“Ahhhh…,” I remember thinking, “a week off—a whole week off!”
As a gift to myself on my last birthday, I decided to take some well-earned time off. Because I was craving a low-key week that wasn’t totally stuffed with things to see and do, I decided to stay home and not travel—to instead enjoy my beautiful, beloved Vancouver.
I really like stay-cations. I don’t have to pack or be in crowded airports or bus terminals. I can sleep in my own bed and not spend an exorbitant amount of money to enjoy myself. And since I live in what I consider to be the most amazing city in the world, there is plenty to do right here in my own ‘hood.
I had some personal plans set up, like meeting friends I hadn’t seen for a while, going out for lunch, taking long walks along the water, working out at the gym… And maybe even having one whole “jammie-day” where I didn’t even get dressed or put on makeup—oh, yeah, I was excited!
What I didn’t count on was that I would confront a major life lesson, a growing pain that, in hindsight, would prove to be completely necessary to my continued evolvement and self-discovery.
I believe the bulk of the problem stemmed from the fact that I work from home. Although I love having a home office for many reasons and have been doing that for a long time, what I have found during other stay-cations was that each time I was in front of my computer, what would innocently start out as answering personal emails and searching the internet, invariably morphed into replying to work emails, looking up work-related items on the internet—in short, working—and this recent stay-cation was no exception.
And because I am not a techie by any stretch of the imagination, I haven’t yet figured out how to put an absence greeting on my emails—for me, it seems that using a Mac makes this more difficult. I also haven’t mastered the technique of putting an absence greeting on my phone, so how could anyone know I was taking a holiday? I worried that people would think I was ignoring their requests for help—so when the emails and phone calls did come in, I found myself feeling guilty when I didn’t answer them.
But let’s face it—the problem was with ME, not with the people who sent me the emails and left me voicemails. I just couldn’t seem to stop myself from replying to them, and this went on for the first three days of my week off. But it was different this time because on the Wednesday morning—my actual birthday—after unintentionally working for several hours, I found myself having a bit of a melt-down. I began to feel completely overwhelmed and when I burst into tears, I knew I had finally gotten my own attention.
Even in that moment, I knew this was an over-reaction—but what I understand today about over-reactions is that they can give us a lot of important information if we choose to see them in that light. This time, I chose to pay attention. I heard my own frustrated inner voice screaming, “I need to learn how to have a stay-cation and NOT WORK!!”
What an aha-moment this was for me, and in that instant I started to feel a lot better—because even if I didn’t know how to do that yet, at least I knew what the problem was.
As I sat there crying on the morning of my birthday, I was also aware that I felt very young. I began to say hello to the little girl inside me who was throwing a temper tantrum because I was working and breaking my promises to ‘her’. I recalled what it had been like for me growing up with parents who were workaholics—while other children might fall asleep to the sounds of TV or music or people talking together, I learned to fall asleep to the sound of typewriter keys click-clacking away into the wee hours of many mornings. I vividly remembered my disappointment when plans were often put on hold or completely changed because my parents hadn’t finished their work on time—and as I realized I was doing exactly the same thing to myself, I began to feel more self-compassion.
What I know to be true is that we can’t change what we’re not aware of. Choosing to become self-aware is an awesome gift we can give ourselves. My little girl inside was telling me that I was betraying her, letting her down. We were supposed to be having a week off and doing fun things together—and yet there I was, sitting in front of my computer, sometimes for hours, working. She wasn’t going to let that go on for much longer!
I love that little girl part of me—yes, she holds many painful memories from the past, but she also holds my present-time joy and sense of fun. She gives me honest feedback about myself and lets me know when I’m off-track—especially when it’s on HER birthday. I’m so grateful to have such an alive, moment-to-moment connection with her—I’ve intentionally worked hard to re-discover that part of me and she has become very special to me. I feel like I’d be lost without her now.
So… I dried our tears and we went out to play that day. I had a lovely birthday with my dear friends—my ‘family of choice’—and spent the rest of my week off doing whatever I wanted to do and nothing I didn’t want to do. I must admit I did answer a work-related email and phone call now and then in those following days, but always after checking in with myself first to see whether doing so would be either draining or empowering—which proved to be a successful strategy because I actually sat still and listened to myself until I heard the answer.
All in all, I had a wonderful week off, filled with many beautiful connections, birthday cards, and gifts from people who love me. I found myself enjoying every moment of it after finally giving myself the best birthday present ever—the gift of connecting with my authentic Self.
Maybe by the time I choose to have my next stay-cation, I will have learned the fine—and necessary—art of absence greetings!