Taking a break

Big skies and small children

No-one is indispensible. And now that we’ve got a great team in place, the contribution of each of us individually is a lot less important. That’s not a bad thing: it means increased resilience, a more sustainable pace, and ultimately a more impactful programme of work. I left my contact details in a rather cheekily-worded out of office message, but I’m not surprised no-one’s contacted me.

Seven days into a ten day break and I still find my mind work-wandering. I wonder if we got that thing published? Did the first steering board go well? Did we get the MVP shipped? How full will my inbox be on Monday?

Unlike any other job I’ve been in, my organisation and its services are in the press so often that I get a great deal of exposure to its shortcomings. Including when I’m on holiday. The silver lining to that particularly dark cloud is that it means there are lots of sources of real-time feedback. So I’ve been sending my work-self emails with issues to resolve on my return.

Almost every time I take a significant break, I end up questioning my entire raison d’etre. What are we even here for? Surely there’s more to life than this? It’s not just a pandemic thing, though the feeling is certainly heightened now.

I resolve to make the effort to talk more with friends. To have more conversations with my husband. To be more present for my daughters — now, while they still want me around.

I decide to spend less time watching TV or surfing Twitter, and more time on creative projects and on reading. There are so many things I still want to learn. And I’d love to find my way into a role that has me much more hands-on making digital things.

I do what I did in secondary school — I mock up a little timetable, showing where the space in the day is for some of these joy-boosting activities. Now it’s scheduled and on paper, see, so I have no excuse not to do it.

Inevitably, when I return to work, these commitments to myself go the way of most New Year Resolutions. I’m an all-or-nothing personality. I seek meaningful work, motivated by the chance to bring real improvement to people’s lives, and I lose myself in it. My subconscious is always noodling away at a work challenge; I’ll wake during the night with an idea or an answer to a puzzle, or with something I’ve forgotten. I’ve always been this way.

It is, of course, more intense in the pandemic. The crisis response is all-consuming and I let it take too much of me. The pandemic is always within sight — it’s friends, family and neighbours getting ill; it’s regular testing as a family; it’s every conversation, every media outlet. And it’s the shed at the bottom of the garden (which I can’t look at without wondering how many hundreds of emails I’ll be returning to in just a few more days). There is no escape. That’s why I haven’t used the word holiday here — it is going to be a while before a week of annual leave genuinely feels like an escape.

But the pandemic isn’t really what’s going on here. (Of course, it is going on).

It’s just the current backdrop to the cyclical psychological battle between my experiencing self and my remembering self. The gap between who I want to be, and who I am. Between how I want to spend my time, and how I actually spend it. Between intention and action.

So I’ll spend too much time thinking about this gap over the next few days. I’ll resolve to be better, to do better, to live better. And then I’ll be swept away in a tide of activity next Monday, barely giving it any further thought until my next break.

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Leader — digital/product/service design/research/strategy — and mother

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Audree Fletcher

Audree Fletcher

Leader — digital/product/service design/research/strategy — and mother

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