Matthew Rozsa explains why it’s so important to go on completely non-productive vacations.
“The secret of success is making your vocation your vacation.”
– Mark Twain
When Twain penned those words, he was talking about finding a career that you enjoy so much it feels like play. In fact, Twain even wrote a line in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer with the same basic gist:
“If he [Tom Sawyer] had been a great and wise philosopher, like the writer of this book, he would now have comprehended that Work consists of whatever a body is obliged to do, and that Play consists of whatever a body is not obliged to do.”
While I have the utmost respect for Twain’s philosophy, I recently discovered a contradiction between the two aforementioned statements. Even though I consider myself to be incredibly lucky in my careers as a writer and academic – to put it in Twainian terms, I have indeed made my vocation into my vacation – the reality remains that I’m still obliged to play… and, as such, the play has become work.
This can be a major health issue.
“Your nervous system. Your body. Your spirit. They are screaming for vacation,” writes Judith Fein of Psychology Today. It doesn’t have to be expensive, luxurious or even exotic. But it has to be the thing most people long for and fear: prolonged down time, where renewal and regeneration can take place.”
In other words, you can’t be productive… even if you enjoy productivity. You can’t force yourself to expend energy or work in any way. The imperative is to allow your mind and body to relax. If you don’t respect and ultimately abide by this imperative, you will suffer a very real physical and psychological toll.
That’s why I’m particularly grateful that my mother convinced me to take a few days off with the family in Ocean City, NJ (that goofy picture you see in the headline contains me and my twin sister, Melissa… she was born first). Before I left for the Jersey Shore, I thought that I was doing fine. Every morning I woke up, read a book on interesting historical topics (currently labor history for my comprehensive exams), wrote an article or two on subjects I found compelling for publications with thousands of readers, occasionally spent time dating or socializing with close friends, and then went back to bed. Rinse and repeat.
I was happy… but that doesn’t mean I didn’t need a break. And now that I’ve had even the briefest of respites, I feel rejuvenated in a way that I could not have imagined only a few weeks earlier.
In other words: Thanks Mom. Sorry Mark Twain, but you weren’t entirely right about this one.