Why do we create a distinction between being on vacation, versus living “regular” daily life? What if you could live life as though your daily life were a vacation? Well, I have tried living this life for the past year, and I would like to share with you some of what I have learned from this experience.
I used to be a therapist. I loved the profession, though at the end of the day it left me exhausted. I learned quickly, that if I didn’t take vacations, whether during weekends, or for more extended periods, I ended up incapable of healthy function in my personal and professional lives. I count myself as lucky that I even had the resources and privilege enough to have vacations, considering there are so many who NEVER get to take time off.
On one of my vacations, I had a thought about how free and alive I felt being in a new setting, being completely free of tending to the needs of other people. I noticed how liberated I felt to sleep in, go to bed whenever I wanted, to be completely spontaneous, and to essentially flow along with very little worry or concern. I started to become curious about the purpose of vacations and what ends up making one of them feel truly refreshing. I started reflecting on what helps us all do a “reset” on our daily lives, and if there are any basic principles of “vacation time” that we all agree with.
I also returned from the vacation mentioned above, realizing I always fall into the blues after returning to work, because at that point I would be rather far away from my next large-scale adventure. But, this time, in my blues, I finally decided to make a huge change in my life. I realized I wanted to search for the joy I experience on vacation, and bring it in to my daily life.
For several years I began to be an active researcher of joy, and began to do more and more that brought me joy. I did this until I realized the only thing left which wasn’t bringing me the joy I wanted, was my job as a therapist. I enjoyed it and got great satisfaction, but it was not joyful. So, I made a radical decision, and chose to move to the one location on the planet that brought me extreme joy. I set up the structure of a life there, and within six months, I closed my practice, and moved.
My first day here in San Cristobal de Las Casas, Mexico, where I moved and where I currently continue to live, I determined I would make a concerted effort to live here as though I were on vacation, even though I knew I also needed to work.
I had regular daily adventures. I made my schedule extremely flexible. I made sure I left plenty of time to wander and be spontaneous. I went to bed whenever I wanted, and woke up when I felt like it. I tried new things. I made it a point to dream about the future and not think about working or money, or any real responsibilities. I let myself be emotional, and fall apart, and soar to great heights. I let myself go down the rabbit hole of almost no structure or limitations.
I feel like I got a taste of why retirement is actually extremely challenging for most people, and statistically speaking, many people decline dramatically in functioning, if not end up dying soon after, following ending a career.
After six months of this, I realized five major things. I am going to list them in numbered order, below.
- Wherever you go, there you are.
I didn’t make up this statement. I have no idea who originally said this. It is used all over the place, in spiritual and personal growth communities. I can tell you that after the initial novelty of being anywhere and doing anything wears off, you must still deal with whatever was inside of you making you who you are, with all the challenges you have in life. This even includes if you create a life with lots of adventure, and travel, and very little structure, that outwardly looks like most people’s vacations. Whatever you do, will become routine. And, I can assure you, if you think you have exited a situation that was causing great pain and challenge, and you are now “free”, if you don’t deal with whatever is inside you that brought you to experience what you did before, you will quickly trap yourself again in something that brings you down. You will perpetually need a vacation from your vacation, and will end up in a hall of mirrors, attempting to escape the same reflection, reflected back, over and over again.
2. The goal to create and experience joy, adventure, and relaxation becomes a hindrance after a while.
What I mean by this, is that holding too tightly to creating these experiences, actually prevents receiving the nourishment from them. Many of us living in societies where we are privileged enough to be afforded the wealth to have vacations, approach vacations in a materialistic way. We want to milk the experience for all its worth, and essentially control the conditions to make us get a proper vacation. However, the more we attempt to control the conditions and our resulting levels of happiness and rejuvenation, the more these states actually elude us. It is in letting go of the outcome, with all the discomfort and horror stories this includes, that somehow ends up providing an experience that is true vacation material. Even conducting oneself “spontaneously”, needs to be held with an openness that the experience that arises, no matter how unpleasant or potentially boring, is exactly what one needs, and doesn’t minimize the importance of letting oneself be spontaneous.
3. When your purpose in life is to be on vacation, it brings up greater existential, identity, and personal issues you are normally too busy in your working life to address.
When you do let yourself be on vacation for an extended period, where there is no potential end-point to living this way, you realize how focusing on the chaos and busy-ness of work and “normal” life, actually is a great distraction from deeper issues and thoughts. You also realize how we all end up using social media as an anchor point for distraction and occupation, in our time away from actual work.
I have had several recurring existential crises in living my life on vacation. I have been horrified by how much time I have spent ignoring my feelings and thoughts through social media consumption. When not on social media, I have continually questioned my relevance on this planet, what it means to actually not be valued as a professional and member of society, what it is to be so completely disconnected and alone (in a foreign culture), what ACTUALLY brings me/us happiness, why am I so incredibly fearful, what is the f-ing point of being alive, and will I ever be completely happy. I have asked myself if I even like anything I used to like. I have then gotten extremely meta, asking if everything I like and feel is basically just a part of conditioning and context, and not really anything I ever genuinely chose for my self. I have looked at my position as an American citizen, the amount of privilege I have, and also how my existence as an American is built on the serious exploitation of so many people in this world. I have looked at every personal issue I have within relationships, and how powerless I have felt to actually fully transform them, instead of repeating the same patterns over and over again, but in just sneakier ways. I have looked at how much pain and suffering so many people on this planet have, and how I truly am a creature that is blinded to it at times by my own cultural context. I have investigated how my cultural context does create a completely different reality I live within, and to bridge to understanding another’s culture, could be a lifetime process. I have felt my existential aloneness, purposelessness, and the perpetual carrot of happiness. I could write an entire book on this one. I will stop here.
4. The true purpose of life is to find a relative balance between accepting what is (within and without) and striving to create something or a self, that is better and happier.
In this vacation life, I have come to see that I am a certain way, and life will be a certain way, given my contexts (internal and external), and that I must truly accept this. Then, on top of accepting this, without attachment, move forward in life with desires and goals, while acknowledging that the outcome may or may not be what is desired or expected. I have realized this balance helps make life full of joy and passion, as well as quite pleasant, no matter what. Even in the times of genuine pain, loss, and suffering, finding bearings for this balance, once again, helps one ride it through with a level of resilience and pleasure in being alive. And, paradoxically, this orientation allows one to perhaps not need to daydream about permanently escaping to vacation-land.
This brings me to the 5th realization.
5. The answer to life is to overcome self-worth issues, and any way they manifest as a perception of the self, others, circumstance, and life, as being “not enough”.
I realized the core of everything I came to know, above, points back to self-worth. I have come to see that issues with self-worth, drive most cultures and societies on this planet. Low self-worth contributes to people viewing their self, others, circumstances, assets, life, and everything, as “not enough”. This low self-worth, becomes a motivator for people to strive for more. It becomes a source of pain that people use to catapult them to dream about future possibilities where they might become more immune to pain and suffering. Low self-worth, if not dealt with and healed within, just becomes worse, and makes people more and more unhappy, as they attempt to become even more materialistic, comfortable, convenienced, busy, perfect, in control, professional, respected or well-regarded, productive, wealthy, attractive, and “fulfilled”. Low self-worth makes the industries for tourism, as well as entertainment, convenience, comfort, beauty, fashion, self-help, food, and anything else we can consume for pleasure and enjoyment, extremely successful. Low self-worth makes vacation, for those of us who can afford it, or for those of us who only dream of them, seem like the fix-it solution to the insanity of life we choose to live, curated based on low self-worth, day-to-day.
But, vacations only make way for needing more vacations, unless self-worth is addressed.
So, to conclude, I am no longer living life as though I am on vacation. Instead, with joy and engagement, and the many qualities of vacation time, I am working to heal the messages that I am not allowed to exist as who and how I am, in the context I am in. I am living life every day, dealing with the self-worth issues that arise, and the pain, fear, and vulnerability of being and becoming fully me.
No more vacations for me.