What happened when I took a (real) holiday

What happened when I took a (real) holiday

I started my career among a generation for whom success seemed to be defined in the hours of overtime you logged in at work. Otherwise, I have a hard time explaining the countless times I’ve had to sit through friends and acquaintances extolling their hard days of working until dusk (or dawn) to use it as a proof point for their value to society.

I also happen to work in an industry that sets a premium on time. With the rise of social media and online content creators, the news cycle is practical endless and, thus, the work of a PR professional never sleeps. Being on call is the name of the game.

These two things combined led to years of my thinking that holidays should be only marginally longer than a weekend, be jam-packed with “experiences” and, of course, with the umbilical chord still tightly connected to the office. I ended up going on many a vacation only to find myself about to return to work still tired. Or, even if there was rest to be had, I would often find myself incessantly checking emails and creating mental lists of all the things I needed to do when I came back.

I then met my husband and was introduced to the concept of the Greek holiday – a simpler way of life, where time is relative, if and when anybody bothers to care about it. In fact, the “success” of a day is judged solely by the amount of time you spent around a table with a nice view, enjoying a good meal and socializing with friends or family.

Even so, it took him 6 years to convince me to take the plunge – yet this year, I took all my yearly free days in one go, left for Greece and left all my watches at home. I spent all my holiday without answering even one work email. Most of the days, in fact, the only time the phone came out of my bag was for photos. In short – I disconnected.

In the beginning, I felt weird. Guilty. Waiting for something terrible to happen, because surely the world revolved around me and nobody else could handle things in my absence. But I forced myself to keep at it and just be in the moment.

I noticed my mind quiet down slowly. For the first time in a long time, I felt myself truly relax. I let go of all stress and, instead, focused on the now. We went exploring new places, enjoyed the sun and the weather, played on and on with my son, read through all the books I packed with me, even managed to take afternoon naps (!).

Of course, I realize that I am lucky to have been able to take this amount of time off. I also don’t even know if I’ll be able to do it again in the future (although I certainly hope so). The big realization, though, was how important it is to pull the plug. To truly disconnect, which means not checking up on colleagues on WhatsApp, not writing emails just because "it's just this one", not spending even 5 minutes thinking about the project that is coming up. This disconnection gave me the space to pause, to quiet my thoughts and recharge, to come back to work calmer, restored and, more importantly, excited to get things going.

This holiday re-confirmed what life (and wiser people than me) have been trying to explain to my stubborn self for years now – that none of us is defined by how much stress we accumulate in our life. Being busy and always on is not a virtue. There is no shame in slowing down. On the contrary, the care we show ourselves is a measure of the respect we have for those around us. So here's to real vacations where we look to treat ourselves for all the hard work that we still do the rest of the year. We've earned them.

Author of the text: Ena Karabelas, Chapter 4 Romania