I've just rented a house for five weeks near the beach. It was my wife Deborah's idea. At first, I thought I'd work in my office in New York during the week and come out here Thursday nights for long weekends.
But Deborah is planning to stay here for the full five weeks. I've been working really hard for the past year and the more I thought about it, the more it started to sound really appealing.
I realize that just being able to rent a house by the beach is an incredible privilege in itself, and especially so in this terrible economy. I also know that saying I have difficulty relaxing is ridiculous next to the more primal anxiety those who don't have jobs are feeling.
At the same time, I've just published a book called "The Way We're Working Isn't Working". The premise is that human beings aren't meant to run like computers, continuously, at high speeds, but that's what we're doing. We're happier and more effective when we move more rhythmically between periods of work and rest.
The irony of racing from city to city on a book tour this summer, preaching that message, hasn't been lost on me.
I do get much more sleep than most people I know. I do take time during the day to work out or play tennis. I've even begun taking back my lunch. But I haven't taken a vacation of more than two consecutive weeks in my adult life. Nor has almost anyone else I know.
The New York Times reported this morning that clergy are especially bad about taking time off because they're too busy taking care of others. The result is that they have even higher levels of obesity, hypertension and depression than the rest of us.
When I was much younger, and working for big companies, two weeks was all the vacation you were given. But even as I got older, and had more independence, I never felt I could afford to be away for more than two weeks.
In truth, I also found it hard to really relax on vacation. I worried about work left behind. I had too much time to think. Perhaps above all, I wasn't sure who I was when I wasn't working.
That's the deeper explanation, I think, for why so many people work absurdly long hours, despite the toll it takes on their health, and their families, and their satisfaction.
Many of us — dare I say, men especially? — don't know exactly what to do with ourselves when we're not working. We prefer to be crazy busy. It makes us feel important, even when the work we're doing isn't all that important.
If I'm honest, I'm not prepared to go cold turkey and stop working altogether for the next five weeks, even though I'm sure the company I run would be just fine in my absence. Still, if I'm going to truly dial back, I need to do it progressively.
My aim is to savor my non-working time here.
Most of us are moving too fast and juggling too many balls to savor, relish, delight and luxuriate in much of anything for very long. Instead, we live off the rush — adrenalin, and speed, and intensity — forever chasing the next high.
Savoring takes time and it requires absorbed focus.
I know that savoring will work best if I don't make it another obligation, a goal to be achieved. I need to just set the conditions, and allow it to happen, at its own pace. Today, for example, I'm going to take a leisurely lunch, work until 4 pm or so, and then go play tennis.
I play tennis when I'm not on vacation, but I usually arrive just in time to get on the court, and leave immediately when I'm finished. Today I want to play until I'm tired, and then sit around kibitzing with other players afterwards.
I want to sit on the beach this week and read novels — even one or two great long novels (I'm thinking of Crime and Punishment, my all time favorite) — which is something I rarely feel relaxed enough to do when I'm at home.
I want to go out to lunch at cafes with my wife, and sit outdoors, and hang out after we've finished eating, watching people and talking.
By next week, I want to be working just a few hours each day, maybe in the early mornings, so I have the whole day ahead, or maybe late in the day — we'll see.
I want to literally smell the roses and the other flowers that are growing right outside our door, and I want to listen for the birdcalls that are right outside my window.
I want to really enjoy my children, when they come to visit. I want to grill steaks, and eat fresh corn and tomatoes, and drink beers and Margaritas, and listen to music playing over the speakers out on our deck.
I want to give myself a chance to refuel and reflect, relax and reconnect, and experience who I am without work — while also recognizing I am incredibly fortunate to have work.
So what about you? What activities can you add to your life, wherever you are, whatever your situation, that you'll truly savor?
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