“How does it feel to have an entire week off?” my friend asked me as I sat lounging in my underwear sipping a Perrier at one in the afternoon.
“Good,” I replied, “the house is spotless and I finally read the text book I never opened for that final three years ago.”
To be clear, neither of those two things were on my week-off to-do list. Watch all 300 episodes of Homeland, write a Harlequin romance novel and have a four hour bubble bath were though, and while I did make time for at least one of those three things, the majority of my time was spent considering running errands like going to the dump — which I assure you, I haven’t done since I used to go “treasure hunting” with my dad, 20 years ago.
What is it about having time to ourselves that makes us immediately feel guilty? It’s almost as if a moment to ourselves has become a kind of punishment for not doing enough.
I come from a family that excels in this kind of free-time guilt — my mother will not so much as watch a television show without baking brownies in front of it. In fact, my youngest brother was home this past week on leave from the Canadian Armed Forces and apart from the one lunch hour we spent drinking beer, eating nachos and talking about the difference between movie grenades and real grenades, he spent the majority of his time helping my dad clean out the garage.
We are conditioned to think that go-go-go means success. If we don’t arrive at a destination looking frazzled and rushed, it means we weren’t doing anything important before-hand. If we managed to get a full eight hours of sleep this means we have no life.
Not only is this mentality exhausting, it’s down-right anxiety inducing. When was the last time you let yourself do nothing and — with Netflix off and your cell phone in the other room — sit in contemplative silence with yourself? I bet you it has been so long the idea terrifies you.
There are places in the world that don’t buy into this guilt habit (see: Italy), where every bite of food, sip of espresso and moment alone on a park bench means success as opposed to the number of hours put in at the office. Alas, if my week off and my twitter feed were any indication, we don’t live in that society.
The society we live in is constantly beating ourselves up over every lost moment of opportunity. I came across an article this week about how we work so hard leading up to our vacations (out of guilt, presumably) that our holiday is completely wasted on recovery time. The reason we need vacations from our vacations is because we haven’t let ourselves have one at all.
So I spent my final day off perusing the stalls at a street market and weighing one two-dollar headband over another. I went to see a friend’s band play a killer set and, yeah, I enjoyed a beer garden or two. As I opened the door to my apartment later in the evening, tailed by a girlfriend, I apologized profusely.
“The place is a disaster,” I said, “I did absolutely nothing productive today.”
“Don’t feel bad,” she said, “neither did I.”
When we feel guilty about taking time off we don’t give ourselves the gift of good work upon our return. Even worse, we don’t give ourselves time to recover from the good work we have put in. As tempting as it can be to waste our weekends doing chores and grocery shopping there’s a reason we aren’t ever quite satisfied enough when it comes Monday morning.
The problem isn’t Monday though. Perhaps it’s simply that we take our time off for granted.
“I only get one day off a week,” a chef friend messaged me, “so I usually just spend it sleeping.”
And honestly, even though the week is just beginning, how good does that sound right now?
My point, exactly.
— Andria Parker is an Instagram-obsessed idealist with at least 600 words to share on every topic, ever.