The Vacation Myth and Why We Need It.

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On vacation, do you find it hard or impossible to shift gears between your baseline “full throttle” and “idle”? (By the way, if you have kids or a few pets, there is no such thing as idle. Ever.) Because I am a “working mom,” on top of being a “mom” which by definition, is three full-time jobs worth of work, you are going to hear my take on this subject. So, bear with me if you want.

Between full-time work as an eye surgeon, and two side gigs, even when I vacation there is a need or temptation to work around the clock. I’ll admit, I definitely posted for my side gigs a few times during my vacation. And when I wasn’t posting, I may have been planning my next steps. I also set in motion a plan to participate in the neighborhood festival, on behalf of my full time work. So, when it comes to work and vacation, where do you draw the line? (Remember parents, your jobs are never done!) And to those of us who don’t stop, can’t stop, what motivates us? And, in spite of motivating factors, when we go-go go…are we doing more harm than good?

I see so many women like me, and men, doing the same thing. Working a full-time job, coupled with side gigs. Is one job not enough? It used to be, but these days I see so many examples of people with not one, but multiple degrees, and zero job security. I would even venture to say that job security is a thing of the past. “Gig economy,” anyone? So for those of us who desire to build a future, which is most, we have started taking matters into our own hands in addition to our “day jobs.”

I mean, let’s just hit the pause button for two seconds. I already told you that I am a surgeon. I take care of cataracts and restore sight. Can I just say that, hold the front door, this is rewarding work!? I feel the pay off of sacrificing my 20’s, piling up 300k of student loan debt, and stretching myself to the max by having three kids during the course of two residencies. I really can honestly say, that nothing is more rewarding than my day job. I am not going to get more satisfaction partnering with the number one skin care company in North America to give people the best skin of their adult lives. Or am I? What if that buys me financial security, the ability to travel the world, and the finances to philanthropize God worthy causes, the world over?

Medicine today is a war zone. You the more you have sacrificed, the more you get what I’m saying. The debt, the years, the moments lost. Insurance companies…do not even get me started. At the end of the day, after so much investment and sacrifice, the inherent challenges do have the effect of wearing on you. But then, there are just not that many professional jobs that provide security anymore, and even though rewarding, that don’t come without deep deep investment, debt, and ridicule by no one in particular. By achievement, you can become the adversary or another man’s advancement, no more than a scapegoat. So watch out if you intend to traverse your born social class. No matter who you are.

Enter side gigs.

There is a sense of security in building your own business, consulting or otherwise. There is a sense of control, and with it a taste of freedom. And a side note about “security,” it’s not so easy to come by. Security for your family is no small feat. I just told you I am a surgeon, and it’s an issue for me. My investment debt is astronomical. In spite of cash flow, the commitments to repay debt are substantial. But I will say this, how much more for the single parent or the family just barely scraping by? Then, if you expand to a world view, American families have it far better. Just hearing the news of asylum seekers, people “disappearing,” and recognizing how much worse things are elsewhere, is a reminder of our vulnerability. (I have had 6 au pairs by now: Mexico City, Germany, Argentina, Moldova x 2, and Italy). And guess what? They all wanted to stay. No, I lied. Germany wanted to go home. And she also had American citizenship. And so when it comes to security, we obsess, because that’s what grown ups with responsibilities do. Especially when we owe the piper. Especially with the state of world affairs.

So a light in the darkness, vacation shines like a beacon to enter the light, bask in our glory, or just to stop and smell the roses. Do you know what roses smell like?

Sometimes we take vacation, only to find ourselves unable to fully disconnect from our high stakes high velocity lives. Is it any wonder? If we can build work systems that run without us, maybe we become obsolete. So there is fear. And then as for side gigs, we are already running these in our spare time. And vacation is the jackpot of spare time.

Rehash. I asked about 5 questions at the beginning.

1. On vacation, do you find it hard to shift gears?

2. When it comes to work and vacation, where do you draw the line?

3. When we can’t stop or don’t stop working, what motivates us?

4. By continuing to work during vacation, are we doing more harm than good?

5. Can a side gig be more fulfilling than restoring sight?

Enter, my vacation. So I had a few days to hang out with friends and our kids, 5 in total ages 3.5-8.5. It’s been awhile. So more about that vacation in a moment. I’m reflecting on my vacations to figure out which ones are legit R&R. The last time I took time off of work, I actually went to a work conference to take my oral boards. There was a little down time here and there, and in the end, could I ever expect more? I found myself actually telling people that the time off was a good mix of work and recreation. For the kids spring break, we had planned a week with our kids to visit family at the coast 6 hours away. 3 hours in, my youngest came down with an illness that meant 104 degree temps for five days straight. We actually had to come back early due to work needs anyway. In spite of him being sick, I dosed him around the clock to keep him comfortable, and he talks often of returning to the beach. The time before that was Christmas break, and we hosted a family of 6 at our home. We went skiing and snow tubing and ice skating. There was illness and a dramatic moment that will go unmentioned but basically nearly ruined my vacation like nothing ever has. I was furious. Life. Before that I honestly don’t even remember. This is just real life and at some point in our misadvised youth we come to our senses and realize it. This is “adulting.”.

My point is, by now, we are kind of used to things getting screwed up anyways, regardless of our best efforts. So maybe that’s why we don’t feel so bad about throwing in some work here and there. After all, shit is hitting the fan and we don’t want to see it get worse. It gives us something else, a sense of control over our spiraling destiny.

But where do you draw the line, then? I try to prioritize based on urgency and importance. If it can wait, it should. But what if you are a trauma surgeon. What if you are a department head. What if shit is hitting the fan, because you aren’t there to man the ship? What if people die, because no one can replace you? And so the phone calls rain in. I mean, at what point can you say screw it? Because here’s the thing, when you have high level responsibility, and you can’t take a vacation without getting on multiple conference calls to prevent an even more negative outcome, what kind of life is that? It is a life of sacrifice. I have huge respect for these rare and key people. They constantly give more than any of their peers. The presidency is another example of necessary workaholism. In some positions, it is very difficult to delegate yourself into a real vacation.

So does it catch up to you? Well, yes. And it also affects your loved ones. Like I said, it is sacrifice. How do people like this recharge? How do they keep going? Well, the Presidency is 4-8 years. I don’t know, but I imagine Obama is doing whatever he wants about now. To all of these efforts, I believe the thing that keeps people going is a wish, as silver lining, an end in sight, a desirable outcome. This is front-loading. It is working like no one else would, to eventually live like no one else can.

As for front loading, there is risk involved. We don’t know the number of our days. We may never attain payoff in the end. Are you ok looking back on your life and seeing what work cost, even if you don’t get what you are working towards?

So, on my most recent full-time work break, I had an opportunity to “just breathe” in between keeping everyone alive, fed, and half way entertained. I loved seeing the kids splashing in a mountain stream with full swim gear and seeing what they chose to have painted on their faces at our carnival day. I loved all of the extra snuggles and my son saying, as I was getting dressed each morning, “Mommy what are you doing? Do you have to go to work today?” And when I replied, “No, I can stay here with you,” his smile and excitement. Did I still work my side gigs and do a little lifting for my full time gig? Yes. I want to diversify my income strategy, and partnering with a solid brand that pays well and is fulfilling the dreams of many professionals across the spectrum is suddenly hard to pass up. Building passive income requires front-loading, and I am no stranger to this truth. Best case scenario? Your work, like mine, is also a silver lining. After idling awhile this weekend, I’m exhausted, so I know it’s time to go back to the grind.

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