I’m back from my summer vacation and I have a confession to make. I worked during my time off. Why do I feel that this is something I have to confess to? I’m not exactly sure, but I have the feeling that this is generally frowned upon.
The thing is, and now I have another confession to make, I was feeling kind of stuck before I went on vacation. I didn’t get nearly as much writing done during the spring as I had planned, and I was feeling pretty lousy about that. It was a vicious circle; feeling bad about not getting writing done was making it even harder to write. And I have to admit (this is going to be my last confession, I promise), I was also feeling quite frustrated about many aspects of the academic world, so I spent a lot of time thinking about what I really wanted to do with my life. You may think this is ironic for someone who has recently opted out and in, but I beg to differ. Opting out and in is not forever. Nothing ever is.
Well, so I went on vacation feeling less than satisfied over what I had gotten done during the past couple of months, and I brought my laptop with me to the beautiful island where we spend our summers, hoping to maybe remedy that. I had mixed feelings about this but decided to set aside some time for work anyway in order to not feel completely stressed out over everything that hadn’t gotten done.
And boy, am I happy I did. I obviously didn’t do full days, but I did on occasion lock myself in a very peaceful room with a desk and a view to work on a paper that had lately become larger than life. And get this: it was great. It was relaxing. Yes, it was relaxing to work!
I decided to work no more than one hour or so at a time. This was, after all, my summer vacation, and to be honest I can’t really produce coherent academic text for more than that in one go. There were no distractions (i.e. no internet connection) and it was amazing how productive I was in that time slot. And not only that, writing felt fun again after having felt like a chore for the past couple of months. I had almost been worried that I was just going to be a one hit wonder; that I wasn’t ever going to be able to produce anything good anymore.
But now the vicious circle is broken, amazing what a change of scenery can do. After spending an hour or so writing, I felt happy and energized for the rest of the day. I was back and it felt great. So this got me thinking: this is actually exactly how I want to work. I don’t want to have to worry about sitting a full day at my desk in my office. If I’m stuck or if I need to focus my attention on something else, I want to be able to do that without feeling like I’m playing hooky. Instead I’ll happily work when I’m not expected to but when it suits me better. Having said that, I do realize that, being a researcher, I enjoy more flexibility than most. Still, I think I’m on to something. This should not be impossible or unheard of. After all, we have the technology; it’s just the mindset we’re still missing.
What I found personally was that the sense of accomplishment I got from working the way I did this summer really made me feel good about myself. And, interestingly, as I was going over the material for a course on organizational behavior that I’ll be teaching this coming semester, I stumbled across a study that shows that happiness does not lead to productivity, contrary to popular belief. Rather, productivity leads to happiness. Well, isn’t that great; this is what I’ve been saying all along! I’ve quoted her before (see A meaningful existence) and I’ll do it again: as Catherine Sanderson says, if you want to be happy, figure out what you’re good at and find more ways to do it.