I'm On Vacation And I Feel Guilty About It

I wouldn't be me if I couldn't feel some anxiety about having fun. In this case, I'm feeling a little weird about leaving work for a week.

Dec 31, 2012 at 10:00am | Leave a comment

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Working hard...OR HARDLY WORKING?!

Through a strange and incredibly fortunate combination of circumstances, I have somehow found myself on a week-long trip to Costa Rica. 

It’s unbelievably beautiful, with verdant, dripping jungles and heat that lays across my skin like a comforting wet sweater whenever I open the door. I’m a little obsessed with the ocean, so I keep finding myself out on our balcony until way past nightfall, listening to the waves crash and slipping in and out of sleep. There’s the intrusive American tourist factor, which always makes me feel like a bit of a shit, but I’ve spent most of my time here cow-eyed and tripping over myself, feeling like my head is going to explode from excitement.

So what am I doing now? Carousing? Hiking? Trying to get my pale Irish-Croatian complexion to a point slightly darker than "beige"?

Wrong on all counts! At the moment, I'm sitting on my computer sneakily checking my work e-mail. Like I’ve been doing every day since I got here. Sigh.

Whenever I go on vacation, I feel like I revert to being the harassed lady-protagonist in a Lifetime movie about a Big City Girl trying to adjust to a Maxin’-Relaxin’ Tropical Town. Think lots of over-packing montages wherein I bring too many pants and slow camera pans from the lush landscape to me half-assedly jogging on a beach. I don’t really have the sort of whirlwind salt-skinned romances popular in those films, but I do a lot of reading, so I guess it evens out. Most of all, I can’t seem to go more than a full day without having weird anxiety about the job I’ve temporarily left behind in San Francisco. 

“Are you going to come play UNO?” my friend’s sister keeps asking me.

“In a minute,” I have to harrumph, eyeing her sweating margarita. “I just have to check on these Facebook postings, you know?”

It’s all so horribly cliché. At this rate, I’m maybe 7 years away from having a child who writes memoirs about her mother choosing work over playing kickball.

It’s also, frankly, kind of weird, because my personal neuroses don’t usually extend to micromanaging in the off-hours. I work my tail off at my full-time job, sure, but I’m also not one of those high-powered business-types who default to making spreadsheets at every opportunity.  

Lately, I’ve been making an even more concerted effort to separate my personal life from my professional one, which means that I will often stop sending story ideas to my freelancers at on Friday night and refrain from checking up on them until Monday morning. The nature of my work requires me to be keyed into the news cycle, but I can usually feel comfortable taking some time off of Reuters or whatever if I’m going camping for the weekend.

For some reason, though, that all goes out the window when I take time off. Maybe it’s because this particular vacation was kind of impromptu, in that I got invited to crash my best friend’s annual family trip, but I keep feeling irrationally nervous about having fun while my colleagues are sucking down coffee two time zones behind me. 

Apparently, this is not an uncommon anxiety. Particularly in the tech and creative industries, where working remotely is a frequent privilege, it’s easy to let the work impulse sneak in when you’d otherwise be reading “Lord of the Flies.”

According to Reuters, lots of Americans don’t even use their vacation time, presumably due to the belief that if they spent even an hour away from their desks to eat lunch the whole place would crumble around them. Even our lovely Corynne had to be shunned away from answering emails by Jane herself, as I recall. 

I know, I know. This is one of those “problems that isn’t a real problem.” I’m incredibly lucky to be able to take time off work and to have saved up enough money to fund a trip with a friend I haven’t seen in almost a year. But you try shaking off the clutching fingers of the post-Catholicism self-loathing cycle when your professional team consists of only 2 full-time people and you ditch your partner-in-crime.

I really like my supervisor, and I hate feeling like I’m leaving her in the lurch. So, naturally, I keep having terrible daymares about coming back to “DON’T BOTHER COMING BACK” spelled out in coffee grounds on the charred, smoking ruin where my cubicle used to be. 

Of course, this isn’t rooted solely in compassion. As with everything else in my life, I carry around the fear of being useless, and a tiny part of me is always afraid that my co-workers are going to realize that my absence is barely even noticeable. It’s sort of the opposite of the "It’s a Wonderful Life" effect -- I go away for a week, and my own tiny little corner of the universe carries on apace. I’m not quite self-centered enough to think I’m indispensable, but I’d hate to have anyone believe I’m dead weight. 

Hence, the periodic emails to my boss over the last few days saying, “DID YOU SEE THE THING ABOUT SYRIA, OKAY, I’M JUST MAKING SURE,” as if she doesn’t read the same 15 progressive websites that I do.

On the one hand, it’s my vacation, which means that I can behave myself however I please (to a reasonable point). If that translates to doing a smidge of work here and there to soothe my anxiety, I guess that’s on me. 

On the other hand, it’s the last day of 2012, a year in which I felt great and stimulated but also frequently wide-eyed and froth-mouthed. It’s probably an excellent time to give my brain a bit of a wash. I’m with my platonic lifemate, who understands my obsessive impulses but would probably rather I hang out with her and gossip about our mutual friends than sit on my laptop. 

And I have three days left of this vacation. So I’m going to try my best to enjoy it without feeling too guilty about it. 

Kate is posting photos of primates: @katchatters.