Monday, June 27, 2011

Just one day out of life ...

You know, if we took a holiday, took some time to celebrate? It would be-e-e-e, it would be! so! nice!

This post is a couple of hours late because I took a holiday. A vacation. A break. Some time off. For almost nine days in a row, no work. That's the longest stretch of real time off I've taken in over a year. And I've lived to tell the tale! I feel like it's my duty to tell you how hard it was to let go of everything (it took a couple of days), how great it was to be free of all of it, and how relaxed and cheerful I am about returning to work today.

Hard: My last 'working day' on the Friday coincided with a very big writing deadline, which I met, but not without some injury to my soul. I felt like I had spent the day trying to dig a ditch through bedrock with my fingernails, with the result that at 5:30, when I tried to go into vacation mode, I was bitchy, headachy, and thoroughly weepy.


  • Lesson 1: You can't do a week of work in one day in anticipation of five days off. At least, I can't.


Hard: It was hard to maintain vacation mode when I had a defense to participate in on Monday. (Of course, the defense is harder for the candidate; this is worthy work; I'm glad to do it, it's an honour and a privilege, and it was a great dissertation. Of course.) It was really hard to gussy myself up, go in for three hours and then, again, expect I would be immediately transformed into a blissfully vacationing happy person once the papers were signed. Instead, I got crabby and took a nap.


  • Lesson 2: "Switching it off" is not an instantaneous thing. It's less like a light switch ("click!") and more like the garden hose -- first you turn the tap off, then you gravity-drain the hose, then you turn off the valve inside the house, and drain that. There's steps. It takes some time.


Great: From Tuesday on, time expanded, my heart opened up, and I just let everything go. Really: no emails, no NOTHING. We did yard work (new clothes line!), we went in to Toronto to the AGO, we went out for lunches, had naps, planned a barbecue party. I went to three yoga classes, and for many long bike rides, at 9am, even! My life felt qualitatively different: it wasn't just that I wasn't working my full days, it was that I wasn't working at all, and got to be the person I am when I'm not working.

  • Lesson 3: When you go on vacation, don't even work for 30 minutes a day, because you don't really get the benefits of letting it all go. Doing less academic work is work to rule; doing no academic work is a vacation.

Relaxing: We threw a party on Saturday. An outdoor party, with adults and kids. All day it threatened rain. People RSVP'ed late. I felt, though, remarkably zen about the whole thing: I can't control the weather, and we can just move inside! People will come, or they won't! More sweet potato fries on the grill for me! And it was awesome. I'm not laid back like that about work. But maybe I should learn to be a little less ... clenchy. Because relaxed felt pretty nice, and worked out awfully well.

  • Lesson 4: Work exacerbates my control-freak tendencies in ways that don't contribute to either my happiness or my effectiveness. Might need to rethink some stuff ...

Cheerful: So here it is, Monday. I've got some more writing to do, some committee stuff in my inbox, another dissertation on my desk. I'm kind of looking forward to getting at it. After all, I really do enjoy my work. I feel like I've got a bit of balance back, and I feel a lot less resentful, angry, and overwhelmed, the way I was getting to feel after this very intense year I've had. That's good news.

So. I did it. I took the whole week off, and puttered around my house and my city, spending time with my husband, taking it easy. And I feel fantastic now.

  • Lesson 5: Draw your own conclusions on holidays here ... Do you have a great holiday story you want to leave in the comments? 

4 comments:

  1. Congratulations on taking the time off (and at home, no less)! The last time we did something similar was a couple of years ago and we had to leave the continent, while ensuring that we had no computers in our luggage. we loved it, the kids loved it, and we all came back relaxed and ready for the new school year. In preparing for that trip, we realized it had been over a decade since we had taken a vacation without hooking it around a conferenece and having to answer emails. Now we just have to figure out how to do it on a more regular basis...

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  2. From SC, whose comment got eaten by Blogger:

    Ditto on Lynne's congrats. Vacations are hard work! I went out with some friends to a cabin this weekend that was supposed to be wifi free, but sadly wasn't. I left my netbook at home, and so enjoyed reading a trashy novel, but my companions were all addictively checking their wifi devices. It was kinda sad.
    My big epiphany with vacations came last year when I asked my chair about the university's vacation policy. I couldn't find anything on it in the collective agreement, or on the university website, but clearly we weren't "on vacation" over the summer as most non-academics assumed. With some consternation, my chair told me that whether, when, and how long we took vacation was up to us... which of course means that many faculty _don't_ take them because no one tells them to. She then told me to make sure I did take at least two weeks (10 days) a year to keep from burning out. That number, it turns out is not only the Canadian average (http://www.cbc.ca/news/interactives/map-vacation-days/), it's also the _legal requirement_ in my province (http://www.gov.ns.ca/lae/employmentrights/vacationleavepay.asp). The legal minimum after eight years of full time work is actually three weeks.

    So my first epiphany - not only can I take vacation, I should (for my sanity, for parity) and must (by law). According to provincial law, I'm supposed to take at least one week of that in unbroken vacation time. My second epiphany was that I kept mentally chipping away at that legitimate vacation time - I would count travelling to a conference, or the days when I didn't manage to get writing done because my brain was still processing material, or, as you put it Aimee, working to rule, rather than vacationing. I'd be "away" but accessible by email. I'd spend ten days straight marking finals and then begrudge a two day rest period if it didn't fall on a weekend. And if I was at a conference all weekend, and then took a day off, I'd count that as a vacation, not a day in lieu.

    But that's why the legal requirement makes us walk away from work for at least a week. It's why we have voice mail and vacation messages. and it's why we need to say, loudly and firmly, I'm going on vacation on these dates, and stick to it. Otherwise we end up burnt out and bitter, wondering why no one ever told us to take some time off. They won't - it's not their job - and we probably wouldn't listen if they did. While vacations are legally required to protect workers from unscrupulous employers, that legal requirement also protects us from ourselves. It's important that we comply, or we'll face grievances from our own minds and bodies.

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