Vacation time is to go on vacation — explore distant places, immerse yourself in new experiences, or visit family — not to hang out and dilly dally your hard-earned time off away doing nothing.
At least, that’s been my perspective for a long time.
I never understood people who took extra time off before or after their vacations, let alone those who did both, and I definitely never understood people who used their vacation time to stay at home.
Why waste your time like that?!
But, like all things, with time and age I’ve come to understand that it’s kind of nice to stay home. I enjoy my weekends at home, spending time doing whatever the heck I want.
Freedom? Definitely not overrated.
It started slow — taking a day or two extra after vacations, then extra time off around the holidays. It was wonderful. Luxurious even. Cut to this summer when I realized my boss was taking three weeks off for vacation. Interesting, I thought — I have enough time banked to do that too.
Definitely had nowhere to be — I just got back from visiting family — and no money to go off galivanting, but three weeks off sounded real nice. So I did it! I took three weeks off and fully expected to fizzle out, get bored and want to go back to work after two weeks.
Except I didn’t. I spent three whole weeks off work, on vacation, at my house. Alone. It was amazing!
Life moves FAST — time to slow down.
Every moment of our lives is scheduled. Wake up, eat breakfast, go to work, take a break, work some more, grab lunch, work even more, go home, have dinner, scroll social media every chance you get, go to bed.. rinse, repeat.
Add in kids, gym time, social activities and other commitments and really, do you ever have a chance to relax, let alone live, unless you book it in? No, you don’t.
And it doesn’t feel very relaxing to schedule your relaxation time, does it!
When I told people I was taking three weeks off to stay at home, with zero plans, their understandable reaction was if I had lost my mind. I stopped trying to defend my choice and eventually just started saying I was going to “chill out” for three weeks. Loosey goosey, lady of leisure.
My only goal was to do whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted. No schedule, no plan. And definitely, no rules. Spend a day Netflix bingeing? Cooking silly recipes? Reading on my balcony? Wandering around playing Wizards Unite? All allowed!
Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.
We spend so much time working, so much time focused on productivity, that stepping off the treadmill can feel impossible. But you should know a secret — it isn’t. It’s more than possible and you should do it every now and then to remind yourself what it’s like to live.
Right now I bet you’re asking yourself what that even means, because how does someone not know how to live. Well, we don’t. When our structure is removed, we feel lost.
That’s why we need to learn how to live — how to truly live and enjoy our lives, because like everyone and their dog says, we really do only get one.
Take a break. Your mind and soul will thank you, promise.
The first week I slept, a lot. No doubt I was burnt out, exhausted and beyond ready for a break. My body didn’t want to do much other than sleep, and since the point of this whole exercise was to listen to myself and just do what I needed and wanted to do, I slept.
Basically, I was a full on sloth.
The second week I felt rejuvenated and ready to tackle some personal projects I had been putting off for when I had the mythical “time” to do them. Now! Now was the time.
I spent time in the library, worked on my business, tried new fitness classes at the gym and attended free concerts in the park — time was finally on my side and it felt great.
By the third week I was a happier, less anxious version of myself — I felt like a shiny happy person, just like R.E.M. sang back when the internet, social media and everything that came with them didn’t exist yet.
I started feeling like I didn’t need to go back to work. I don’t mean that I felt fine being a lady of leisure forever, because I’m not a rich person by any means, but I didn’t have that need to work like before. It was no longer my everything — for a workaholic, that’s kind of a big deal.
I had reclaimed myself, my identity and my sanity — and it only took three short weeks to do it.
Here’s how you can, too.
First, make the scary decision to schedule some time off. Maybe you can take three weeks like I did or maybe you can only take an extra day to give yourself a long weekend — really it’s the act and intention of making space for yourself that creates the impact, not necessarily the length of time.
Then you’ll want to clear all your plans and get rid of any responsibilities you have during this break. The focus needs to be on you, nothing else.
Next comes the hard part — the mindset shift. You need to give yourself permission to just be. No expectations, no plans, no thoughts of what you should be doing with your time. You’re here to live and that’s it. That’s all.
This is also the fun part, once you wrap your head around it.
Maybe the sun is shining and your patio looks really inviting. Go outside. Maybe a cup of tea sounds nice. Make yourself one in your favourite mug. Maybe that book on your shelf suddenly seems appealing. Open it up.
You get the idea — any whim that floats through your mind is something you suddenly have time for, because your only priority is you.
This is your time to spend doing whatever your heart deems important. Picking up lost hobbies and exploring new ones, taking action on ideas and dreams set aside — spending time with yourself. Focusing on you.
Self-care is a practice, not a one-time thing.
At first this might seem challenging, since we don’t often prioritize ourselves. We feel selfish for taking time to care for ourselves and uncomfortable with the idea of spending time alone, in solitude. But this discomfort eases the more we do it — the more we place importance on our wellbeing, the easier it becomes to continue the practice.
This is the most important part to remember — taking a break for yourself can’t be something you do once and expect the benefits to stick indefinitely. That’s just not how it works. Would be nice if it was, but that would be like thinking one taco is enough for the rest of your life — and obviously that isn’t true.
There is never enough tacos and never enough self-care.
Taking extended time off on a regular basis isn’t realistic, but prioritizing and normalizing self-care is. Every moment of our lives doesn’t need to be, and shouldn’t be, scheduled. We live in those moments of peace. That’s where our identity lives — in the simple moments of mindfulness throughout our days.