC04129 After about 5 hours of up and down, we decided to take our final run. It was a little emotional as I thought about having to return to the busy city life of Niseko (which isn’t busy at all).🙂

On our way home, we stopped at an onsen, because that’s what you do when you’re in Japan. Clothes off and into the hot mineral water whilst enjoying beautiful views of the creek running right through it. Sorry no pictures as it’s not allowed, but Jocelyn and I had a relaxing time drinking our Sapporo Classic beers and soaking in the tub.

It was a really amazing day full of fresh snow, great friends, and beauty that I never would have thought. Arigatou gozaimasu Japan!

Kutchan

Yesterday we decided to take a day off and explore Kutchan. Jeremy and I opted to walk and meet Jocelyn and Randy at Kutchan station. 7.8km, or 4.8 miles. We started off and it was cloudy. By the time we reached Niseko (about 10 minutes), it was snowing, but no problem, we had a sidewalk. As the walk continued, however, the sidewalk disappeared and we ended up on the road, which resulted in at least one honk and a couple cars nearly hitting us. It also produced amazing sights, such as this:

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We found a grocery co-op. Very similar to a Walmart. Food, clothes, toys, etc. We also found a casino. First place we have been to where there was smoking. Then we met up with Jocelyn and Randy.

We walked down the main strip and saw some interesting signs and a few tourist shops where I did, in fact, purchase incredibly touristy things.

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After an hour or so, we headed back to Niseko for our massages. Oh yes! At the hotel Alpen, I had a pretty darn decent oil massage for around $70USD. Followed soon thereafter by the best sashimi dinner I’ve ever had. Ever. So tasty. 5 different types of fish. Tuna, flounder, snapper, mackerel, and salmon. OMG! So fresh. So amazing!

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For an “off” day, yesterday was pretty freaking amazing!🙂

 

Searching for powder

As my adventure in Japan continues, so does the search for the most amazing powder. Yesterday we went to Rusutsu, which is about a 45 minute drive from Niseko. When we arrived, the parking was actually closed, so we ended up having to park on the street and hope our car didn’t get towed.

One of the great things about the resorts in Japan is you can actually buy tickets for a certain number of hours and most places offer night skiing. If you buy a full day pass, this includes night skiing. You can buy a half day, usually between 3-5 hours and the ticket will work from the time you enter the gates. Thus our first day at Niseko, we bought a full day and we able to ski from 8:45am and go night skiing with a break for the onsen. For those of you wondering, the onsen is a kind of like a public bath that you pay for. A hot mineral bath. Clothing not allowed, but segregated. Women in one and men in another. There are also co-ed ones, but these require bathing suits, of course.

Anywho, I digress. We arrived at Rusutsu around 10am and hopped onto the gondola in search of better snow.

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We headed over to an area that Jocelyn was pretty familiar with and found some great tree skiing, including a natural halfpipe. We ended up lapping a particular chair and finding some fresh powder (on top of a hard crust). At one point I skied off a 4ft cliff, landing perfectly and having a minor freak out about it.

The scenery at Rusutsu was breathtaking. You can see 3 giant volcanos from the top. One of which is Yotei. The one in the middle. The one to the left is actually Niseko.🙂

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The groomers here were fantastic. Perfect for beginners/intermediate. Tree skiing is amazing. Not super steep, but definitely fun for advanced and even experts.

I really loved the bubble chairs (that shield you from the snow/wind). They automatically close and open which is cool. We need these in the states. Especially in Squaw and Heavenly.

Did I also mention that there are ZERO crowds? No one is out skiing right now. It’s crazy. There’s still a lot of snow to be had and it seems like the only people out there are foreigners and a few locals. We had an awesome time!

When we got back, after showers, we headed out for hot pot. My first time. It was super good.

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Above is a picture of the vegetarian hot pot with fried tofu, as well as plain. Yum!

On our way home, we stopped at the local grocery store (Seicomart), pronounced Psycho mart and spotted some local wildlife (aka a fox!) That was fun. He/she was beautiful. Obviously scared by people, but probably hungry and in search in food. After that fun experience, we headed home.

The search for powder continued…

Today, we headed to Kiroro which is another 45 minute drive from Niseko. On our way there, there were rolling hills with no signs of life. Just beautiful nature. Snow, trees, and untouched powder.

We arrived at 10:30am and bought a 5 hour ticket. We headed up a lift as it started to snow lightly. It appeared that there was untouched powder in the trees, so we headed for it pretty much immediately. It was better than you could imagine. Tree skiing with powder flying whilst hooting and hollering.🙂

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What I loved about today is that every time you went to the top you could see the ocean as Kiroro is about a 20 minute drive from the ocean. Absolutely off the chains beautiful. It was the perfect day. Tons of light fluffy powder everywhere. First tracks nearly every single run. I still don’t know where everyone was today. I can’t believe how amazing it was. This must be some secret place that no one knows about, or as Jocelyn said repeatedly, most people think the season is over. Well, clearly it isn’t, and I benefit from that. I’m so freaking lucky I can’t put into words. I’m falling for you Japan. You coy, secret powder keeper.🙂 What will tomorrow hold?

 

Things about Japan I never knew

So before I go into more skiing fun times, I wanted to take a moment to discuss some thing that I find interesting about Japan.

  1. The Toilets.
  2. The Micro-climates
  3. The food

Let’s start with the toilets. Now I lived in Malaysia for 4 months, so I thought I knew what to expect. Incorrect. Couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, here in Japan, even in the poorest of poor areas, every home has a Toto. That’s right, a freaking Toto! Those things are expensive. But hot damn they are amazing! I still haven’t “fully” used one, but it’s certainly nice to have a warm seat when you’ve been skiing for a few hours. Feels nice on your tooshy.

The Micro climates here in Hokkaido are unbelievable. It can be snowing in one town, and super nice and warm in the town over. Makes trying to find the best snow a little hard. Even in Niseko itself, one side of the mountain can be incredibly different than the other.

The food here is amazing. I’ve had better ramen for $10 at one of the resorts than you even dream about in the states. Japanese food is so much more than sushi. I’m actually surprised by all the different styles of food, including hot pot, yakitori, ramen, and sushi. In fact, I’ve pretty much had everything except sushi. It’s all been great.

Japan – The first couple days

I will be completely honest. This is the first time, in a long time, I was not really ready to go to a foreign country. Usually I spend days researching customs, culture, things to do… etc, however, in this case, I did nothing. Absolutely nothing. I didn’t even pack until the day before. I had no idea what the weather would be like in Niseko. I didn’t know how to say hello. I didn’t know anything. I was completely reliant on other people knowing everything. Luckily I was meeting my friends, one of which had been to Japan numerous times.

Traveling to Japan is hard. Especially when you book an overnight flight. Technically speaking if you want avoid jet lag, you need to stay up all night because you land at night. You need to be tired enough to fall asleep. So Jeremy and I stayed up on the 10 hour flight to Tokyo. Playing silly games, like 20 questions and the crappy trivia game provided by United. It also involved some planking… because reasons.

 

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In the end we made it to Tokyo. Exhausted, I carried my 40lb bag, plus backpack, 2 pairs of ski boots, and 2 pair of skis to our hotel room in the airport. Our tiny, tiny hotel room. When filled with the luggage of 3 people, you could barely walk around.

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I slept on the floor for about 3 hours. Just enough time to re-charge – ish. Then back on a very empty flight on a 777 to Sapporo, Japan where we found Jocelyn, our friend we met in Antarctica a few months ago. She had pre-arranged transportation and I couldn’t be more thankful for that. We collected our luggage, stood in line way too long to exchange USD for yen, grabbed some lunch, and were on our way to Niseko!

 

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Totally and completely exhausted, we found the energy to walk to town and check out the shops in the afternoon. It was nice to be out and about and I very quickly learned most of the town speaks English. In fact, there are signs and menus and maps in English. Jocelyn informed us that due to a high number of Australians and their influence, Niseko caters to Westerners now. After a quick jaunt around town, we headed back to SilverFox (where we’re staying) to pick up Randy and head to dinner.

By the time we got home, everyone was ready for bed. I proceeded to get the first good nights sleep I had had in several days.

Day numero uno.

Skiing. All of the skiing. Niseko is incredibly big. It’s actually 4 resorts that banded together to create one giant resort. Jocelyn showed us around and it was amazing. The snow was ok. Not great, but not bad. It’s not exactly “Peak” time here in Japan right now. In fact, a lot of the resorts consider this off season now. Lolz.

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Randy was having some difficulty with his toe, so Jeremy and I headed off to find skiing adventure. What I found was some ice covered in 4-6 inches of powder. I made one turn on a black diamond and nearly broke my ankle. Fun. Not. But I will say, the tree skiing here is top notch.

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The views are amazing! This is Yotei. We may or may not backcountry ski this on Friday. Most things are in English (signs, maps, etc) as well as Japanese and everyone here is super friendly. Japan is incredibly wonderful and I really had no idea!🙂