I did it. An entire work week off, completely unplugged from everything – meetings, email, slack and social media. It was the first full week vacation of my adult life, which at the age of 47, I’ll admit was a bit overdue. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to vacation, it just never happened for a variety of reasons (and excuses) ultimately leading to a very unhealthy part of my identity – being the person that didn’t take time off.
I wanted to intentionally wait before writing this. I wanted to put some space between my reflection and “vacation mode” to better balance my takeaways in hopes of helping others that struggle with slowing down, taking time off and taking care of themselves.
The experience was amazing, challenging, overwhelming and life-changing all at the same time. Looking back, similar to any major life event, there was a kind of pattern or series of phases that seemed to emerge I wanted to share in hopes of helping others and getting better at this myself. Here’s some of what I experienced.
The Pressure Build: This vacation was 25 years in the making so you can imagine the anticipation of the trip. As expected, the list of things to get done before leaving was starting to pile up. I started getting cold feet, getting worried about the implications, what my colleagues would think or say, what impact I might create for my team or the company. I was trying to tie off so many things and realizing it was literally impossible to do it all before I left. I was running out of time. I wouldn’t even use the word “vacation” when talking with people on my team as I felt the guilt building that I was abandoning them. It wasn’t that I didn’t trust my team or didn’t think they were capable – no doubt they were. It was more about letting them down by not being there.
The Pressure Release – Once we got settled into our hotel, something odd happened. I’m sure you have experienced that moment where you finally feel relaxed about day 3 of a 4 day weekend but that moment happened almost right away. It’s like my mind and body were preparing for relaxation and knew we were completely unplugging.
I remember vividly sitting out on our balcony by myself and just feeling a physical shift in my body. It felt like a pressure release valve being opened. It was calming but also overwhelming. It happened so fast and so unexpectedly. For me, it was emotional and hit me all at once punctuated by a tear streaming down my face.
Takeaway: Pressure needs release. You deserve to feel good.
Guilt & Gratitude – It was a complex mix of emotions for sure. On one hand I felt a sense of guilt as if I didn’t deserve this moment of relief, which looking back is more because I had not experienced it before. But that was quickly overcome with a pure sense of gratitude. I was so happy and I was so grateful to give this experience to my family and truly be there, be present for it.
Takeaway: The guilt you feel is usually self-imposed. Getting past that enables you to feel the gratitude and joy which is much more powerful.
Relaxation & Recovery: Being able to initially let go and work through those emotions allowed me to quickly settle into my time off – and I loved every minute of it. I played like a kid and slept like a baby. I read an entire book (yeah one with pages and everything) and journaled every day. My body and mind were feeling recharged within days. I didn’t need coffee in the morning or melatonin to sleep – I didn’t even need glasses to read (which was weird). When I got home, even “tired” from the trip, the very next day I hit personal records during my workout. There was a very real and physical change.
Takeaway: Recovery is real and necessary and quite rewarding.
Mindfulness: My biggest challenge taking time off is not being present – doing the mental ping pong every day with trying to have fun but also thinking about all the work stuff happening. I didn’t do it. I was fully present, I mean fully. I honestly didn’t think about work once, and I honestly didn’t think that was possible. And it made me better when I came back with a fresh perspective and energy.
Takeaway: I found completely unplugging was the only way to be truly present.
Re-Entry: This part was a bit rough. Looking back I realized that I planned everything except for this. I naively blocked a half day to “catch up” and had a full week including multiple days of travel. I dropped back in at 100mph but it was my own doing. I’ll do it different next time for sure.
Takeaway: Coming back requires intentional planning to maintain the benefits of the time away.
Since we all like to measure performance, here were some of my stats:
- Total time off – 10 days (5 work days)
- Number of emails/slack messages read: 0
- Number of emergency texts/calls received: 0
- Number of books read: 1
- Number of waves caught: 1
- Number of pages journaled: 15
I owe a great deal of thanks to my team and colleagues who not only made this happen, but encouraged me to do it. I owe even more to my bride and kiddos who were patient for many years leading up to this and made it worth the wait (and also kept me accountable along the way).
I talk a big game about self-care, but I’m learning how to get better. You know if you need time off – take it. Don’t feel guilty and don’t keep putting it off. There’s no prize at the end for the person with the least amount of time off. You need it and you deserve it – go take it.