It’s the night before I return to work after almost two weeks off for Christmas. Two great weeks filled with wonderful family memories (Emma started crawling! Aubrey is riding a bike!), delicious homemade food, and precious holiday traditions. It was good, nostalgic time and long enough to ease into a new normal – one that is more relaxed and simple. But tonight is the transition night, when I move from vacation mode back to work mode, so dinner, baths, bedtime routine, books, and clothes laid out for tomorrow are done. The hustle begins again, and I feel the stress and dread rising. It’s 9:30 pm and I’m perusing the internet trying to find an article to help me make the transition more successfully this time.
What I’m looking for is someone to speak to the emotions of vacation transitions, but what I find are how-to guides about efficient pre & post vacation tasks that can grease the skids for your return to work. While somewhat helpful, tips like “organize your office before vacation so you come back to a clean space”, “divide your emails into categories based on level of urgency”, or “bring a souvenir from your trip back to the office” are not meeting my need. They actually just remind me of the reasons I am struggling with the transition in the first place! Spending so many hours a day in an office, constantly plugging away at tasks, and having to compartmentalize my life are the things I haven’t missed.
The ease and flow of vacation rhythms where life is more integrated and free, is precisely the loss I am feeling tonight. My “regimented schedule muscles” have gotten flabby, but in really good ways.
For example, tonight I observed my infant playing with the bubbles in the bath. It was so precious I watched her do it for 20 minutes. In my normal rush, I wouldn’t have even noticed. That’s what I’m sad about leaving- the freedom to linger with the ones I love without the massive and hovering to do list. Time to bake cookies instead of buy them, watch multiple Disney movies in a day, or spend an afternoon just being and not doing.
The transition is just hard. Sometimes half of the battle is expecting the transition pain to come and let it run its course. In addition, I find it helpful to repeat some key truths to myself:
Remember reality – vacation is wonderful, but it is not a long-term possible reality for most people. On vacation, my husband and I are both hands-on with the kids and we usually have additional family members with us who enjoy and engage with us all day. I find my mind wandering on vacation to thoughts like, “this is what it would be like if I stayed home…” but that’s not true. This is a special reality only available when we’re all on vacation together. If I stayed home, my extended family wouldn’t be there, Aubrey would be at school, and Eric would be at work. For the most part I’d be by myself with the baby and I’d have a lot more on my plate than just hanging out with my kids. The stay at home mom life is hard too. It’s not vacation. I have to remember to be realistic. As another blogger put it, “Nothing gold can stay, no party was meant to last, and there’s no such thing as a permanent vacation.”
Remember vacation – there are some things about vacation that I don’t want to forget. I like that on vacation I am slower, more contemplative, and more present. I like that there’s more time for eating well, sleeping, and exercising. I have time for that third cup of coffee in the morning or afternoon mixed drink while sitting on the front porch watching the cars drive by. Vacation is always a good reminder for me that there is more to life than work. It gives me a chance to get in a new groove, to reset. I hope some of this carries over when I go back to work tomorrow. Perhaps my direct reports would appreciate a more present, less rushed manager just like my kids do.
Remember blessings – the practice of going around my life and counting blessings has many times helped shift my mood from discouragement to gratefulness. I think this is especially important in this case. Many of the blessings in my life are possible because of my work, and pointing out these associations to myself is important. Practicing gratefulness for work can breathe life into haggard places.
Remember others – I find again and again that if I’m experiencing something challenging the chances are, other people are too. The post-vacation blues can make me have a very self-centered view, thinking my own thoughts and feeling my own feels in my little world. When I remember that others around me might also be having a tough transition tomorrow morning, it shifts my focus from “poor me” to “how can I encourage them and make their transition easier?” If I can shift from negative “how am I going to do this” thinking to positive “how can I help you do this successfully” strategies I’ve not only conquered my own dread but I’ll help create a workplace tomorrow that is a little happier and more compassionate.
I tried this with my five year old daughter tonight. Before she went to bed I said (with all my best enthusiasm):
“Aubrey, are you excited that tomorrow is a school day?”
“Well, um… I’m actually a little nervous” she said.
“Really? Nervous? Why?”
“Well… (thoughtful pause) I guess I just get nervous when I’ve been away from something for a while.”
Nodding I replied, “Yeah, I can understand that. You know, mommy feels that way too. But the good news is, once we start our normal routine you’ll be just fine.”
And so will I.