It’s summer. And in Washington, D.C., where I live, it’s a time that historically this otherwise frenetic, self-important town goes on vacation and takes a chill pill. Work typically slows down, as most businesses touch the government in some way. With Congress preparing to recess and vacations overlapping, not a lot can actually get done if you want it to.
So why do I find myself so busy in the middle of summer? Again.
What I used to count on for downtime no longer has so much down in it. As I talk with friends and colleagues, I hear the same story. People are cramming to get work done just so they can go on vacation, only to have a few calls or emails spill over into vacation, all wrapped up with a mountain of work on their desks after they return. Summer seems to produce even more stress than other times of the year.
A coach friend, Michele Woodward, recently posted an article about simple summer decadence called Summer Dreaming, in which she listed fun activities she was yearning to do, like eat popsicles after every meal, ride a bike with handlebars, and see friends. In essence, revel in the small things at the time you’re actually experiencing them. It felt like a guilty pleasure just to read it!
This kind of slow-paced summertime kicking back is difficult with constant work demands in nonstop emails, emergency conference calls, ever beckoning smart phones, and social media. It’s become unusual to see an out of office reply that someone won’t be available at all.
If we don’t unplug, can we have actual, unadulterated fun? Or have professional expectations taken the fun out of our summers?
I could deluge you with research showing how important play is to our ability to be creative, ideate, and gain perspective. The brain requires it to function at peak performance. Tony Schwartz has written extensively on the need for executives to have rest and recovery time, similar to corporate athletes. Check out his blog if you want more inspiration.
Many people already know this on some level, yet still allow themselves to be pressured or succumb to the need to put work before fun during supposed downtime. I love my work so it’s more than easy for me to do. So what’s really behind the loss of summer fun — is it our jobs or are we also part of the problem?
I was discussing this phenomenon with a friend the other day at lunch, and she shared her observation that we have to examine what we’re really, truly committed to. After all, our jobs will always ask more and more from us. When we’re committed — we put our energy, time, and effort there — things work for us. We get in trouble or disappoint ourselves when we only pretend to be committed. The big question she asked was:
What are you pretending to be committed to that you’re actually not?
For many of us, among those answers are relaxing with our families in the summer, reveling in our downtime, and having fun. I realized that for me, I lament having time to mentally check out but I don’t commit to it.
If we want rest and recovery time, we must make a true commitment to take real vacations, disconnect, plan activities that rejuvenate us, and not feel the least bit guilty about any of it. It’s just as good for our professional prowess as it is for our souls.
At the end of the day, the professional expectations are there and growing. If we want some more fun back in our summers, we’re going to have to take it for ourselves. No one is going to hand it to us.
We have more options than we think. So break out the popsicles.
(Note to self: Eating while reading Blackberry doesn’t count, even if I can do this without dripping popsicle on it.)
Have you figured out how to keep fun in your summer? Share here or on Twitter @kristihedges.
This article also appears at Forbes.com.
(Image by Auntie K via Flickr.)