I was so stressed, I was stressing about not stressing.
I – as per always – had taken on a few big projects that left me feeling exhilarated, ambitious, and, well, exhausted. I began to crumble, delicately at first, and then all at once, caving to the pressure of sleep deprivation and unnecessary anxieties.
I just had to make it a few more days. I was leaving for a trip on Friday night. I just needed to get a few more things done…
Before I knew it, it was Wednesday night and I texted my travel companion in tears: I’m just really upset because I don’t know if I’ve ever had a Hot Pocket and I feel like that’s a big cultural reference for our generation that I just totally don’t understand.
He talked me through the midnight meltdown and on Thursday, I got to the root of the issues. I was frantically trying to get all this “stuff” done before I left for vacation because I didn’t want to think about unanswered emails or never-ending to-do lists. I wanted to be chill and calm and relaxed.
I was stressing in the hopes that it would make me not stress.
I caught my bus to the airport Friday night with messages from my four separate email accounts endlessly chattering on my phone. I got to the airport – perfectly early as planned – and as I settled into my spot under the window near my gate, I thought of which task I wanted to accomplish first.
Then I looked up. I saw families of travelers and solo young people like myself. I watched people snacking on overpriced airport food and I bowed my head in gratitude as I fished through my carry-on for my pre-packed granola bar. I couldn’t help but smile as I made up stories for all the strangers who circled around the gates aimlessly waiting for their flight. Then my eyes caught the business center section - men and women in suits and dress clothes speaking hurriedly into their headsets while typing emails. Skim, respond, send. Next one. Pull report, analyze, explain. Read, reply, forward.
The world I had successfully buried myself in between multiple jobs for the past few months suddenly consumed me. I was on vacation. My inbox wasn’t going anywhere.
In my own defiant mind, I picked up my new book and began to read.
I went on vacation. I blew out candles on fancy donuts in Cleveland. I raced my brother in the go karts (and won) in Dayton. I went hiking through the mountains in Kentucky and the next morning partook in a different kind of underground hike in Mammoth Cave National Park – the longest cave system in the world. I swam in a pool outside of Columbus and spontaneously met a friend in Ashland, remembering all that small-town coffee shops have to offer. I listened to music and played basketball and snuggled with two of the sweetest dogs you’ll ever meet.
Things I didn’t do: worry, stress, panic, cry.
I took a complete time out from the chaotic nature of my life in Manhattan and I went on a mid-west road trip with my best friend. It was the most amazing experience and the reflections and insights I gained as we drove across Ohio (twice) were far more powerful than I could have ever imagined.
I know vacations are necessary, but it wasn’t until I truly let myself escape my workload that I appreciated the beauty of an Ohio farm field, the allure of a Kentucky mountain, and the amazing joy of playing basketball with someone you love.
I have never been more relaxed.
Last night, my flight was delayed 2 hours. Then – once at the airport – delayed even more. I was originally supposed to arrive to NYC around 9. Early enough to catch the bus home and get a good night’s rest. After all, I did have to go to work the next morning. However with weather complications, we landed in La Guardia airport around 12. Add the chaos of delayed flights, heavy traffic, and panicked travelers, I found myself stumbling into my apartment near 1:30 am.
And that was okay. Those extra hours gave me more time with my friend. Those extra hours made security a breeze. Those extra hours allowed me to fly above Cleveland and appreciate the way its lights dance in contrast with the bleak darkness of Lake Erie.
Nothing in the world could get to me.
Not oversleeping. Not rushing to the train. Not train delays or endless emails or not fully understanding the pros and cons of a Hot Pocket.
It takes a lot for me to let go, to take a break, and to relax. But at the end of my long weekend vacation, I realized something. The world was still spinning. The Smile Project still existed. Those work emails remained unread but I would be able to handle them soon.
And more than that, I would be able to jump back into my work with new passion, ambition, and conviction. My boundless energy had pushed me to peak creativity. I was thinking of old problems in new ways and finding an inner peace that I hadn’t felt in far too long.
I’m not the kind of person who thinks I have time to rest. But truthfully, it’s the other way around. I don’t have time not to rest. I can’t afford to go nonstop without giving myself a chance to breathe. I have time to rest. I deserve to rest. And resting is a wildly beautiful thing.
I know logistically it isn’t always possible to fly to Ohio and drive to Kentucky. But there are little things we can all do to experience the bliss of retreat every day – even if it’s simply allowing yourself 30 minutes of leisure reading before bed. It doesn’t have to be an elaborate road trip or a National Park. Vacation is a state of mind that you can experience from the street where you live.
I will be resting more. I will close my eyes and feel my heart beating. I will sit on the fire escape at night and count the people walking by. I will read a book and make time for my interests and I will savor any time I get to spend with a loved one.
Life doesn’t have to be an endless track with the finish line dipping farther and farther away. You don’t have to focus on the next step. You just have to enjoy what you’re experiencing now – to cling to the moment and appreciate the time. After all, it won’t be long before it’s nothing more than a memory too.
Take a vacation today. Take a break from your work and let go. You’re in control of today…and you deserve a moment of peaceful clarity. I promise.