Do you know how to take a vacation that’s actually a restorative vacation?
“When you rest, you catch your breath
and it holds you up, like water wings…” ~ Anne Lamott
I pulled my suitcase out of the closet, placed it on my bed, and unzipped it. I didn’t think of the fun I was going to have and which clothes to pack. Instead, I thought of all the reading and work I was going to catch up on.
A tower of books perched precariously upon my nightstand. There were so many I had been meaning to read for months. I wriggled four volumes loose from the tower and placed them inside the bag.
I walked out to the dining room and surveyed the neat stacks of papers arranged on the table. Six or seven projects in various stages of development. I was tempted to take them all but chose “only” three of the piles. Each went into its own file folder and then into my suitcase, tucked next to my books.
Getting Ahead of the Game
The thought of all that I was going to accomplish while on vacation made me giddy. Two weeks of productivity! I’d return from vacation feeling caught up, ahead of the game.
I scooped up journals, pens, markers, Post-it notes, index cards, and legal pads. I decided those would go in a smaller, carry-on bag, along with my laptop, so I could access all my tools during my flight.
I spent a few minutes haphazardly gathering clothes, shoes, and toiletries and squeezed them into the small spaces in my suitcase that were not occupied by books, files, and papers. I rolled my bags to the car and headed to the airport.
Adrenaline and excitement fueled my three-hour, pre-dawn drive to the airport. I listened to several podcasts on the way, ensuring I was maximizing my time and expanding my business knowledge during the “dead” time in the car.
Once through security and safely at the gate with plenty of time before my flight, I peeked inside my carry-on bag and retrieved one of my books. But instead of opening the book, I chose to check email on my phone. Wrap up any last client items before taking off.
My stomach sank. There were two or three “emergency” emails in my inbox. I sat upright and got out my laptop. I began putting out fires, one after another, dealing with unresponsive contractors and panicked buyers.
I reluctantly closed my laptop when it was time to board, and opened it right back up the moment we reached cruising altitude. I finished all the client emails thirty minutes before we were scheduled to land.
Not enough time to start my book.
The Guilt of Doing Nothing
Once in Miami, I dumped my bags in my room and headed out to the beach for a walk. I came back to the room for breakfast and to change into my swimsuit. I packed my beach bag with books, papers, and suntan lotion.
I sat in a chair under an umbrella and stared out onto the waves. Every now and then, I’d reach into my bag for more suntan lotion, but the books and papers remained untouched.
Throughout every day and evening, I thought about the books and papers. Thought about the reading I wasn’t doing, and the projects I wasn’t working on. Kept telling myself I’d get going tomorrow.
By the end of the first week, the guilt became almost unbearable. What was going on? Why was I so off my game? Here I had all this time to get so much done, and I was doing nothing!
I boarded the plane headed for home at the end of week two. Tanned and miserable. I felt like an utter failure. Not only had I not gotten ahead, I felt I had gone backward. I would have to make up for “lost” time during the coming week.
I was exhausted just thinking about it.
A Truly Restorative Vacation
I have since learned how to take a truly restorative vacation. One that infuses me with joy, returns me to balance, and resets my brain. A vacation that has no goals, nothing to catch up on other than rest and connection to my inspired creativity.
Vacationing well is an art form, and it is a mystery to most of us.
2021 has been a whopper of a year, and I would guess that most of us are so tired, on the edge of burnout (if not fully over its cliff), that we are firing on only one or two cylinders. As we all head into a couple of weeks of a holiday break, I thought I’d share some secrets with you on how to take time off.
How to Take Time Off
1) Intentionally decide what you want your time off to look like. Do you want lots of family time, naps, or solitude? Do you want to binge-watch TV and movies, bake cookies, or take long walks? What feels like the most delicious way to enjoy yourself? What feels like a complete reset of your central nervous system? (Note: this is not what you think others expect of you. This is purely what it is you want to have happen.)
2) Quiz your family as to what their vision of a perfect holiday break looks like for them. Share what you want and discuss how everyone can get the kind of vacation they are dreaming of.
3) If there are books to read and/or projects and To-Dos that you feel absolutely must get done, choose one. ONE. Not one book and one project. One or the other.
When we consciously lighten the weight of getting things done, we reclaim our energy and motivation. We fuel our bandwidth with focus and a sense of ease and possibility. We then become willing and eager, not beleaguered, stuck, and guilt-ridden.
4) Remove the piles of work, books that are piled up, and any clutter that signals thoughts of “I should tend to that…” from your visual plane.
5) Rather than engaging in work/being productive, let yourself dream, float, hear yourself think, rest. You’ll notice a juicy reconnection to your internal idea machine, so keep a journal handy and write down what comes to you. Resist the urge to take any action…just capture on paper what comes to you.
6) Remind yourself not to fall into the productivity trap. Thoughts of “I really should be doing…” are so ingrained in us, that you most likely will need to be aware they will spring up like weeds throughout your vacation. Simply acknowledge their presence and refuse to believe their lies.
7) If you feel edgy when you are still, ask yourself what it is you do not want to think or feel right now. Journal what comes up and simply let it be. Take a few minutes to write down three things you are grateful for right now. Going to gratitude always helps to calm down my anxious thoughts.
Hop off the Gerbil Wheel
We deserve time off. Not sorta-kinda time off that is really a series of commitments and obligations in disguise.
Don’t go unconscious these next two weeks, staying on the gerbil wheel. Become intentional and clear about what you need most right now and gift that to yourself.
Think lots and lots of unscheduled time. Expanses of not doing. Comfort and calm.
And zero guilt.
Sinking into a genuinely restorative vacation is the most productive thing we can do.