I returned home yesterday morning from a ten-day trip to Atlanta, Jacksonville, Austin, and Waco. I was exhausted and I’m trying not to think about the money I spent on the trip, but I ultimately feel revitalized and renewed. It was a super fun trip, somehow restorative despite how much I crammed into it.
When I went into my bathroom here at home, I noticed that the bottle of hand soap is running low, and I made a mental note to add hand soap to the grocery list. Then I remembered I had been doing that almost every day for a week before I left on the trip. When I felt the sudden but subtle weight of obligation and routine settle once again in my brain, I realized that this weight is what my vacation had lifted.
This lifting is why we must occasionally (regularly?) vacate our lives. We have to vacate routine, obligation, duty, chore, monotony, productivity, and schedule in order to feel physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually restored. Then we can return to our schedules and obligations with fresh perspective and rested minds.
When I was on the trip, I often didn’t know where I would eat next, or who I would see, or how I would get from one place to another, or even what I would do on a given day. I wasn’t doing my regular routines, like my morning journaling or my exercise. I wasn’t eating the same food. I wasn’t using the same beauty products. I alternatively slept on couches, twin beds, and Tempur-Pedic queen beds. While this disruption can be flustering, the unsettling is actually a good thing. I didn’t think about adding hand soap to my grocery list for a whole ten days.
The happy chaos and unknowing of vacations is something I want to embrace in my everyday life. I was telling my peer coach last night that so many of the activities I enjoy have clear processes with fairly defined outcomes. Yoga breaks down poses by movement and breath. Cooking offers step-by-step recipes. Writing has a legible methodology.
The things that scare me, like studying for and taking qualifying exams or doing this coaching program, don’t really have defined rules. It’s hard to visualize what the next step looks like. The process itself is hazy, and I had the realization last night that I abandon the joy of being a beginner when I can’t see the steps ahead of me very clearly.
But vacations teach me to embrace uncertainty. They teach me that not knowing can be exciting and revitalizing. I can make it up as I go. And eventually, I’ll hit my stride.
In her book, Uncommon Genius, Denise Shekerjian writes,
Cut short of the floundering and you’ve cut short the possible creative outcomes. Cheat on the chaotic stumbling-about, and you’ve robbed yourself of the raw stuff that feeds the imagination.
For many of us, staying loose is an uncomfortable, unsettling feeling if sustained for too long. Ambiguity is confusing, even alarming. We like to frame our inquiries in sharply delineated terms and prefer clean, tidy resolutions to yes or no dictions. Fuzzy circumstances, the ragtag and bobtail of daily uncertainty, exhaust us. It’s much nicer, we think, to have our options cast as either black or white, entirely excluding the hazy middle zones of gray.
I’ve always tried to rush past the stumbling around part. I wanted to be good – no, the best – almost immediately, to avoid the potential disappointment, discomfort, or social rejection that I feared would accompany failure or chaos. But vacations force me to stay loose, to step outside the certainty and self-righteousness of my everyday routine.
In our culture, we focus on and praise the a-ha moments, the epiphanies, and the breakthroughs. It’s rare to hear anyone celebrate the period of immense uncertainty, exploration, and experimentation that precedes these moments. I had always liked to pretend that period didn’t need to exist. So a vacation, for me, is a necessity, because it embodies the unstructured process, the leisurely drifting, the curiosity about different paths that is necessary to creative flourishing in our lives.
Vacate your life, even if only for a weekend!
Here are some pictures of me that my good sport of a friend, James, took at Magnolia Market at the Silos in Waco (like Disney World for a particular demographic, of which I am very much a part, and no, sadly, I did not see Chip or Jo, and yes, that’s the face of pure, unabashed joy):