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Tom’s Life Lessons: It’s Okay to Ask Questions

I'm not sure exactly when it began, but at some point in life, I learned it was not okay to ask people personal questions. Anything more personal than the weather and what they did for a living was off limits, and a little invasive, and rude.

Of course, I didn't think it was. But I was weird, so what did I know? I do remember a girl I hung out with in high school (I wanted to date her, she didn't want to date me, but we hung out all the same) who would firmly tell me almost anything I asked was none of my business, so it could very well be that.

If you talk to me for any length of time these days, you'll likely hear the phrase "if you don't mind me asking?" at some point. This is my concession to my neuroses about asking questions, but here's the thing I'm still trying to impress upon myself; it's okay to ask questions. In fact, it's a large part of how you get to know someone and, from my non-scientific observations, a key part of having a conversation.

(Feel free to correct me, social experts).

This isn't to say you should ask someone the what their favourite sexual position is in the first few minutes of meeting them (The Perfumed Knapsack, in case you were curious). Or who they voted for, or what they think about that whole God deal. The idea of not discussing sex, religion or politics is a bit of a cliche for a reason. These are divisive subjects, and you never know what company you're in. Now, if you feel passionate about something and don't care about offending someone, by all means, share your favourite safe word, pagan God or Marijuana Party Leader. But be aware there are, occasionally, good, friendly people who share views opposite to yours.

I'm told.

Regardless, questions about people's work, home or hobbies are, in fact, a good idea. When I first started thinking about this and practicing it it felt so forced to me. This is what people do in the movies when they have nothing to talk about, I worried. But movies, sadly, are not reality. The train I'm sitting on is not the Hogwarts Express and the Power Rangers are not keeping us safe from Rita Repulsa. In real life, people ask questions to start conversations, and to explore other people and to show an interest. It's how you learn about people.

And don't be afraid to interject. You never know when a closet Trekkie, Twitter fiend or World of Warcraft player is hanging out nearby. Throw in a bit of your own info, if things get quiet. This is allowed, and expected.

But also don't underestimate how much you can brighten someone's day by asking, earnestly, "How are you?"

Unless you do it with a hug in a Tobias Funke sort of way.


Tom’s Life Lessons: How to Vacation

A good friend of mine recently told me that she did not know how to be on vacation. This perplexed and saddened me, greatly. I am a great vacationer. I know precisely how to relax, how to slack off, and how to stop worrying about anything outside the world.
So, we come to the next installment in my award ready series, Tom's Life Lessons: How to Vacation

  1. Turn off all work related devices. Cell phones, pagers, emails, anything where work can reach you, turn it off. I like to have an emergency number or email address, but to make it clear that this is to be used only in an emergency. This runs the risk that every little issue that comes up may be seen as an emergency to those left behind, but it's a risk you take. Alternatively, give them a number to reach you at, and promptly turn off that phone. The important thing is to make it as difficult as possible for work to reach you, and you to reach work. While this may not be possible in all jobs, it's best to try.
  2. Stay up late and sleep in. This part is critical to getting a good vacation time going. Stay up late. Do whatever. Read, play games, watch TV. The point is to wake up the next day just a little thrown off, and just a little sleepy. This helps to establish a trend of sleeping in and taking it easy.
  3. Do little things around the house, slowly. One of the lovely parts of vacation is being able to do all those things you never have time, or are too exhausted, to do otherwise. However, you have to be careful not to do any real actual work. Ideally you want to do something like clean a room with an episode of something playing (or, better yet, several episodes of something queued up on Netflix). Take a break every few minutes to watch a good scene. Wander in and out of the room. In general, do what you have to do, but do it slowly and enjoy it. Reward yourself with a snack after.
  4. Never see people before noon. Because you have the entire day off it may be tempting to schedule a coffee at 10, or 11, or even 9. Resist this temptation. Much like the famous adage "nothing good happens after 2am," on vacation, "nothing good happens before noon." Stay in, relax, sleep. Give yourself time to recover, have a nice breakfast, and have a lazy sleep in. Scheduling anything before noon will only result in you feeling groggy and your entire day being thrown off.
  5. Exercise, but not too much. A bit of exercise is always good, but too much can feel like work. Go for a long walk. Take the dog. But go slow, and don't go too crazy. The idea with this piece is to feel like you've accomplished something without actually really straining yourself. This is key.
  6. Never let yourself feel guilty. Never compare your vacation to someone else's. Let it stand for itself, and let yourself relax. You deserve it, and it will help you for when you go back to work. The idea of this kind of vacation is to allow you to recover and relax. Not to push yourself, and not to energize you, but to truly sink back and recover.

Now this kind of vacation may not be for everyone, and that's fine. But I think this is a good recipe for relaxation that allows you to really just let go. Because Gods know we all hold onto things a bit too tightly these days.