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The Inability to Relax

I’ve found myself almost wholly unable to relax this vacation, so far. It has nothing to do with the vacation itself. Though there have been two days of somewhat stressful, unfamiliar drives, those didn’t stress me overly much, in retrospect. There’s just a kind of base level, inescapable stress right now.

I know they say you should stay away from work email over vacation, but I found myself getting nervous about what was waiting for me. I usually find it eases my mind to check work email a bit over the weekends or breaks. Nothing huge, I check it on my phone. I have it on a separate app which is under no circumstances allowed to send me any kind of notifications. My boss has my personal email if there’s something somewhat urgent, and my cell phone number in an absolute emergency. And she’s good about knowing what’s what.

So I’ve been checking and there’s been nothing urgent. Couple little things, and some people seem to not be getting my out of office email, but as far as I can tell that’s not my fault. 

So why can’t I shake this base stress level? Do I need some kind of detox, to remember that the office will likely not burn down around me? That the few projects I left unfinished are in no way urgent? I spent the first few days in one of, arguably, the most beautiful places in the world, marvelling at the beauty of the Rocky Mountains. And yes, I checked work email from my balcony, watching the sunrise over the Rockies, and felt good about it. But since then it’s all weighed on me. Am I spending too much money? Is work okay? Is there work or other such things I should be doing, instead of sitting back and zoning out with a book, or Hearthstone, or WoW? Hell, even this is a bit of a concession to the part of me that says I should be productive (blogging being more productive, I suppose).

I used to be so good at this. Now I just worry a lot. Not sure what the key is. I started working on the WoW/gaming blog I’ve been planning on setting up forever, just to feel productive. 

Anyway, practice makes perfect, right?


Hotel Coffee and the Sunrise

The nice thing about coming west is you wake up earlier. I’m used to Eastern time, where it’s about 10am as I write this. I’d be finishing my first cup of coffee now in the office and likely would’ve just finished reviewing the weekend’s emails.

Instead, I’m sitting on a hotel balcony, cheap hotel coffee (which is surprisingly okay) steaming in the cold air. I checked work emails to feel important, if I’m honest with you, and there wasn’t much. Replied to what I could to show dedication and initiative (doing it clearly on vacation) and then texted my mother to show her the view. Periscoped it too just for kicks. Someone kept asking me to say something, which was a bit odd.

From here I can see the sun rising over the mountains, warming them, that bit of steam like substance forming a haze over some areas. I’m cold as I write this but it’s worth it for the view. Absolutely.

Colorado is amazing so far though. Denver is this city full of culture, growing rapidly, with a wide cross section of people. It still feels oddly half-populated though compared to Toronto. My brother-in-law took us around to several hot spots on Saturday and it was incredibly easy to get a seat, wave down a friendly bartender. Each spot had a massive selection of beer and cocktails, many of them local. And amazing food. One of the best burgers I’ve ever had, period. 

But Vail…I kept telling Klutzy it feels like something out of DisneyWorld, which to me is one of the highest compliments I can pass on. Storybook almost, with its German-inspired ski town feel. Hundreds of neat little shops. Surprisingly delicious pizza (which I may raid for breakfast after this). We went up the mountain today, the air so thin that even a short walk winded me. But the view was worth it. Absolutely.

Even driving here was amazing. A bit hair-raising, yes, down mountain roads in an unfamiliar, older beast of a car, generously loaned by my brother-in-law. But gorgeous. Driving by these little pieces of civilization carved out of rock and stone, at the foot of these behemoths of land. Old mining towns, the structures still there, clinging to life. I wanted to stop and look at things approximately 4000 times.

I’ll close this out now because my ass is getting numb from propping my laptop up on my legs in a weird position. And the sun has nearly risen. But dear God, is this place magical.


The Lure of the Simple Life

I’m writing this from a small patio of a wine and coffee shop in Jordan Village, near Niagara Falls, ON (and posting it much later). My wife is asleep in the hotel room next door (because I woke her early to get breakfast) and I’m seriously debating if I need something alcoholic.
I think I do. Be right back.
Okay, alcohol acquired. A nice chardonnay. 
I’ve thought a lot lately about achievement. If I took the wrong road in life, if I should’ve worked on my math, gone in to business school, been some kind of banker or something. I’d love to tell you I’ve followed my passion, and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t passionate about HR, but it’s been so difficult to find a job, that I feel like I’m years behind many of my university and high school friends, in terms of where I’d like to be in my career. Some of that is my own fault, for being comfortable where I was and not, perhaps, applying more far and wide and working harder at finding a new job, but as I sit here, looking out at what I think is a Ferrari outside a nearby restaurant, I wonder a bit if I shouldn’t have made different choices. If I shouldn’t have pushed myself more. If I will ever get to the point of comfort with my job, my finances.
But at the same time I wonder if I really want that. Ferraris are a lot of work. They involve a lot of time spent at the office, a lot of time spent in seminars and professional development, and a lot of money spent developing yourself. Maybe I’m buying into a narrative that folks with a lot of money work hard for it, I’m not sure. Is the Investment Banker’s job harder than mine, or does it just require more training up front? Assuming the former, is it worth the long hours? The pressure? 
I’ve often yearned for the idea of working fewer hours. Working a 4 day week, for example, and wondered if I’d trade a fifth of my pay for that now. It’s not even something I could consider, financially, right now, but it’s a thought I’ve had.
We’ve spent the last couple days around Niagara, driving by farms and vineyards, and through small towns and shops. We point out houses we like, and wonder at the idea of eventually moving out here, growing grapes, making wine, and running an animal rescue. We started plotting out names for that eventual property and winery today.
It looks like a simple life, but it is deceptive. One of our favourite stories if of the winemaker who had to miss the birth of one of his children, since it was the only day he could press the Syrah. It seems simple and easy here, but I’m sure it’s not. It’s hard work, often physical, always emotional. I’m sure these little shops here don’t make much, and I’m sure a lot of these wineries operate on thin margins, or require huge up front investments, or extensive background knowledge. 
But the idea of something different, something simpler, speaks to me when I’m down here. I yearn to get away from the rush of downtown, from the pressure of my job. But I wonder what I’d sacrifice for that. WoW? Wine? Times like this, a Saturday where I can sit on a patio with a glass of wine and write? I want it all somehow, the simple life where I can drive the Ferrari.  I don’t know if it’s doable without some advance lottery numbers or severe mucking with the space time continuum. And I still can’t decide which way I’d rather lean, to have a more steady, restful life with fewer amenities, or a busier one with more, filled with rich food, good wine and fast cars.
Likely, like most people, I’ll end up charting a middle path, as I try to do with most of life. But places like Niagara, like Jordan Village, always leave me wondering about the simpler path, about something quieter. For now, I’m going to enjoy the quiet, close my laptop, and sip this very fine Chardonnay. 
And ogle the Ferrari a bit. I mean, I’m only human. 

Tom’s Life Lessons: How to Vacation

A good friend of mine recently told me that she did not know how to be on vacation. This perplexed and saddened me, greatly. I am a great vacationer. I know precisely how to relax, how to slack off, and how to stop worrying about anything outside the world.
So, we come to the next installment in my award ready series, Tom's Life Lessons: How to Vacation

  1. Turn off all work related devices. Cell phones, pagers, emails, anything where work can reach you, turn it off. I like to have an emergency number or email address, but to make it clear that this is to be used only in an emergency. This runs the risk that every little issue that comes up may be seen as an emergency to those left behind, but it's a risk you take. Alternatively, give them a number to reach you at, and promptly turn off that phone. The important thing is to make it as difficult as possible for work to reach you, and you to reach work. While this may not be possible in all jobs, it's best to try.
  2. Stay up late and sleep in. This part is critical to getting a good vacation time going. Stay up late. Do whatever. Read, play games, watch TV. The point is to wake up the next day just a little thrown off, and just a little sleepy. This helps to establish a trend of sleeping in and taking it easy.
  3. Do little things around the house, slowly. One of the lovely parts of vacation is being able to do all those things you never have time, or are too exhausted, to do otherwise. However, you have to be careful not to do any real actual work. Ideally you want to do something like clean a room with an episode of something playing (or, better yet, several episodes of something queued up on Netflix). Take a break every few minutes to watch a good scene. Wander in and out of the room. In general, do what you have to do, but do it slowly and enjoy it. Reward yourself with a snack after.
  4. Never see people before noon. Because you have the entire day off it may be tempting to schedule a coffee at 10, or 11, or even 9. Resist this temptation. Much like the famous adage "nothing good happens after 2am," on vacation, "nothing good happens before noon." Stay in, relax, sleep. Give yourself time to recover, have a nice breakfast, and have a lazy sleep in. Scheduling anything before noon will only result in you feeling groggy and your entire day being thrown off.
  5. Exercise, but not too much. A bit of exercise is always good, but too much can feel like work. Go for a long walk. Take the dog. But go slow, and don't go too crazy. The idea with this piece is to feel like you've accomplished something without actually really straining yourself. This is key.
  6. Never let yourself feel guilty. Never compare your vacation to someone else's. Let it stand for itself, and let yourself relax. You deserve it, and it will help you for when you go back to work. The idea of this kind of vacation is to allow you to recover and relax. Not to push yourself, and not to energize you, but to truly sink back and recover.

Now this kind of vacation may not be for everyone, and that's fine. But I think this is a good recipe for relaxation that allows you to really just let go. Because Gods know we all hold onto things a bit too tightly these days.