“Bangkok, though, is a rejuvenating tonic; the people seem to have found the magic elixir. Life, a visitor feels, has not been wasted on the Thais.” – Bernard Kalb.
This quote seems a logical place to start. My name is Lee and I’m the marketing lead here at ROI. In late November, my director Christos tasked me with an assignment. It was to be completed following my first holiday abroad since COVID-19 beached me, and half of the creative population, back home. For me, that meant sleepy coastal small-town Australia. Following almost a decade living, working and travelling in Europe, getting away again was… a big deal. Eager for sunshine, great food and new experiences in South East Asia, I opted for a four-week adventure in Thailand. Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Pai, Phuket, Krabi and Koh Lanta were calling my name… but I digress!
The beautiful Bangkok skyline at night, when the city truly comes alive
The task, back to the task.
“When you get back, I’d love for you to write a blog about the importance of taking a break,” Christos said.
That was it.
Simple enough right? Surely, after a long sunny Asian adventure, especially given the past few years we’ve all had, I’d be refreshed and rearing to go. Transformed by my travels even. Reminded of who I am and eager to hit the ground running as a diligent young professional.
This is the honest truth.
It took me two weeks back in the office to even give a thought to Christos’s brief. In fact, it filled me with dread. Deep pit of the stomach dread.
Logging back on following a long break is hard. Really hard.
Visiting Thailand was transformative. As the above quote so perfectly encapsulates, cities like Bangkok are simply magic. I felt energetic and alive, from dusk to dawn, as my body adjusted to the sweltering heat, the sheer chaotic quantity of bodies and cars, the sizzles and smells and sounds of street food cooked on every corner.
Then… some six weeks later, I returned to work. What on Earth had I actually learnt? Here’s my best shot.
Holidays aren’t always transformative
I will say this once but loudly for the people in the back… stop. being. so. hard. on. yourself! In my first week back in the office, I considered a complete career change. Unable to string together a sentence, clearly I was a failure as a writer and marketing professional.
The guilt of not overperforming and exceeding my client’s expectations weighed on me hard and I felt deflated and upset that I wasn’t ready and rearing to go after my long and leisurely December abroad.
But then, hold and behold, I slowly eased back into work life. It took about two weeks. For me, the key to getting back into the swing of things was by taking it slow, putting less pressure on myself and taking practical steps including:
Lesson learnt – you do not need to change the world in one day. A holiday is not always the transformative experience you expect it to be. Easing back into work is hard and I didn’t feel immediately inspired upon reopening my Macbook. You will wish you were back on a tropical beach somewhere sipping Mai Thai’s out of a pineapple (see below!). And that’s okay.
the aforementioned cocktail, sipped after an day of island hopping
There is more than one way to be mindful
In keeping with the theme of being kind, mindfulness will remain a priority of mine in 2023.
Thailand is a Buddhist country and I had the privilege of meditating with monks at the Pai International Meditation Centre. I discussed with the monks my misconceived notions about meditation and discipline, having always practised more challenging forms of ‘moving meditation’ such as vinyasa yoga. Buddhism, rather, advocates more gentle mindfulness. Meditation should be comfortable. It’s fine to sip water, move around, sit on a chair and stretch as you meditate. Making the time and doing the work is the point. The fine points are up to you.
It doesn’t get more peaceful than that! Lee and friend Alice Corden at Pai International Meditation Centre.
I’ve so far really benefited from this more flexible and kinder approach. For example, the monks suggested dedicating one minute every hour to meditation. To focus, they recommended picturing an image to harness your attention e.g. the moon. Stop whatever it is you’re doing. Focus. Go inwards. Take deep breaths. Visualise your object. Let go. And observe as the stresses of the day drift away.
Food is medicine (for humans and elephants!)
Except for a few spice-related mishaps (we won’t go there!), I generally felt healthier than ever throughout my trip.
More than just Pad Thai! An interesting dish made out of bamboo and loads of fresh herbs and spices.
Thai food is incredibly fragrant and fresh, using loads of gorgeous nutritional ingredients such as lemongrass and tamarind. During an amazing street food tour of Bangkok, I learnt that many Thai people view food as medicine, especially in the Northern parts of the country. This is applied to both humans and animals.
One of the highlights of my trip was visiting an ethical elephant sanctuary in the Chiang Mai region. Here, I helped make a health tonic for the elephants comprising medicinal vine, rice, banana, tamarind and salt. We ground up the ingredients and rolled them into balls not dissimilar from the popular protein balls we humankind consume as healthy snacks. This ‘medicine’ aids digestion and is useful if the elephants have overeaten.
Simply magical. Elephants are truly amazing creatures.
Just like the elephants, I have been known to overindulge (although less on bananas and leaves and more on caffeine, sugar and takeaway food) as deadlines loom and work stress increases.
In the New Year, I hope to adopt a ‘food is medicine’ approach to my day-to-day, prepping more fresh meals and staying away from the cafe!
Fear isn't always a bad thing
Travelling to a foreign country is always a little scary. Then there are the unusual challenges Thailand throws at you. From almost getting stampeded by a baby elephant to a few near-miss incidents while crossing hectic Bangkok roads, you are going to face some hardships.
Personally, I am a little bit of a scaredy cat when it comes to certain ‘outdoorsy’ activities. Heights terrify me, for instance.
Despite that fear, while in Thailand I climbed mountains that pushed me to breaking limits, trekked to treacherous waterfalls where I nearly rolled my ankle aprox. 45784783 times and even went white water rafting (something I said I’d NEVER do) on accident thanks to a somewhat unscrupulous tour guide.
Only in Thailand: When you accidentally go rafting down an Elephant-filled river in the wilderness
Ironically, the latter was one of my favourite experiences. It reminded me that a little bit of fear is a good thing. Pushing beyond our comfort zones builds resilience, stamina and character. I will contemplate how I can bring this new-found confidence to my work life in 2023.
Do more of what you love
‘In essence, the Thai people are not materialistic at all. They’re not in the least driven by the kind of ambition that drives us. The more I got to know them, and the more time I spent with them, the more I understood that this was a totally legitimate attitude to life, and why not? – John Burdett.
I love this quote and it was definitely something I observed in Thailand. Although often living with much less, the Thai smile is huge and there is definitely a sense of gratitude in the air. Being healthy, happy and in the presence of loved ones is enough.
As someone who has chosen a creative career path, working primarily with public and third sector clients, money has never been my main motivation. It can’t be. The budgets just aren’t there.
Of course, security and comfort are important. We all have bills to pay – and I enjoy an overpriced cocktail on a Friday eve as much as the next person.
But doing the work I love, in an environment of mutual respect, will remain my priority. My trip reinforced that.
Working on campaigns that matter. That make a real and lasting difference. And collaborating with good people who respect me and share a common vision. This is what drives me.
Of course, I am lucky. I am blessed with a career that brings me enough financial security and freedom to go on wonderful four-week overseas adventures! However, at the end of the day, a paycheque can only carry so much happiness.
My focus for 2023 will to be continue working on projects and with teams that bring me joy.
I will practice gratitude and be thankful that progressive, purpose-driven organisations like ROI place faith in my abilities and share my vision for social good.
But just one more Mai Thai would be nice though, please!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Lee Tobin, Marketing Specialist
Lee is a professional storyteller. She uses a storybook approach to emotively communicate your organisation’s core messages to your target audience. She especially loves social media and believes that comms should always be bold.