BE! All That You Can Be — On Vacay-a-a-tion.

Spring Break is approaching, which for many is a great time for a vacation without summer or winter temperatures. But if you work in America, you probably don’t get enough time off, no matter what season it is. You see, “vacation” is like “unicorn” in our vocabulary—a pretty idea that lives off in the clouds somewhere.

Vacations are real alright, but we don’t seem to get it–or get them. Americans receive an average of only nine paid days off per year while our European cohorts get anywhere from four to eight weeks mandatory vacation.

Compared to them we’re like an army of soldier-workers on a near-permanent tour of duty. That’s not only unfair; it’s backwards–studies have shown that workers who are treated fairly and given appropriate time off are more productive, efficient, and have better morale, meaning less turnover.

But if you only have nine days to work, er, play with, how can you reverse the army-think that goes with our pressured and stressful work culture? You could pack it all in and tweet every enviable excursion, but if you want to really be all that you can be, consider adopting these re-takes on Army* do’s and don’ts that I learned about the Art of Vacationing during my trip to Jamaica last month:

1. (NOT) At Your Service, Sir! You work hard at home and at work, giving the best you’ve got every day. On vacation, don’t work. Let yourself RECEIVE. That means don’t cook, don’t clean, and don’t DO. Instead, let yourself be served, and take in experiences. The shorter your vacation, the more you need to practice this.

How? Start with thinking/analyzing less and indulging your sensory awareness more–tasting new textures or flavors, seeing beautiful views, enjoying a massage, a horseback ride, or a playful dip in the ocean. Receive the beauty of the amazing planet you live on.

You may need to pay money for some of these experiences, but your brain and body really need the break. And your memories and the resulting flow of creative juices will pay you back for the treat. It’s often in repose, far away from work, that the biggest breakthroughs come to you effortlessly. You just have to clear the brain’s runways to let them in.

2. You’ll do more nothing before 9 am than most people do all day except maybe watch the sunrise and eat better breakfasts than you’ve ever had in your life. In other words, let go of an agenda. Rely on knowledgeable locals to point the way to the best beach, restaurant, or guided tours, and just go with the flow; you’ll enjoy yourself more. In Jamaica I woke up each day with no plan, no need to follow any set schedule. Not only was this totally relaxing, but I was given day after day of beautiful drives, hikes, and new foods all offered in the daily flow by my Aunt’s friends.

3. When I say “Jump,” you say, “How high deep is the pool?” Do explore new experiences, and try new things. For me this meant diving under waterfalls to hidden caves, and jumping from a hilly platform to the deep water eight feet below (which looked like 13 feet from my eye level!) Let yourself have fun and take reasonable risks every now and then. It’s good to remember what play is like and how alive you can feel when you step into the unknown.

4. Go AWOL: Just like in the real Army, deserting your cyber base is the thing you think you cannot and should not do. But do go offline. Admit that you probably feel resistance to going cold turkey because you’re addicted to your plugged-in-ness. And it’s true, it will take some time to catch up. But going offline is the most important thing you can do for “vacation brain” to take hold and start healing your overworked mind and soul.

So, yes, you have authorization to take leave from email (vacation messages work!), Facebook, Twitter, news, and anything else you otherwise ingest through the feeding tube of your laptop, desktop, or smartphone. Don’t turn it on, or better yet, don’t take it with you. Period. Again, the shorter your vacation, the more imperative this is. For your sanity, you need to return to the sun’s rhythms, untied from clock-time, every once in a while.

YOU’LL BE GLAD YOU GOT IN THE TUB

Just as a toddler pitches a fit when it’s time to take a bath, you’ll resist unplugging, leaving it all behind, and relaxing until you finally get into vacation mode, and then a magical thing happens–the present pulls you in. It becomes all about experience, and you won’t want to get out of that tub. “Being” all you that can be is all you’ll want to do.

Which is why, when I got home on a Monday night, I didn’t rush back to see what I’d missed all week, or tell my friends on Facebook about the trip. In fact, I put off going online as long as I could.

And I let myself off the hook the whole first week back, taking my time to ramp up to pre-vacation activity levels. Integration time is important. And there is always more room than you think to leave a couple of things for later. Try it. The world will not end.

You may be on the same page, but what if you can’t afford to go away? Or have others to please, entertain, or plan with? Or, heaven forbid, what if you still don’t believe me when I tell you it’s vital that you shut off the computer and back away from the smartphone?

If any of these sounds like you, tune in next time when I’ll tell you how to make it work even if you’re on a staycation budget with three kids or don’t know if you can pull the plug.

Till then, at least smell the flowers!

 

*  Please note, no disrespect to the Armed Services is intended.

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