The Fine Art of Doing Nothing

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Lawn & Landscape
February 2017
By Marty Grunder

Recently I returned from the Leadership Forum put on annually by the fine folks at the National Association of Landscape Professionals. The event was held in beautiful St. Thomas, in the U.S. Virgin Islands. I know, I know – poor me. Somehow, though, I managed to get through it. I also managed to emerge from it with a career and life lesson I never expected.

The forum was a first for me in that it marked the only time in more than 20 years that I’ve attended a green-industry conference that I wasn’t speaking or teaching at. It was a first for my wife, too. Despite having been stuck with me for 23 years, Lisa has never accompanied me to a conference. Between her full-time work as a kindergarten teacher, our four kids, a very demanding little puppy and the prep I need to do on the road when I’m speaking, it’s been fairly impossible for her to come.

Lisa and I got to spend time with many of my friends and clients and their spouses, and I was excited for her to get to see our industry up close. She came away as impressed with the remarkable people leading our profession as I am. One woman asked Lisa if I worked long hours. Lisa told her that I used to – that when you’re growing a business and providing for your family, you do what you have to do.

Now that my business is fully established, I explained to this nice young couple, I try to leave my office in the evenings by 5:30 p.m., and I’ve struck a much healthier work-life balance.

Or so I thought, until the next day when I posted on Facebook a photo of me reading a business book on the beach. Seeing the photo, my friend and mentor Jim McCutcheon posted back, “Stop working and look up! Often, that is when the best ideas happen.”

Jim’s comment really made me stop and think. Here I was with my wife, in a spectacular setting, with the blue, blue waters of the Caribbean Sea in front of me and an island to explore behind me and what was I doing? Reading a book, studying, trying to gain a competitive advantage.

So, I took Jim’s words to heart and set about heeding his advice. I put my book down. For the rest of the trip I made a conscious effort to practice the fine art of doing nothing. I’m not going to lie; this did not come easy to me. I doubt it comes easy to any business owner or hard worker.

But mostly, I relaxed. And without the distractions of home or the office or the incessant need to do more pressing down on me, I gained fresh perspective on my life and on my business. Enjoying dinners with industry friends and their spouses against an extraordinary backdrop, we ate and laughed and shared stories about our lives and our businesses. As I listened to them, I reflected on my own life, what’s good, what’s not so good; what I’m grateful for and what I need to work on.

Those five days away provided me with an uncommon clarity and calm I haven’t felt before. I returned to the office rested and re-energized, with renewed excitement for the days ahead and new creative approaches for how to meet them.

So, my fellow workaholics, give it a try. Take time for yourself. Plan a vacation or block out a regular part of your day or week to do nothing much. Put the book, or the newspaper, or that darn cell phone down and look up.