I took a short vacation last week. As always, vacations are both a point of great excitement and great stress for me; time off of the daily grind, outside of the normal context, coupled with the inevitable return to reality, accompanied by hundreds of emails and days of work to get “caught up”. But I used the time wisely and truly disconnected, albeit only briefly and in the presence of family and
crazy energetic children.
The time away from work did, however, confound me to some extent. It all started on Friday, March 25; my birthday marked 36 years of life. I took the day off; we’ll call it a mental health day. My kids and wife were at school, as they didn’t have the day off. I was alone with my thoughts and I hit a wall quickly. So much of my life is defined by two things: being a husband and father and being an IT manager at a university’s libraries. What defines me when neither of those things are present?
I took care of the house and did other things that have been on my to-do list for far too long, but there were times when I did nothing at all and it was both freeing and terrifying. I’m 36. It’s not that I’m having a midlife crisis or thinking of myself as past my good years. But I am aware of the passage of time, I am aware that I have limited time on this planet. Am I being the person that I want to be, am I doing the things that I want to be doing with my time?
I use birthdays as a necessary and consistent reflection point. There is no reason not to, just like anniversaries for my marriage. A marker for the passage of time is a good time to look back and a good time to look forward. I have three children at three very different stages of development. What am I showing them with my decisions and actions especially during this time of COVID? Am I showing them how to handle strife and stress with aplomb? Or am I breaking down? As we hopefully exit the pandemic, how can I re-stress to them the importance of living a life in which you find personal fulfillment?
In a conversation recently, I was asked why I have stuck around as long as I have in this role. I spoke of a few things that I frequently go to in terms of purpose. When I shifted my career focus from engineering to technology, the digital divide often occupied my mind. Equity and equality of access to materials and technologies, to the internet which now seems ubiquitous but isn’t. We believe that our world is full of shared experiences but they’re not shared. Experiences are individual; experiences are defined by past and future. Experiences are just like tastes and smells; they are something only the person can know and interpret properly.
I still have a passion for that access piece. It’s why I still work with libraries and why I probably always will gravitate toward higher education and libraries. But I do wonder if there are more important things that I can be focused on when I set my work aside? What are my hobbies? How do I spend my time if I am not with family or at work? How am I contributing to the world outside of those? I spend so much of my life focused on pleasing and helping others that I periodically lose sight of myself, my needs, my desires. I claim it to be sacrificial but in reality it might be negligence, so I rested.
What my vacation helped me to ponder most was that I needed rest, I needed disconnection. I wrote in a previous post about how sometimes we need to view things with fresh eyes, sometimes we need to take a step back in order to see something renewed, and sometimes we need to take a step back to realize when things are no longer necessary within our lives so I disconnected I actually took time off. I thought about work sometimes, but for the most part I didn’t.
Posted: April 4, 2022
In 2022, I am participating in two leadership training programs. This should be a social experience, so I am writing about it. Check out the full list of posts in the series here.