Saturday, November 20, 2010

Work and Vacations

Having just been on two trips in one week, I pondered the concept of vacations.  What is a vacation?  Is it a luxury trip away from home?  A treat for oneself?  Simply a day off from work?  There is a lot of expectation caught up in the concept of vacations, and I wonder why something that is supposedly such a good fun thing can be stressful.

To me, a vacation should be about doing something fun for yourself or with others.  It should be a break from working, with no obligation to do anything in particular.  Simultaneously, I seem to consider weekends a vacation, and any time away from working to be a vacation.

This leads to some stress, as days off from going to work often have obligations.  Dishes need to get done, the house needs cleaning, the pets need food, shopping has to happen, and often there are family functions or extra work from the studio that followed me home.  If it's vacation time, these things shouldn't be plaguing me!  And, long stretches of time away from work are often cluttered with other obligations, even if they are on the surface "fun" things to do.  For instance, a Disney vacation would include having to get up early to take shuttles to the various parks, and a need to be at the parks as long as possible to make up for the amount of money one spends on the tickets in the first place.  It all becomes a justification of how I spend my money and time.  Because of this expectation of freedom and ability to follow whatever whim I want, I am often disappointed.

I think that I have some kind of expectation that time off or a vacation needs to be about relaxing or about getting something for myself.  Anything that contradicts or impedes that expectation causes annoyance and irritation.  And those are two emotions that I don't want to have on my vacation!  Because unexpected things always come up, though, vacations inevitably become frustrating to me.  Could enjoying my time be as simple as losing the concept of vacation?

If I no longer feel that I need to be in a constant state of grace and relaxation, automatically pressure about how I am spending my time lessens.  Doing the dishes is no big deal.  Visiting my family could be fun instead of time spent away from mind-numbing video games (which is part of vacation - right?)  If I feel like answering an email about work, it won't cause undue stress because I shouldn't have to do that right now.  I have all sorts of expectations about what I should be allowed to do when, it turns out!

When did I get these ideas?  Were there always vacation days and luxury trips to be taken throughout history?  I suspect that the concept of vacations and time off are pretty recent, and have to do with the incredible amount of effort we put into working these days.  Work that is not necessarily for self or even for the community, but for corporations and businesses that make little sense to us and that we have little pride in being a part of.  Work to prove that we are worthy of belonging in our society in the form of many clubs and activities we join.  Work to increase our property and wealth.  Even work to keep up with vast social networks full of people we barely know and honestly don't care too deeply about.  It gets us excited and exhausted, and then we need a break or we will collapse.  Is this how weekends were born?  Two days off instead of one sabbath resting day in order to catch up with all of the personal work that gets left behind after five days of rushing around for everyone else?

The concept of vacation time, and retirement - when did these spring to life?  Why do we expect and even require weeks off or years off from our occupations?  I am not saying that it is wrong or that I don't want my time off - I do!  But I wonder why our work loads and careers have become so burdensome that we need weeks away from them and desire to leave work as soon as possible in life and never work again.  We are wearing ourselves out and hating the process as we get there.

This feels like a very sorry truth, at least in the society I live in.  I know almost nobody who loves what they do for a living and wants to keep doing it until they die.  A few of my painter friends, maybe a few tattoo artists love their work and want to do it forever.  I do.  But even I don't want to have to keep up with the very demanding pace I have set for myself at this early point in life.  It's simply impossible to keep up with when I consider possibly 70 more years of existence.  At my current pace I will be physically and emotionally broken within 20 years.  That leaves 50 additional years in which I would be either a burden to others due to having hurt myself and becoming incapable of working, or more likely 10 - 20 years in which that would be true as I rapidly deteriorate and die.  That is horrible, and I won't let that happen.

In order to reverse this trend of overwork, I need to really pin down what it is that is causing the stress and exhaustion so that I can change my pattern.  In doing so, I could truly make work a part of living instead of working for some unknown goal and forgetting that everything I do is a part of my life.

The way we compartmentalize our existence seems to be a large part of the root of this issue.  By separating work from "our lives", we let work get away with being very annoying.  We let ourselves do things we don't want to do just to get through it, since it's only work.  We can justify doing way too much work because it supposedly is to make "our life" better.  We can be lazy at work because it isn't very meaningful to us, or we can overwork because we make it so important to our identity.

When we choose to suffer through activities, either for ourselves or for others, why are we doing it?  What do we believe we are gaining?  We often joke about how money is the root of all evil, but money is just money.  Could it be that we are trying to say that the work we do for it is evil or in some way wrong?  I think this could be closer to the truth.

The typical person in my circle spends almost 1.5 X more time working than doing anything other than working during their waking time.  (I am assuming an 8 hour work day with about an hour of travel for five days per week, and eight hours of sleep per night).  This work is just for their job.  It does not include other life necessities, such as cleaning their kitchen, preparing meals, shopping, taking a shower.  It doesn't include raising children, or time spent doing other activities like soccer, or theater, or taking a class.  If you factor in time for shopping and food and cleaning and bathing, one's "leisure" time gets smaller.  Now you might have about 4 hours per work day free, and 13 hours on a weekend.  Of your 112 waking hours in a week, 46 are left for resting, spending time with friends, joining an activity or church, taking a class, or raising your children.  This assumes that you are not working multiple jobs, commuting more than a half hour each way, or taking your work home with you.  Only 40% of your waking life is yours to decide what to do with once you become a slave to your job.  And that is probably why we all want vacations beyond our usual weekends, and dream of retiring to a state of life where we can choose what we want to do for once.  With less than half of our life in our hands to direct, it is little wonder we choose to spend it escaping into TV and video games.  We'd rather dream of enjoyment than wake up and attain enjoyment.

How can we do this?  I am not sure yet, but I think it lies in choosing to act in a way that we respect in ourselves.  We could choose professions that we find meaningful and choose to do our best with it out of respect for ourselves.  In doing something well or to the best of our ability and believing it is benefiting others as well as ourselves, we can find happiness.  But thinking that we will be happy after we are done working feels like an empty hope.  Also, if we can find happiness in our profession, it no longer feels like work, and can become a part of living instead of  an obligation that allows us to live some other time.

I am reminded of the virtue of honor, which seems lost in our society.  If we could find honor in our work, honor in its service, we would certainly find more respect for ourselves.  There is pleasure in self-respect.  For me, at least, the key to needing less breaks from my life will hinge on finding the honorable aspect of my service to others.  Without it, I will continue to flounder and find my efforts worthless.  With it, I will have the self-respect and respect for others to take my time with all aspects of my work.  I can't reasonably expect to produce results quickly 100% of the time, nor should I.  But with thoroughness and intention, a lot can be accomplished with much less rushing and effort.  Enjoyment could have time to manifest in the actions.  The work could enhance other areas of my life and all could become a study of unfolding honoring of circumstances, people and beauty.  It could be fun, and even a reason to live instead of an annoying way to live some other time.  I really want to do this!

Next time I feel like I need a vacation, I will remember that it is probably because I have lost the meaning in my actions.  It will be OK for me to take a break and regroup.  But ultimately, I'd like to live a life where I don't feel like I need a break from my reality as much as I have so far.  It's attainable, and I will do it.  :)

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