Taking A Real Vacation in the Internet Age

SFViewFromAngelIslandStudies show Americans are taking less and less vacation. I read this in the New York Times recently. Did you really need to read this to know this? I sure didn’t.

Over the course of the last 11-months my work schedule allowed a total of maybe three real weekends. By weekend, I mean two consecutive days where I didn’t have to report to the pool deck and didn’t have to spend half my day tending to work items online. And, you know, three weekends might be a stretch.

I’m not complaining per se, but one of the drawbacks of the career track I’ve forged (part-time coaching and running a writing/speaking business) is that on top of working a more traditional work-day, I also take on the “everyday” aspect of coaching. It’s okay – it’s the thing I’ve chosen. The work itself isn’t a burden – I mostly enjoy it, actually. But no matter how I rationalize my choices, by the time I arrive at the end of the summer swim season, I’m exhausted.

So this year I was resolved – RESOLVED! – to take a long break. From everything.

The need for vacation was clear. At the height of the summer season, I would watch the kids hurl themselves with glee off the diving board and think, “That looks like so much fun.” Soon, I would be half tuned into practice and half fantasizing about time off. Could we fly first class to Maui? We could get a condo on the beach and go snorkeling, take surfing lessons, lounge around doing absolutely nothing for days and days on end.

Yeah. Dreaming.

I did my best, and sort-of succeeded at taking a vacation, even if it wasn’t the “long break” I had originally hoped for.

In order to “go away” and re-energize we had to take extraordinary measures, and I learned something cool: my phone can probably last an entire week on a single charge when it’s in “airplane mode.”

At some point in our broken-into-bits semi-stay-cation, I had an important realization: vacation was a state of mind! Even if we had spent the money to fly to Maui and rent a condo, I still would have had to keep the ever-present demands of the internet-connected universe at bay. The thrilling corollary? I could use my mental focus to be on vacation anywhere. Anytime. For any amount of time that my concentration skills allowed!

This revelation came to life the night on Angel Island when we battled gusty winds to set up our tent and wondered when the feisty raccoons would make an appearance. (“They have no predators, so they pretty much run the place,” said the park ranger when we stepped off the ferry.) We may as well have been…anywhere. But we could see the house where my husband grew up, and if we walked five minutes we had a stunning view of the Financial District…and all of San Francisco, actually. Civilization, the economic engine of the US, our jobs – it was all very close, and yet, until the next ferry arrived, it was functionally unreachable.

DeschutesRiverA week later I was on a solo hike along the Deschutes River mere minutes from downtown Bend, Oregon. The air smelled of smoke from the nearby wildfires and the sun glinted off the water and I wanted to stay there forever – until I realized I was excited to wrap up edits on my book and was looking forward to work on my upcoming TEDx talk.

And there was a second sport lesson making an appearance in real life: recovery is the most important part of training. Vacation is the most important part of work.

In this day and age, when it seems our futures are less secure, the world less stable and more chaotic than most of us can recall, maybe we really can’t afford to take two week vacations. But if we can think of vacation as a state of mind, maybe then we can, very deliberately, take down time on a regular basis.

I was never all that far removed from civilization or “real life” during my vacation. But it was just enough remove to come back and have one of my more perceptive clients look at me and say, “You must have had a great vacation. You look so rested.”

Indeed. It was a deliberate effort, though.

Two words: Airplane. Mode.

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