How to be on Vacation

By: Jim Murphy

How to be on Vacation (aka how to be retired)


  • The best vacations (and retirements) are not an escape or break from life, but rather an empowering and energizing “sharpening of the saw.”
  • Seek not to maximize pleasure on vacation, but rather to empower the person that experiences it, so that this vacation, all future vacations, and your daily life at home, are truly enhanced.
  • Your best life, the best possible one, has one foot in joy and one foot in… suffering. (Ouch! There, I said it. That super scary S-word that nobody likes, especially not on vacation!)

Note: Please continue to pray and consider how you can help even in the smallest way those suffering from the war in Ukraine, the Syrian refugee crisis, and other humanitarian crises around the world. 

Here’s a link to contribute.

There’s a rhythm and energy to your best life—the best possible one (*see definitions at the end of this letter). It’s a rhythm of work and play, rest and relaxation. It’s an energy of curiosity and creativity, self-awareness and self-mastery.

There’s three main obstacles to that rhythm and energy that we all face:

1. over-thinking

2. negative (judgmental) thinking

3. self-consciousness (see definition at bottom).

Because no one wants those things (a cluttered mind with many concerns, circumstances and results not to our liking, and uncertainty of how we fit in or what others think of us), we need a vacation.

So we may go to the beach, or the mountains, or perhaps Athens, Greece (I’m writing this on a patio outside a cafe in oldtown Plaka) to get away from all those concerns. But the problem is, those concerns don’t go away, we just take a break from them. This is what the addict does. He or she gets feelings they don’t want or don’t feel they can cope with, so they escape with food or drugs or trips to Athens (yikes!).

The problem is not that we have problems. The problem is the energy we have when we think about the problems. The problem is the fear of the feelings we’ll get when we have these problems. This fearful energy is the kind that shrinks back, enlarging the three main obstacles (over-analysis, negative thinking, and self-consciousness).

Dr. James Loehr shared a helpful way to think about it: “The correct emotional response to a problem is 75% of the solution.”

When we react emotionally and judgmentally to a problem, we greatly reduce opportunities while curiosity and creativity go out the window.

Remember IX principle #3: The problem is not the problem, the problem is the state you enter when you think about the problem.

If your daily rhythm and energy is the key component to living your best life, and I think it is, then the main priority becomes developing and guarding that energy and rhythm.

This means guarding your thoughts… which means having strict boundaries around what you look at, read, watch, listen to, who you spend time with, and where you allow your thoughts to go. Those thoughts, whatever they are, create a certain energy that is creating your life.

You’re either walking in love or fear, self-expression or self-protection.

The typical vacation: Plan A

Here’s the thing: if you go on vacation seeking to maximize pleasure (which has been plan A for most of my life – same plan as the addict – ouch!), except with some luck here and there, you’re going to run into a lot of frustration. This is because so much of your vacation (and life) is out of your control (the majority). I mean, a global pandemic could wipe out all your vacation plans for an entire year or two.

The IX vacation: Plan B

The far better plan for vacation (let’s call this Plan B), is to see this time away from your daily rhythm and life as time to “sharpen the saw,” as Stephen Covey put it. That is, time to empower you the person. Because in the end, who you become is the most important factor in living your best life. The Truth is, in the final analysis, when you shut your eyes, no matter how many people you have around you, who you are in those moments—when it’s just you and God— is who you are, and that’s all you are.

Developing your heart (rather than having pleasurable circumstances) is the most important factor in how much joy you experience in your life.

IX vacation (Plan B), looks like this:

Do whatever you need to do to walk in love, because joy comes from love.

That is, do whatever you need to do not just to make vacation an escape from daily life (like the Plan A addict), but to make it a time of empowering your true, authentic self, so when you get back to your regular, daily life, you can live with more curiosity and creativity, self-awareness and self-mastery.

Three disciplines you can do on vacation to work on this:

  1. Examine your life. Clarify how you want to feel, how you want to live, and the type of person you want to become. This involves regular journaling and reflecting on each day (gifts you were given, what you learned, and what you can work on).
  2. Simplify your life. Reduce your needs. Get rid of the clutter. Remove all that’s not you. Clarify your life purpose.
  3. Be still. Ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life. Ironically, life will pass you by unless you slow down and create space in your life.

How to know if you’re moving towards Plan B or still on Plan A:

Here’s one way to check: Observe your thoughts when you see others. Are you evaluating and judging them in any way, or, seeing what’s possible for them? In other words, are you seeing potential faults or negative attributes, or are you seeing potential gifts or possibilities for them? Because…

What you see in others reflects who you are.

A shoemaker notices people’s shoes.

A hair stylist notices people’s hair.

A spiritual person notices people’s spirituality.

A judgmental person sees flaws, a Plan B (powerful) person sees potential.

Many of us have not been able to be on vacation the past two years, in fact life has been extremely difficult. Please know that the quality of your life is not dependent on your results or circumstances, but moreso on if you’re becoming the type of person Victor Frankl says, is “worthy of their sufferings.”

So, what is the one foot in suffering thing? As a performance coach (mental skills) to world-class athletes and leaders around the globe, I teach them to expect abundance and prepare to suffer. We visualize doing extraordinary things as well as extreme obstacles (overcoming them), so that anything we might encounter does not throw us off emotionally.

We need to do hard things in order to continue to learn and grow. (Penn professor Angela Duckworth uses the Hard Thing Rule for her family). That’s the challenge with vacations (and retirement)–the temptation to stop developing your heart.

Every day of life we’re walking in love or fear, moving in one direction or the other, regardless of whether or not we’re on vacation (or retired).

Pleasure is the deceptive illusion that blinds us to the reality that the more pleasure we have, the more we want, and the harder it is to handle life’s challenges. The longer we sit on the couch, the harder it is to get off it.

The greatness lies in, whether on vacation or at the office, every day devoting your life to sharing your love and passion with the world. Then you have a chance for way more than pleasure, you can experience a deep sense of well-being, freedom and gratitude, independent of circumstances. You can have joy.

Love Jim

Exercise to do:

I did a workshop recently for some young adults and part of the day we spent on two things:

  1. Describe your ideal vacation day, if anything was possible.
  2. Describe your ideal work day, if anything was possible.

If you want to share those two for you, I’d love to hear! I’ll share you with mine.


* your best life: the best possible life that you, and only you, can live

* best possible life: a life of deep contentment, joy and confidence, independent of circumstances; a life filled with IX (9) traits: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

* IX: Inner Excellence; also, Roman numeral nine, which stands for the nine traits (described above) of the best possible life.

* self-conscious: concern for self from wanting to fit in, be accepted and loved, but unsure if that’s the case… leads to comparison and self-protection, building walls that imprison rather than protect.

* compassion: literally, to suffer with.

* judgment: to lay down a negative verdict on self, circumstances or others (generally without having all the information).

* discernment: to use wisdom to decide the best course of action (as opposed to judgment).


My trip to Florence and Athens has been an incredible gift. Florence was a 1:1 Inner Excellence retreat that I’m very honored to be a part of. I’m considering hosting an Inner Excellence retreat in Tuscany this summer/fall, open to all of you. Let me know if you’re interested. By the time you’re reading this, I’ll be in the Bahamas… working on becoming the type of person who lives with joy because he walks in love. Look for pics on Instagram.

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