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Pause for Thought Working Mum

In defence of holidays


Space for the Butterflies - a postcard from Honfleur

I read an article the other day that made the brief throwaway comment that was along the lines of “even books on happiness now suggest doing a little work first thing in the morning when on holiday”.

What? Stop, wait a minute, what!

It wasn’t a spoof either.  A genuine suggestion from genuine self help books on promoting happiness in the crazy maelstrom of our lives suggests doing some work while on holiday, to prevent a backlog of email building up, so you can keep in touch on your biggest projects and not spend the rest of the day worrying about them, and presumably, though it’s not explicitly stated, so you can be seen to be keeping in touch even on your holidays and thus cement your position as completely essential to the success of absolutely everything.

Surely I can’t be the only one that reads that and thinks it’s absolutely bonkers and a really really bad idea?

I’m not against using all the tech you can lay your hands on at work; on the contrary I think it’s awesome. It’s by having a laptop that connects into my work systems that I can work from home one day a week, eat breakfast, eat lunch with H and the littlest two and do Kitty’s school runs, and by doing so feel that I haven’t entirely clocked out on my children’s childhoods. It means I can take my office with me whenever I need to sit on a train for a few hours to visit a client, and having a work phone that can get my email has been handy in meetings.

The nature of my job is that I do sometimes have to put in more hours than are in a working day and again the tech means I can be at home working into the evening, after I’ve made it home for family supper, cuddled the kids and put them to bed.  That’s how it ought to work. Technology and our little beeping fruity friends should be there to support our commitment to our family and our commitment to our jobs, not muscling in one at the expense of the other.

Space for the Butterflies - Me and Mine

But holidays should be sacrosanct.

I’m not just longing to return to the good old days when no one was contactable ever and important letters were set by carrier pigeon, or at the very least, bicycle courier; I think there’s more to it than simply the interference with family life, though that in itself is an extremely big part of it.

I think we need holidays to rekindle our creativity, to explore new ideas, to mentally doodle.  It’s a common theme when talking about our children’s education that the most important thing is to spark their curiosity and creativity, because in the future they will be doing jobs none of us have heard of and trying to solve problems we cannot conceive of.  I don’t think that just applies to our children.

The idea of sleeping on a problem to let your subconscious come up with the solution is nothing new, and I think that’s what holidays can be, but on a bigger scale. But if we are forever tethered to the daily here and now, we loose that capacity for bigger thinking.

When I was training I went home one Friday having handed over my mobile number and knowing that if the deal we were working on went on into the weekend they might call me on Sunday.  I’m not sure what they were expecting me to do beyond make tea and coffee (and clearly they hadn’t tasted my tea or coffee) but I know that I spent all of Sunday watching my phone like a ticking time bomb, not daring to go too far from the house in case I needed to drop everything and head into the office. It’s an extreme example, a combination of youth, a tough boss and being a trainee, and the 35 year old me would tell the 22 year old me to relax and go to the park, but it illustrates my point; for all the good that Sunday did me I might as well have been in the office.

I can’t sit here and promise that I will never ever be contactable on holiday, I will always do xyz and it will always make me brilliant.  If work continues to creep across the life in work life balance then there will come a point where I can’t stand against the tide and I will be swept up in a sort of hydraulic peer pressure.  But I know what I want and what I think is right and what I will try to make the norm.

I want my holidays to be for spending time with my family, for pursuing hopes and dreams, for my passions in life, and for giving my mind space and time to breathe. I might come back with nothing more than a smile and a great tan, or my subconscious might figure out a new approach on a tricky case, or a new way to market ourselves or somthing equally brilliant. I’m not making any promises, but don’t you think it might be time worth protecting?