Subu Shankar: a short break goes a long way

15 September 2020

We caught up with Subu to discuss how how first year in Canberra has been, and why he recently took some short leave.

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Ever since I moved to Canberra, I hadn't been able to take a proper vacation. My first priority was finding a job after moving from Mumbai last July. Two and a half months of an intense job search culminated in a Communications role with ANU Advancement. I was over the moon. My dream of moving down under was beginning to be fully realised with full-time employment in a reputed university. What's more, my job seemed the perfect match for my skills and experience. So what if most of my working life was in India? So what if I had never worked in an academic institution before? This was meant to be! You can't question destiny. I was ready. I had been getting my ducks in a row for a while for this major shift in my life. And here I was now, doing coffee runs with my ANU colleagues watching ducks wading through water on our picturesque campus.

Cut to August 2020. I am working in a great team and we are working on exciting campaigns. I feel well-settled into life in Canberra. I have a bit of a social circle. But something doesn't feel right. That feeling of being burnt out. The bushfires in the early part of the year had made it difficult for me to plan a proper vacation. And the hailstorm had thrashed my car and I couldn't make too many trips out of town till I could buy a new one. So I waited for my insurance payout. There went another month. And just when we thought we were past the worst of 2020, a certain virus had other plans. A trip planned to India in April had to be cancelled. I don't know when I can make that trip now. So I adjusted to working from home and it was good ... till I felt my routine started getting to me. Or the lack of a routine. It's something we are all feeling now as we work flexible hours to juggle our home and work lives.

Work-rinse-repeat had got me on a loop that I couldn't snap out of. My sleep got erratic. I started worrying about my family in India. Through the haze of repetitive routine, something suddenly became very clear. I needed a break. A short one would do. So I applied for four days' leave without even working out what I was going to do in those days. When you are clear, sometimes you don't need plans. You just do what you have to. And then figure things out.

And I did. On the weekend before my annual leave, I ventured to Corin Forest on a snowy day. I just rocked up there without any bookings and found out that I couldn’t ski or even park in their parking lot. But my mind was clear. I did a walk in the snow in the area around the resort.

I was so excited I lost my way. I was so clear, I found my way back. Not without drama (including the part where I lost my water bottle). Not without scratches and bruises as I worked my way through fallen trees and no mobile network.

With Black Sabbath’s ‘Snowblind’ playing in my head, I walked back to the skiing area almost feeling like Leonardo’s Hugh Glass in The Revenant. An hour and half in the snow. Was it worth it? Well, I had never ever really seen snow before. And so it was so worth it. And so it goes.

A couple of days later, I am in a sunny vineyard in Wallaroo, kicking back in a two bedroom suite in the middle of nowhere. Well, just 25 minutes from home really.  Tell that to someone from Mumbai. To feel like you’re in the country, a Mumbai person has to drive at least a couple of hours out. Didn’t I tell you why I like Canberra?

A personalised wine-tasting and four course dinner later, I am in my bed. Sweet tranquillity. Silent lucidity. Serene equanimity. Ok, that last one didn’t make sense. But my mind was so relaxed, it totally could have.

The next day was the busiest of my break.  Five cellar doors to be covered. But when you’re driven around and get to sip some delectable reds and zippy whites, it’s hardly hard work. The weather gods had moved on from snow and had been blessing us with glorious golden sun pervading the Murrumbateman landscape

I had a retired school teacher from Illawarra for company and tippled so much wine soaked in delicious conversation. I swear it was Shiraz when we started the tour, but somehow we started saying Syrah by the end. Of course, Semillon and Sauvignon sounded almost interchangeable after a while. Was it Pinot Gris or Pinot Grigio? We didn’t care by the time we got to Pinot Noir. And who said the Italians had the hold on Sangiovese? We explored the ‘liquid geography’ of the Canberra wine district one varietal at a time. But Syrah from Gundagai tastes nothing like Shiraz from Young. Don’t take my word for it. My words were beginning to slur anyway.

Two cups of peppermint tea at home in the evening brought me down to earth. At home. My own terroir had been altered. I had had a relaxing break. Getting back to work the next day didn’t seem like a big deal. I loved my work. I just needed a break. And a short break goes a long way.

This story is part of the Take a Break campaign. 2020 has been a particularly challenging year and has taken its toll on all of us in different ways.  

We encourage you to look after yourself by taking a break. If you need support creating a team or individual leave plan, please contact: HRD.development@anu.edu.au