Sunday, April 3

Calculating the cost of a day off

A week or so ago I was talking with some colleagues about the pros and cons of taking a few days off to go on a personal retreat.  The idea of the personal retreat is not new.  The idea behind the personal retreat is to go some place where you can be away.  Electronically disconnected.  No phones, no email, nothing.  For some, there may be a spiritual component, but the idea of a retreat is to step away from the world.

According to the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, retreat means "an act >or process of withdrawing especially from what is difficult, dangerous, or disagreeable" or "the process of receding from a position or state attained."  It's not until the third definition that the spiritual is referenced, but the second definition is to remind us that a retreat can be a refuge, a place of safety.

The only reason this stuck with me is that shortly after that conversation, members of my PLN were talking about needing "mental health" days, but being afraid to take such days because they would only return to more work.  The conversation then veered into job satisfaction, which is obviously connected to whether or not one feels one has to take any days away to regroup or decompress.

What surprises me, but only a little, is how many of us--and yes, I include myself--feel the need for some sort of retreat from the world, but don't or won't for not-so-good reasons.

I don't do vacations well.  While I can go away, I drag along my laptop and my cell phone.  I'll check both in the morning and then check again when I get back.  I remember sitting in the parking lot of a restaurant in Utah checking my email; the parking lot happened to have the best signal in the area.

I think it's more than the fear of workload that drives us to continue to drive ourselves.  While I love to go to conferences, I dread how much work I might have to do each evening because of everything I've missed during the day.  We are bombarded by email and text messages.  People expect to be able to reach us 24/7 and if the boss praises the individual who is available 24/7, then we feel that much more compelled to make sure our phones are on and accessible.  I've even had someone say to me that he sent an email after I did to show he was keeping up.  I felt badly that I'd sent an email so late because my purpose was not to show how late I was working, but to send the email while whatever it was was still in my head.

I know many of us think about work around the clock, which means that ideas or questions or requests pop into our heads and random times.  If you're like me, it's easiest to send the email or text at the moment rather than write it down and risk losing the piece of paper, though I have been known to leave myself a voicemail message, too.

So we fear missing something, falling behind in many possible ways.  We are driven to get the latest and greatest information and some of us, be extension, may feel driven to have the most friends or followers, to tweet or post more than anyone, etc.  And I reminded, yet again, of Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart.  Achebe's book does indeed reference William Butler Yeats' 1921 poem "The Second Coming," the first stanza of which reads:
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the center cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

There is powerful imagery in this stanza and in the whole poem, but I am drawn to the line "Things fall apart; the center cannot hold."  In Achebe's book, Okonkwo, the protagonist, holds tightly to a number of things and eventually things do fall apart for him, and badly.

My point is that the harder we hold on to things, the more likely things are to fall apart anyway.  If we cannot keep up with all of the work, there is too much work and there is no guarantee anyone will appreciate how many hours we spend trying to keep up.  At some point, the centers of our selves will not hold and we will fall apart.

This comes from someone who used to spend most of her weekends felled by migraines.  And then I decided I wouldn't work on weekends.  I might check my email Sunday afternoon, just in case, but that's it.  With the exception of conferences, I've done fairly well at not working weekends for the past month or so.  I work long hours during the week because, yes, there is too much work and it's easy to rationalize the hours.  But I can feel the edges of my emotions fraying and I can tell that if I don't step away for a little while, even if it's not a full-blown retreat of some kind, that my thinking will not be as clear nor as sharp.

In the next few weeks we'll have a long holiday weekend and it comes at a good time for me.  I can take off a day without feeling guilty and it's not as likely that the work will pile up.

The demands of the world and our lives make it harder to take days off, to have any sort of personal retreat, even if it's spending time with friends and family on the weekends. I think this tells us that it's not so much about calculating the cost of a day off, but calculating the cost of NOT taking some time for our selves, to regroup, to reconnect with friends and family, maybe even to heal a bit.

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