Workaholic Takes An (Email-Free) Vacation

11 Jul

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Still Life With Coffee: A pen, a blank notebook page, an ice coffee…my idea of perfection!

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I am a self-proclaimed workaholic, and I come from a long line of workaholics – my sister is a workaholic, my father is a workaholic, and so are my mother and my stepmother. On an given night, one might find me sitting in front of my computer at 11pm, just coming to the realization that I haven’t eaten dinner yet, and I haven’t watched one reality TV show or Sex & The City rerun all week. I am very passionate about what I do and can get lost in my projects for hours, days, weeks at a time, which can be a very good thing, but can also throw my life out of balance if left unchecked. Every life needs a little Dancing With Stars or Carrie Bradshaw every now and then to maintain balance.

Last week, I did more than take a break from work to watch So You Think You Can Dance (yes, I am partial to the dance-based reality programming). I did something totally radical for me – I took a much-needed vacation! And not only that, I took an email-free vacation. I did not even bring my computer, which turned out to be the right choice as my quaint little inn had free wireless and I do not know if I am strong enough to resist free wireless. And the thing is: I did not even miss my email one bit. I was not even the least bit tempted to “casually” (i.e. frantically) stroll into an Internet cafe or library so that I could get my fix. And sometimes, I even left my cell phone on the bedside table of my quaint little room, and aimlessly strolled around, completely unreachable.

Instead of being enslaved to my email addiction, I spent my days reading and writing, going for walks, lounging on the beach, and essentially, listening to my inner self about what I wanted to do next, and then doing it. And in doing so, I reached a whole nother level of relaxation, rejuvenation, inspiration, freedom, possibility, and hopefulness that I have not experienced in what felt like years, perhaps since before the dot com boom.

When I got back home post-vacation, one of the first things I did was to check my email. And I noticed, instantly, that my energy diminished, and I felt bad. As I logged on, I felt my hopeful, rejuvenated relaxation just drain right out of me and pool up on the floor. I felt the disappointment of a few emails I had been eagerly anticipating not being returned and not waiting for me in my inbox, and I felt the stress of emails that I would have reply to, of obligations, and people needing things from me. I have been grappling with my email addiction for years but it was enlightening to me to actually feel the tangible energy drain that it creates.

Our culture is extremely techie-addicted and I am really coming to believe that this can be to our collective detriment. It is so hard to be present and simply be and allow yourself to soak up all the beauty and joy and friendship and love and peace that can be present in a moment when you are worrying about an email you are expecting, or texting someone else who may or may not meet you later, or intermittently taking phone calls that “have” to be dealt with “right now,” but are really very rarely of an actual urgent nature, it is just that everything seems urgent and requiring of instant attention these days.

I used to have a friend who, every time we went out for dinner or coffee, she would plunk her cell phone down in the middle of the table, and then take every call she got (there were many) and proceed to engage in lengthy conversations while I was faced with the choice of reading the menu again, checking my own voicemail under the pretense that there might be a new message for me to listen to, or staring at my elbow. It definitely sent the message to me loud and clear that I was of secondary importance to any and every one who was calling her. Interestingly enough, we have since drifted apart…

And then there is the etiquette involved. It has become so second-nature and accepted for everyone to be doing a million things all at once – taking a call, checking their BlackBerry, texting an acquaintance – and everyone does it, that it is difficult and uncomfortable to say: “I feel unimportant and ignored when you spend our entire lunch date on your cell phone (or immersed in your BlackBerry).”

On vacation, it was so liberating to be free of all these vices and their choke holds, and I felt noticeably calmer and everything felt measurably crisper, clearer, more intense – leisurely conversations with friends, cups of creamy fudgey fudge-swirl ice cream melting over onto my fingers, scallops drenched in lemon and butter, a fresh lobster roll on a buttered hot dog bun surprisingly crunchy and blackened in bites, pale pink dripping into fiery coral sunsets, the smell-almost-taste of ocean salt water, broken shells on the beach, sand between my toes, long walks with no where in particular to go…an empty notebook page, an intensely good book, a large delicious ice coffee with just a splash of milk…

It is always hard for me to reintegrate back into my regular life after a vacation. Seven years ago, when I got back to my office job from a weeklong vacation at the beach, I tacked up photos from my trip in front of me in my cubicle and for days after my return, I found myself getting lost in thought in the middle of some mundane task like entering repetitive information into a database, staring off at my ocean photos and dreaming of my beach-bound return, of a more relaxing and peaceful existence outside of New York City and its crazy hectic pace. (And that was even before email got so mainstream.)

This time, I wonder if I can bring some of that peace back to me and into my hectic agitated New York City existence. If I don’t have to travel 8 hours to remember who I am and what I want to do moment-to-moment, to remember the simple things that bring me immeasurable joy, like scallops and sunsets, like getting lost in a book without distraction, like walking down the street with eyes so wide they soak up every inch of detail as if I have never seen any of this before, rather than walking from my apartment to the subway without any recollection of actually seeing one building or person or tree on my way there, because I was too busy being wrapped up in my To Do list, or mentally drafting an email response to an urgent request. I wonder if I can have that kind of heightened awareness, that calmness that disconnection from technology brings, that degree of intense aliveness, in the middle of a Wednesday afternoon, in the middle of Brooklyn.

I am certainly going to give it a try…

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Two bookworms on a seaside vacation, happy as clams….

Copyright © 2007 by Jennifer Garam. All rights reserved.

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4 Responses to “Workaholic Takes An (Email-Free) Vacation”

  1. Rachel July 11, 2007 at 7:18 pm #

    Everytime I read one of these articles about how happy and liberated people feel about being freed from their email/phone/blackberry…it makes me feel bad. Because I don’t HAVE an electronic addiction. I check personal email a few times a day at work and I barely use my cell-phone (for more on that feel free to ask my mom — you’ll get an earful about the unreachable Rachel). I never check email in the evenings and usually only once on the weekends. Why is that? Am I socially isolated? A work-avoider? I have NO TROUBLE going on vacation without cell or email. I just talk to whoever is nearby. Face-to-face.

    Thanks for the opportunity to rant Jen – I’m glad you had a good vacation. See you in Brooklyn! (In-person. Maybe at the bookstore 🙂

  2. Ellen July 12, 2007 at 9:57 pm #

    You look so happy! Love the post, thanks for sharing!

  3. Katie August 22, 2008 at 8:05 pm #

    I really, really, really need to unplug right now! And I’m getting married!

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. I’m in the New York Post! « One Writeous Chick - August 18, 2008

    […] of The New York Post entitled “Gimme A Break!” by Aline Mendelsohn, talking about disconnecting from technology when going on vacation (which, P.S. I highly recommend doing!).  Check it out here:  […]

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