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Building Life Balance

Building Life Balance
The birdsong was crisper with closed eyes at Nayara Bocas Del Toro in Panama, a little slice of undisturbed quiet waiting at the end of two plane trips and a 20-minute boat ride. I was delighted that we were there. As many can attest, it is difficult for small business owners to actually go away, and even harder still for them to completely disconnect and let themselves be “off” and in the moment, if only on a temporary basis.
It had just stopped raining a short while ago, and I could smell the rich, tropical vegetation as the breeze blew over “the world’s first aerial beach on stilts.” It was solidly built at the end of one of the board walkways that wound its way atop the island’s many mangrove roots. A gentle, half-heard conversation between the only other couple in the loungers slowly raised my lids to the steps leading down into the turquoise Caribbean Sea.
My phone vibrates. I automatically look to see the email notification icon. Then I look to the left and right to see if anyone else heard it. I shrink down into my plush beach towel and mentally argue with myself about whether to check the email. I’m sure it was a follow up to the text messages that I had been receiving throughout the morning while I was island hopping with my husband.

When I arrived at this spectacular resort and saw the gorgeous treehouse where we would be staying for the first time, I found myself letting out a deep breath that I hadn’t known I was holding. I love to be outside. I wanted to have this experience, to live it. As we curved up the steps and into the living area, I could see the expansiveness all around: limitless ocean to the horizon, sky touching mountains across the archipelago, and the plush, breathing root system of the mangrove trees spreading beneath the whole of the island. As I took in the gleaming wood appointments in the Balinese style, my eyes leveled on a delightful desk and chair, and I thought to myself, “There is a nice desk. I can work from there. Wait… What are you thinking? You didn’t come to Panama to work!”

Nevertheless, as Adrian Wooldridge, global business columnist for Bloomberg Opinion says in his latest article “The Epidemic of ‘Overwork’ Is a Dangerous Illusion,” “Entrepreneurs also have no choice but to work harder than regular salarymen and women.” As the owner of my own business, I do realize that I may have to work harder than many others to accomplish whatever it is I’ve set out to accomplish, and that may mean working at times when others who are not entrepreneurs are able to pass or simply would not. However, even though running my own business may put more of “me” in the game more frequently than others, per se, I also have to be realistic and set boundaries, taking responsibility for my choices, especially on vacation, regardless of whether or not I have the technological capability or conscientiousness to press on and continue working. Wooldridge continues:


For their part, employees make the mistake of letting work invade their private lives rather than setting clear boundaries. They often engage in semi-work — checking their smart phones while having dinner with their families or dealing with their email while watching the TV. This problem is exacerbated by both mobile technology and working from home. Mobile technology creates what has been dubbed “the autonomy paradox”: The more we can decide where we work, the more we end up working everywhere. “We’re not working from home,” says Andrew Barnes, the cofounder of 4 Day Week Global, “we’re sleeping in the office.” This blurring of the line between work and non-work means that we all too often get the worst of both worlds — neither concentrating fully nor relaxing properly.

As I lay there, the sun reminding my skin that I am in another environment and to enjoy it, I continue to ask myself, “Should I just look, see what it is, handle whatever it is, and then get back to trying to relax? Is it going to continue to nag at the corner of my awareness, breaking into the peace of this paradise, if I let it go unchecked? Why even come all this way and spend all this money to have this adventure if I am going to do what I do at home every day (even if I love what I do)?”

As Wooldridge mentioned, I was “neither concentrating fully nor relaxing properly.” Distracting myself, I started to concentrate on the engineering ingenuity of the aerial beach, and all of the other really amazing things that Dan Behm, also an entrepreneur, has worked hard to achieve on the developable 9 acres of land out of the 88-acre island which he had purchased “sight unseen.” Not only did he figure out how to create a beach where there was none, but he also had all of the structures made in Bali and shipped to Panama, including 4 treehouses and 16 overwater bungalows that each contain over 1,100 hours of hand carved wood. He also had to work with the existing environment, building around the mangroves, to achieve the vision for this world-class resort. 

Breathing the open air in deeply, hearing the lapping waves, and drifting into a sort of natural meditative state, I realized the lesson that I could take away from the resort’s construction: How could I forge my own pathways over the daily conditions that exist in my life without disturbing the already thriving, beautiful environment? Certainly, if a person could engineer around the vast acres of mangroves to create an incredible resort with a beach where there inherently is none or spend 1,100+ hours carving wood to create a beautiful bungalow, I could apply similar dedication and resourcefulness to whittle out my own lovely lifestyle with functional workarounds.

I had brought my phone out to the beach to take photos. So, at that moment, that is what I chose to do. Some boats were passing by, taxiing from one island to the next. The water was so clear underneath them that they could have been gliding on glass. I framed the moment in time, snapped it to memory, and then put down the phone for a book that I had been wanting to read for the past few months.

The email could wait. I told myself, “Just let it go. Everyone knows you are on vacation and does not expect an immediate reply, even though it is in your nature to always reply in a timely manner. There is nothing so urgent that it can’t wait a few hours, or even days. Just admit to yourself that you do not want to get behind and prefer to stay caught up, but that some things cannot be changed. Try to be comfortable with how things are and enjoy the present moment.”

As those thoughts circled in my mind, Franco, the bartender who had been making us fabulous libations under the tutelage of David (the mixologist who is studying to be a Sommelier), walked up and offered to play his guitar for our anniversary. He was not on the "entertainment" roster, but like all of the staff at the resort, was going above and beyond to make our stay as special, memorable, and enjoyable as possible. At every turn or request, Scott Dinsmore, Gerson Aguaro and the rest of the staff could not have been more kind or accommodating.

As the music played, I was able to let go that afternoon when I hadn’t been able to do so earlier in the week. I felt almost as untethered as the birds who came to visit our treehouse, chirping their joy as they flitted from one railing to the next, enjoying their freedom. Slipping my hand down to feel the sand on this newly made beach beneath the lounger, striking a balance never felt more real, even up on stilts.

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