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Why Do Technical Communicators Need Vacation?

vacation1 I know, I know. It’s been a while since I’ve written anything here. The very busy summer continued straight through the month of August into my vacation time. I spent time at the beach (or as we Jersey people say, “the shore,” even though I was in South Carolina), did some shopping, had a mini spa day, did a day trip to Charleston, and did some knitting as well. While I brought my iPad and keyboard with me, the only writing I did during that time was to send some proposals for the 2014 STC Summit. Otherwise, I barely used social media, and I definitely didn’t do any writing. I thought it might be a good time to write, but I just didn’t do it.

It occurred to me that this was a good thing, in the end. At least, it was good for me. I’ve been pushing non-stop with my writing and involvement on social media in the tech comm world for about two years with few breaks, and it was time to take a true breather. This year hasn’t been too bad. I have a good job for now–at least until the contract ends in December. I haven’t felt as much stress with that job as I have with other jobs in the past. The summer was a little stressful because of my son having time off from school and summer camp, but he got a chance to play, and he was happy. I think the vacation was really, in many respects, a true license to completely relax for the first time in several years. I didn’t think of technical communications in any shape or form–with the exception of the Summit proposals–for almost two weeks. Okay, that’s not totally true. I found a grammar mistake on a restaurant sign and some other little editing things that I saw on various brochures and menus, but that’s beside the point. The point is that in my mind, being a good technical communicator is immersing oneself into the subject completely. To keep up with technical communication, you have to keep up with it all the time. For me, for the past four years since diving into the field first through graduate school, and then my big push in the last two years to look for and find a job, I’ve been totally engulfed in it. I had to come up for air, and float on the top for a while, much like relaxing on a floating lounge chair in a pool.

Even as a writer, I’ve felt like I’ve had writer’s block for a while, and that’s part of the reason that you haven’t seen much. I still read what other people post, share when I can, and write when I can, but between writer’s block and being busy, it’s hard to get the writing in. Much of my writing would end up being work related, and I’d feel tapped out. So, what’s a technical communicator to do?

This is what to do–which is what I did: go on vacation. Change your environment, your scenery, and clear your mind of the clutter that has built up as best as you can. For me, I would listen to the ocean and deeply inhale the salt-water air as I’d take nighttime walks along the beach. I’d sweat it out walking from shop to shop in the late summer heat of the Carolinas. I went somewhere new, and infused my mind with new thoughts, new perspectives, and new memories.

Technical communication isn’t necessarily an easy thing to do. I think most of us who do this for a living make it look easy to the rest of the world. I remember talking to the esthetician who did my manicure and pedicure during my spa day about what I did for a living, and while she was well-travelled and seemed bright, I think it blew her mind to know that people like us existed. We all live and breathe technical communication as our vocation, and it can take a lot of brain energy over time to stay on top of our game. But every once in a while, it’s good to take a REAL break and clear one’s mind completely. No emails, no phone calls, no coding, no writing–no connection to the professional world that depends on us.  This mental breather needs to be done for a few reasons. First, it’s just good for one’s mental health in general. Being a workaholic is not good for anyone’s health or well-being.  Secondly, and more importantly, clearing one’s mind so completely allows creative energy to be renewed again. The clutter can be cleared out, and that creative edge that has always helped you can be sharper and more acute than it’s been in a while. Maybe you were already at the top of your game before your vacation, but imagine if the clutter is cleared out for about a week–imagine how refreshed on many levels you could be!

This week may be the week I’ve returned, and life is just as crazy as ever with trying to catch up with the backload of work, handling things while my manager is on vacation, and dealing with the stress that goes with my son going back to school for the first week, but I feel like I’m much more open to possibility and can contribute more (once I can get back into my routine again) now that I’ve let that salt air cleanse my brain for a bit.

For me, the beach life was a break. You can do it in a big city, the mountains, or anywhere. Just be sure to give yourself a lot of quiet time that is not work related at all, time that’s as stress-free  and responsibility-free as possible for as long as possible, and find something new to stimulate your senses again. You need to do more than “stop and smell the roses” or “stop and smell the coffee.”  Breathe them in, over and over again, for a longer time, and don’t answer that email or phone call. In most cases, the world will not end if you don’t respond. It can wait. Be sure to take care of yourself, so you can take care of others, as technical communicators are born to do.

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M-learning and E-learning will never replace teachers entirely

MB910218838As I start to write this, a few days have passed since one of the worst school massacres in the United States happened in Newtown, Connecticut. I won’t go into the details, only because it’s really all over the news here, so I’m sure that one could find out more very easily. But rather, I want to reflect a few thoughts on my mind about the situation, and what we as technical communicators and e-learning specialists can do.

The first thing to remember is that no matter what, teachers will never be replaced by e-learning and m-learning. That day, it was teachers who protected children and some lost their lives in trying to protect them. All these small children depended on these teachers to not only keep them safe, but to help the children through the scariest thing ever happening in their lives, and assuring them that they were loved, no matter what.  There are instructors, and then there are teachers. The difference is that teachers will always go the extra length to ensure the success of their students, even to the point of ensuring their survival and mental well-being. If we can remember that e-learning and m-learning are tools of instruction, not taking the full place of teachers, that will ensure that learning technology understands its rightful place in education.

The second is that we need to educate the world on special needs people, and do more to help those with mental health issues. There are reports about how the gunman had Asperger’s and that allegedly Asperger’s patients are prone to violence. Let me dismiss that right away. First of all, that allegation is untrue. All Asperger’s people are not prone to violence. Something else had to be going on with this kid to go on a rampage like this, and from what little I do know, as best as his family tried to get him help, they couldn’t find the appropriate help. So, something else was going on beyond Asperger’s.

How would I know this? I have Asperger’s. If you’ve ever met me, I generally don’t have a mean bone in my body, and abhor violence with a passion. Violence is just so foreign to me, that I truly can’t understand how people can actually inflict pain like that on another person or being.  My son is also Asperger’s/high-functioning autistic. He has a bit more of a temper than me, and when he was very small he lashed out, but it was out of frustration because he had difficulty speaking, and didn’t know how to control himself. He learned. He’s not like that at all now. The last thing he’d ever do is hurt another person, especially a small child. If anything, he’s actually very protective of smaller children. I have also met many families of children who are autistic or Asperger’s. They are not violent either.

The news media is trying to perpetuate that it’s the Asperger’s that caused it, and that Asperger’s people are prone to violence, as I said. I need people to help me stomp that myth out, because I have a son who already has high anxiety and self-esteem issues because he’s different, and that last thing my child needs is more stigma put around him that isn’t fair.  The gunman had some other mental health issue going on, and as much as his family tried to help, they weren’t getting the full help he needed. Please help push mental health awareness…please be more sensitive to it.

I’m sure many of you work on policy and procedures in your jobs, or deal with topics relating to human resources and human relations. Please just remember your audiences, and remember to be mindful of all those who work hard every day to educate us and our children, and also for the families of those who struggle harder every day to help those who have depression and other severe mental health issues survive and thrive in our society. Perhaps this change that we expect in a few days is not the apocalypse, but rather it’s an enlightenment about mankind, that we need to protect ourselves in a way that doesn’t lock our children in schools like prisons, and help those who need the extra help get more help–that the mental health and special needs fields will have a revolution that will help make our global society function in a more successfully integrated way.  Teachers will need to be at the forefront of this revolution.

I could continue to talk about this, but I think you get the point. Don’t get caught up in silly topics that don’t matter in the greater scheme of things. Use your position as a technical communicator or e-learning/m-learning specialist to make the world a better place. If we all pitch in together, we can make a real difference. If you don’t do it in honor of those little angels and their protectors who died in Newtown, CT, do it on behalf of me and my son.