Sunday, 18 November 2012

Sunday Salon: Taking a Breath

This week I am 'taking a holiday'.
The fact that I am writing should probably already tell you how much lying on the beach or sitting around doing nothing will actually be happening this week but that's not where I want to start off. Let's take half a step back.
Lately, I've been exhausted. I wake up in the morning and I am already tired, I go to bed and half the time I fall asleep with my light on because I am gone the second my head hits the pillow. I'm not telling you because I'm asking for pity but I'm more stating the obvious - if you're spreading yourself too thin and working on too many different projects, sometimes you just need to stop even if the things that you have to stop doing for a while are all things you love.
The reason I have decided to write about this today is because lately,every time I talk to someone we seem to be comparing who's had more migraines over the last feeks or who feels more rundown, who managed to hurt themselves worse while exercising in order to come down after a long day at work. I'm sure this has something to do with the fact that my circle of friends and acquaintances has a fairly high proportion of people who are at the beginning of their career, who have just moved to new cities, who are still trying to find their place in the 'real world'. But is that really it?
Sometimes I wonder - how much of it hast something to do with moving and starting a job and the whole 'real world' thing and how much has something to do with not being able to take a break.
After Preston wrote the last Sunday Salon post I had a whole list of things I wanted to write about, I had a list of people who had losely commited to writing a post, I had a backlog of 10 recipes, all waiting to be written out and uploaded.
And then I realised that I didn't care.
I didn't care whether you got my post on gay marriage exactly 4 weeks before the US election. I mean I care quite deeply about equality irrespective of gender or sexual orientation or religion, but at that point I had stopped caring about whether you care about what I have to say.
A while ago there was an article on the NYTimes opinionator blog by Tim Kreider making the rounds that discussed the idea that we 'enjoy' being stressed and that it's become somewhat fashionable, that it gives us purpose.
When I look at myself, when I look around me, I don't see that many people who enjoy being stressed out - yes, it's always fun to complain about how much you have to do and where you have to be when you have the time to do so, but more often than not people just disappear in that cloud of stress.
When was the last holiday in your adult life where you didn't think about work or brought your laptop or stuff to review or whatnot? Actually, let's include the last year or two of high school.
I had two times when I really didn't do anything for a couple of weeks - the sumer before starting university and then the summer before starting grad-school (but here I already have to make the concession that I went on a summer school at the beginning of that summer...).
There have been a couple of half-hearted attempts to go off the grid for winter holidays and then last year I went on a trip to the US with my mum last year that was supposed to be completely work-free...but neither attempt really worked out - it turns out I can't relax, even remotely when there is no internet whatsoever. I am that person who walks around a room with laptop or phone for better reception, who gets absolutely antsy if they can't check their email for more than 2 days in a row. I'm told it gets quite hilarious for others.
Have I actually become unable to take time off? Am I just a workaholic, or a person with an isolated problem? I don't think so. I am actually convinced that I am just an example of my generation (tell me if I'm delusional in that respect). I feel, unlike the generation Kreider is talking about our generation never learned to deal with having time off and never really learned to say no where work is concerned.
In a way we are incredibly lucky, having grown up in a time of relative prosperity, when so much seemed possible. No more cold war, the beginning of internet for everybody, one European currency...we grew up in an environment that allowed us to pursue our interests and talents. Most of us ended up studying things that weren't really practical but things that allowed us to grow and to develop our talents even further. So many of us were lucky enough to end up in a field that we are interested in and that we identify with (I don't think it matters whether that turned out to be Psychophysics or Political Science or Game Design or Theoretical Mathematics). Unlike the generation before us that, according to Kreider, likes to keep busy what we do has become entangled with our view of ourselves, it is linked to our self-worth. And that is where I think the trouble starts. When you need to take a break because you have no energy left, how does that affect how you see yourself as a person? If you need to slow down and do less of one of the things you use to define yourself, where does that leave you?
I don't know the answer to all of this, I don't know whether I have managed to explain any of those thoughts I've been trying to express. What I know, though, is that I will enjoy my little work expedition to DC as much as i can :)
I hope you have a lovely rest of your Sunday!

1 comment:

  1. Oh, I hear you. This week, I'm also taking a "holiday", meaning that I'm taking a few days off to finally at least start decorating my flat, do some grading, finally go shopping (clothes! For myself! This hasn't happened since... a long time), etc.
    This comes after a month with plenty of business trips, including to a different continent (OK, comes with the job... not complaining, but it's exhausting!), teaching on the weekends, plus "leisure" commitments like cooking for 30 people. I now have a recurring cold (got it the week before last, never recovered properly, and now it's back for a second round), and last night I went to sleep at 9:30. What the hell is wrong with us? I think you're on to something when you say that we identify too much with our jobs.


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