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Guest opinion: Lessons of a staycation in unprecedented times

By Cindy Hughes-Anliker | Associate director, general management, UnitedHealthcare

In late December 2019, after a wonderful vacation in Arizona, my husband, Clark, and I made a promise to plan more getaways in 2020.

At the time, the Arizona trip recharged our batteries and gave us a much-needed change of scenery as we reeled from hardships, all that happened within a few weeks of one another: Clark lost his job, his brother, Bobby, and our dog, Lex, died.

As we planned for 2020 vacations, we scheduled a trip to Washington, D.C., in April with Clark’s parents. We were talking about another trip out west later in the year.

Then COVID-19 happened, and everything changed. Vacation plans were canceled or postponed, so Clark and I stuck close to home for the foreseeable future. By midsummer I was cranky, frustrated and exhausted from the churn of long work hours and not much else. Something had to change, and that’s where my decision to have a staycation was born.

Instead of canceling several vacation days around Labor Day after another trip was postponed, I kept them on the calendar to take a staycation. It may sound bizarre to take a staycation when most of my time is spent at home, but it was the best thing that happened to me in a long time. I walked away from the day-to-day grind for several days, and during this time I learned these lessons:

1. Be open to new possibilities in an already familiar environment. I had a blast creating new adventures in my home and in my community. For example, I walked in my neighborhood almost daily while I was on my staycation, and I used a different route each time. It was fun to visit different parts of my neighborhood.

2. Do the things that make you happy and give you purpose. I was able to visit many loved ones (keeping a social distance), catch up on my reading and cook for Clark, some of my favorite things to do. I found that when I did these things, I experienced the same emotions I felt during past destination vacations, like peace, joy and inspiration.

3. Tackle at least one chore you’ve been putting off. I reorganized my closet and felt like a million bucks when I was done because I accomplished a task I had been avoiding for months.

4. Don’t over-plan your time. This was the hardest thing for me to do since I’m not used to so many empty hours in a day. However, I was committed to staying true to an open schedule, and as a result, I was more spontaneous, creative and relaxed with my days.

5. Sometimes doing nothing and “just being” is the best nourishment for your soul. I had a lot of time to think about my life goals and gain perspective. It was nice to revisit these goals and tweak them without distraction.

6. You’ll be a better leader and employee if you invest your vacation in yourself, not your job. It’s important to honor your vacation time by replenishing your energy so you can come back to work rested and reenergized.

My recent staycation was invigorating and offered me a sense of calm, purpose and spark during these unprecedented times. I learned that you don’t have to go to a different destination to recalibrate; sometimes your permanent destination is the best place to do so.

Cindy Hughes Anliker, a Business Record 2014 Forty Under 40 honoree, has big plans to schedule more staycations in her future, although someday she plans to go on destination vacations as well. Currently an associate director, general management, for UnitedHealthcare, she has spent most of her career in health-related marketing communications and product management. Cindy earned her Master of Science in organizational performance at Drake University, and a Bachelor of Arts in communication studies at the University of North Carolina-Wilmington. She is also a graduate of the 2012 Greater Des Moines Leadership Institute’s Community Leadership Program. Cindy lives in West Des Moines with her husband, Clark Anliker. Along with their dog Mickey, Clark and Cindy are patiently training their new puppy, Willy.

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