There is a meme I have seen floating around the flotsam and jetsam of the Internet that goes like this:
For an American on vacation, I did pretty good. I didn’t check my email or Teams messages for the entire 10 days of my vacation. Of course, I was not “away camping for the summer,” but for me, not checking work email for 10 days is a big step. Indeed, I didn’t really even think about work consciously for the ten days that I was on vacation. I was proud of myself for this. Even as I write this, I have no idea how many emails await my attention when I get back to my (virtual) office first thing Monday morning. No one from work called me or texted me or messaged me, which means there was no crisis that couldn’t be handled without me. That also, is a good thing.
There is, however, a downside to a vacation like this, one where work doesn’t enter my consciousness for ten days. In a way, this kind of vacation is a kind of preview of retirement, and in some ways, not thinking about work foreshadowed what it would be like when I am actually retired and don’t have to think about work any more. Of course, I have to get back to business on Monday, but for a brief period, it felt to me like work no longer existed. That, to me, is the definition of a good vacation.
Still, you know how you feel when you see an early preview of a movie that you are really looking forward to? One of those short previews that comes out eighteen months before the movie’s release date. It’s a minute-long preview, but you spend half an hour watching it over and over again, and thinking to yourself, I can’t believe I have to wait eighteen months before I can actually see this movie! It seem like a lifetime from now? This is what my vacation felt like to me. I was more present than I usually am on vacation. I took only a modest amount of photos in order that I focused on the moment, enjoying my time with my family. Work didn’t enter my mind, and that gave the the false sense that work didn’t exist, that I was done with work, that I never had to go back again.
The truth, of course, is more like that one-minute movie preview. My vacation was a preview of what my retirement would be like, but the actual retirement doesn’t take place for another ten years. There is an uncomfortable period of reintegration that has to take place, where I slip out of vacation/retirement mode and into work mode. It is much easier to go in the other direction. We visited Niagara Falls on our vacation and I imagine this reintegration like a droplet of water trying to make its way up the falls, fighting the 60,000 gallons of water flowing over the edge every second.
We are encouraged to take vacations and to separate work life from home life (harder and harder to do while more and more people are working from home). It seems to me what is missing from this is a kind of reintegration program that eases us back into our daily routines once the vacation is over and we are back on the job. I suspect I will spent a good chunk of time reviewing hundreds of emails to look for the twenty or so that actually require my attention. Then, too, it will take time for me to review the notes I left for myself to remind me what I was working on and where I left off on various things. Those notes help, but there is one thing that will taunt me all day long, something that I’ve never been able to escape, no matter how present I can be in the moment when I am on vacation: a little voice, whispering in my ear throughout the day, telling me, “You know, last week at this time, you were cruising along Route 20 in upstate New York, not another car in sight, surrounded on both sides by fertile farm land.” Or it will whisper, “Remember just a few days ago, when you wandered through that 170 year old mill?” Like a postcard from the past, that voice will taunt me with: Wish you were here.
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