Ten years ago, I decided to take an extended trip to Europe to celebrate my 40th birthday (go ahead, do the math, I won’t be offended). After a truly amazing vacation, I came back to the office to find my perspective changed, along with my attitude toward work. Well, after a bit of time abroad to celebrate the latest round number, I’ll be coming home tomorrow. What will my mind be like after this downtime?
Why We Take Vacations
Assuming you’re earning a steady living as a professional technical communicator, you can probably afford to take something approaching a break or vacation now and then. And you should, if only to give yourself some rest and down time. Where, when, and how long you take a break is up to you, though I read it takes at least eight days to wind down from work/office stress.
Change of place and pace help people recover from burnout doing the same thing over and over. And yes, I’m fully aware that this is very much a first-world problem/luxury. Bear with me.
The Effects of Too Much Time Away
Okay, so you’ve been away from the office by choice…you’re relaxed, still thinking about where you were during your time off: the beach, the mountains, among friends or family, whatever. You start thinking to yourself that you could get used to that lifestyle. Why work? And sometimes people in the right age and financial situation do just that: go on vacation and then retire.
However, if you’re not that age and nowhere near able to afford retirement, you have to go back to the office and face reality, whatever that reality might be. You see people who have not had the same time off you did scurrying around in states of agitation and wonder why they’re so stressed out.
Your vacation high can get the better of you when the work starts appearing on your desk or in your email inbox. You’re in no rush. The urgency of the work hasn’t changed–it’s been waiting for you for X days or weeks–and your leaders, peers, subordinates, and customers expect you to snap to and get right back to work in your usual fashion. However, you’re not quite in that zone yet. Your body and mind have gotten used to a slower, less frenetic pace. Yes, your work is still important, but while away, you realized that there is more to life than the work clogging your inbox.
This Attitude is Not a Bad Thing!
Here is where I start irritating managers and fellow workaholics: by suggesting the rightness of post-vacation slack time. Vacations offer you time to think about what is important to you besides work. You might think of ways to reorganize your life so that you can take more time to do those non-work activities. You might identify a new field to work in. You might talk with your leader about working from home or relocating to a place closer to the environment you enjoyed on your break.
Bottom line: self-care is not a sin. And if you come back from a break and realize you need to change what you needed a break from, that’s to your benefit. Odds are, there’s another workaholic willing to fill the gap you leave behind.