Geetanjali Mukherjee

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Do We Always Know When To Take A Vacation?

From a recent staycation in Singapore - I am conquering my fear of heights!

Whether you work for others or are self-employed, if you are ambitious and want to make a name for yourself or create an impact in your field, you probably believe in working hard, developing your skills and getting as much done each day, week and year as possible. You probably have annual, maybe even quarterly goals that you try to achieve. And that's great.

But at the same time if you are a creative of any sort, a writer, designer, or architect, you know that success in your field chiefly depends on doing great work over a long stretch of time. It's not how much you achieve in a month or two that counts, but what you get done over the long haul. Over a ten year period, how much did you achieve? Or maybe a five-year period. What new skills did you develop? Did you take your work to a new and original direction?

Along the way towards success in a creative field, we require stamina and resilience. To face all the inevitable rejection and indifference towards our work, to handle the demands of clients and employers that see us not as unique individuals but as just another resource to be tapped, to accept the fact that meteoric fame is probably not in the cards right now. Stamina and resilience. Things that get beaten down, from long hours and less than ideal working conditions. From scrimping and saving, and putting all our money back into our work.  From declining social invitations to spend another evening working long hours on your side-projects. At some point, you need to replenish the well, to refill the passion and interest that keeps you going beyond logic and rational.

At some point, you know you need to step away from the desk and take a vacation.

It doesn’t need to be exotic or expensive. It just needs to be a real mental break. Something to anticipate. Something to feel excited about.

The last couple of months started the festival season for Indians, and while I notionally attended a few events, I basically focused on work. I had to market my just-released book, complete a few other projects and start to write something new. Or start to write a few somethings new so that I could see which would lead me to my next project. Taking a vacation now didn’t make sense. After all the end of the year is in any case a whirlwind of planning elaborate meals and gift shopping. Why not work as much as I could now?

Except I didn’t take into consideration that I had already worked as hard as I could to complete my previous book, and hadn’t quite recovered from that. I finished and jumped straight into the next ever-growing list of things to do. My to-do lists didn’t seem to get done before 10 new things were added each day. The ideas were flying fast, and I had to keep up with them. Taking time off, you say? Well, sorry, but now isn’t a good time.

But something wasn’t right. I could feel it. I was losing motivation to do things. Something that should take 20 minutes took an hour. Or sometimes didn’t get done. I would start, and then feel my brain slowly down, gurgling, and then coming to a stop. It refused to budge while I stared at the document, knowing what I was supposed to do, but not being able to do it. I put it down to laziness, to forgetting how long my list was, to procrastinating. Until my dad forced me to take a vacation. I'm going home to India for just over a week, to spend time over the festival with my mum. We will do festival-y things, and basically eat a lot and shop. And while some time back that seemed like a dreadful waste of time just when I couldn’t afford that, now it seems like just what I needed. Simply booking the tickets and starting to pack my bags, my vim has started to come back. My fingers are flying over the keyboard, I want to get as much done as possible before I leave. Sure, I will come back to an even longer to-do list, and have even less time to do it in. But I will be refreshed, have more ideas and more enthusiasm.

That’s why we need vacations. To work better and harder. To do good work and look forward to it. And that sounds so simple a kindergartener could tell you that. It's basically recess for grown-ups. And yet how many articles have you read about professionals not taking their vacation days? Of employers basically encouraging their employees to "commit" to their work by not taking any time off? It sounds good in theory – the less time you take off, the more you have to dedicate to helping your company (or yourself) succeed. Except for the inconvenient fact that we aren’t machines. We need a change of scenery and to unplug from the daily grind just to gain a new perspective. We need to sip a few mai-tais (or eat a bucket of tandoori chicken, in my case) to have renewed appreciation for the keyboard, easel or drafting table. If you never get away from your work, how can you miss it?

So, ask yourself, are you excited and interested in your work? Or frustrated and annoyed by even the smallest bumps? Don’t wait till you burst into tears over your laptop a few times to realize that you need some time off (unsurprisingly, that’s what it took for me to cop to it). See you at the beach (or biryani stall)!
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