Part of why I wanted to move to the Caribbean island of Saba is because of the lessons it had to teach me. As a corporate-type who was accustomed to moving people and projects at lightening speed (or at least having this is a goal!), island time was a foreign concept to me. The fact that things just happen when they are good and ready — whether it’s an event or work — is seemingly impossible to understand. However, the concept of island time held just enough intrigue for me to want to know more.
Here’s what I found out…
First of all, it seems pretty easy to fall into island time while on vacation. Everything is at a slower pace — that’s how we usually want it to be, right? Especially in another country or culture — to be adaptable, you just smile and play along. With each passing day, you begin to sink into the calm of a peaceful vacation. Maybe you get more time than ever with your spouse and kids. It’s perfect — and hopefully, you let yourself sink into the peace, without worrying about your return to work on Monday, where you will pay for your peace with a game of catch up.
Yeah, that was my life. I prided myself on my speed and efficiency at work. People would be amazed at the amount I could get done in a short period of time. I kept looking for more to accomplish — and the fast pace appeared to be part of my nature. I was very judgmental about how quickly things could be accomplished — oh, and just in case you were wondering — I demanded high quality as well!
The Lessons of Living on Island Time
Okay, so now you can understand what I meant by the island having lessons to teach me, right? One of the lessons is living on island time. I first moved to North Carolina, then Atlanta — in my early 30’s. At that time, I still carried the speed and efficiency mantra — you could see me flying down the halls while the others were taking their time. You could see me submitting projects at the speed of light and moving up the corporate ladder at a steady clip. As long as I was moving, everything was okay. I shunned the slowness around me — I was a Northeasterner after all, that’s just the way we were!
I stopped working late nights and weekends – and no one noticed!Over the two years prior to leaving my corporate job, I started to recognize the value of slowing down. I noticed how being calm and really being present (or paying complete attention) to what I was doing was healing. For some reason, the more I really paid attention and took my time, the more stress seemed to melt away. At this time, I stopped working late nights and weekends (most of the time) — and no one noticed! I was astounded that no one noticed, but I realized something really important. See, no one really knew how much I was doing but me. The really important things were getting done on time and with high quality. What they didn’t see were the things that didn’t matter. Since I thought they mattered, I was spending a lot of time on them. Once I focused on the top three priorities for my work — and really placed priority on the top three things in my personal life, I could let the rest of it go. It wasn’t as simple as it sounds because the ambitious speed demon still living inside of me would occasionally look both ways to see if anyone was noticing me “slipping.”
Interestingly, I ended up getting promoted. With the projects that ensued, I also learned that I still had a strange attraction to the caffeine-induced high-speed lifestyle. Anytime a project came up that required this mode, I would jump right in and rev up my engines! Then I’d noticed how other things in my life would start to wither around me.
I realized that what happened when I sped along, is that I forgot to stop and smell the roses. I forgot to pay attention. And stress started coming into my life. But hey, I was used to that mode and I knew how to drive it like a pro. So the transition began — it was like feeling ripped in two — one side of me loved the speed demon and the other side craved the calm & peace. I became a student of myself — and watched others in these modes as well. I read everything I could about how people use time. Now, with a background in performance improvement, my goal was to understand how you can achieve high performance. How to do this and also understand when to be in a speed mode or in a slow mode was my quest.
Sprinting for a Marathon?
I found the answers after my business coach said I was “sprinting for a marathon.” She noticed that my constant speed was creating chaos in other areas of my life. This marathon thing had me curious — after all, marathoners train for an amazing goal and maintaing peak performance is critical. Time is also critical — how they use time, when they speed up and when they slow down. And at the same time, they HAVE to take care of their bodies, since the body is the vehicle that carries them to their goal. Here’s what I learned about creating peak performance from marathoners.
You must develop your own pace and stick to it. Going faster than the goal pace is not recommended because it can cause fatigue. The moral of this story is “run your own race,” rather than looking at what others are doing. After awhile, learning to set your pace becomes intuitive (see mind).
Fatigue can often accumulate during training and even hurt your performance for a marathon. Trying to show off, keep up with someone else or over stride when you are tired can hurt your performance.
Rest must be built into your schedule before fatigue happens in order to prevent injury and be at your peak. Rest means that you take days off from running, start your runs slower than usual or even take walk breaks between running.
Now how does the mind come into play? Peak performers in marathons know that their mental state is one of the keys to performance. A positive attitude about what they can do throughout the marathon, believing in themselves (before, during and after the marathon) and using visualization have been known to work wonders for them. It is your mind that helps them if they “hit the wall” and start to feel tired and sore. Some visualize themselves at their strongest in order to carry them through. Others use visualizations during training, where they see themselves performing at their absolute best during the event.
Having a support team along the way has been noted as a key success factor. Support from a coach during training has helped many peak performers stay focused, especially if the going gets tough. Support from friends, family and team members can help along the route, if the runner needs a drink, another layer or cheers of encouragement.
So the moral of the story for me was that I learned about pace & recovery — things I didn’t value as a speed demon. Pace allows me to decide when it’s right to go fast, slow or something in between. Recovery means that as a human being, I need adequate rest, relaxation and other healthy pursuits outside of work. Does this sound like logic? Sure, but start to pay attention to your own life. Listen to what you or others are saying on the job.
- Is there a sense that it’s best to be able to get by on little sleep on a regular basis?
- Are people talking about the long hours they are working, almost with a hint of pride?
- Is there a sense that you “have to” work all those hours?
- Is there a constant sense of urgency — hurry up, get it done yesterday?
Back to Island Time
So how am I doing? Well, that’s more complicated because my learning involves big-time change of mind. I am sinking into the peace and calm. I am watching the locals to see how they do it – -how they live. I see them having lunch with their spouses on work days and taking time to speak to each other, even if they are on their way somewhere. I see the human relationships being valued. I hear them tell me that you just get there when you get there. And yet, everything gets done. Things still happen, the Earth still revolves and life goes on.
Yet sometimes, I find myself hiking a trail and just thinking about getting to my destination — forgetting to marvel at the amazing rainforest all around me. Sometimes I find myself wanting to rush the growth of my business or work that needs to be done to the cottage. I find myself still feeling the stress — although this time it’s because of less happening when I think there should be more.
Old Mind – New Culture
I realized that I brought my old self to this new culture and expected to change immediately! I thought that just the physical move would “poof” make me value a slower pace. Now I notice how foreign a slower pace is for me — and yet I am so grateful to be “learning the language.” In fact, I am learning to tap into my own intuition and “run my own race.” Instead of looking at how others use time, I am finding my own way to use it.
Finding my own way means that I can look at a situation and know what’s intuitively right for all parties involved — some people may value a slower pace and others a faster pace. Marrying these needs is complex, but can be done. It’s the knowing — the awareness of this tension — coupled with a big picture view of how to accomplish the goal that creates peak performance in any culture.
I go back to the Sabans for an example. While they live on island time, they are masters at moving at lightening speed in preparation for a hurricane. This is one of the reasons that Saba is so well-protected during hurricanes and does not encounter the destruction that others islands tend to have. See, they just know when to go fast and when to go slow.
Global World – Global Work
As business globalizes and as more and more people move to different cultures, we will all encounter this lesson. It’s easy to think you can make the change until you are in it. Globalization of business means that there will be more work than ever on the mind — one of the hardest things to change. I believe we are seeing some of the effects today with offshoring — differences in how time is valued creates tension in project plans. And that is only one of the results.
I still have work to do on my mind, but I’m starting to surrender to the lessons. My goal is to create a mind that is adaptable to the change in culture — and to track my learnings so that I can talk with others about bigger issues of living in a global world. It’s amazing, but I think that after years of working on global projects for various companies, I am learning some of the deepest lessons on globalization from living in the Caribbean. I’m sure that others who’ve expatriated to different cultures feel the same way. I can’t wait to hear more about your experiences!
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