What’s so hard about taking a break?

I’m in this marketing certificate program at the University of Chicago’s Graham School right now and I have to say that being back in a classroom suits me well.  It’s a very different environment than my first go-around at UChicago as an undergrad.  Students are far more likely to be carrying around Marketing case studies than The Marx-Engels Reader (imagine that!) and the instructors are highly accomplished professionals who are more likely to drive a luxury SUV than possess a PhD.  But it’s great.  My classmates are lively, our guest speakers are engaging, and even though it’s the first time I’ve paid entirely for education out of pocket, it’s absolutely worth it.

During class earlier this week one of our guest speakers revealed that it was actually her last day at her current job and that she had a six week break before she started her next one.  Six weeks!  Jaws slowly dropped in a combination of jealousy and disbelief.  My instructor commented something to the effect of “Studies have shown that that’s the only time you can really relax, when you’re in between jobs, but you know you already have the next job secured.”  Heads nodded, still not able fully to comprehend the idea of being blissfully unencumbered by work emails for more than six minutes, let alone six weeks.  And with that the guest speaker walked out the door, possibly 20 pounds lighter than the rest of us.

Japan Airlines and MicrosoftThis morning on the bus I was reflecting on that quick interchange in class when I saw an ad for Microsoft Office 360, of all things.  The ad caught my eye not because it was advertising software that nearly everyone uses at some point in their working life, but because the “Japan Airlines” image caught my attention.  The juxtaposition of exotic travel and a mundane office product was timely.  I thought, “When’s the last time I went on a proper vacation? Or even staycation?”  Even though I had a couple of weeks off in between jobs when I moved to Chicago, that time was consumed by job hunting, almost to the point of obsession.  And I spent an inordinate (and probably unhealthy) amount of time reading Gawker’s absorbing series “Unemployment Stories” which was alternately terrifying and slightly encouraging.  But at no time did I consider myself on a break from working.

As long as I can remember during my professional career (i.e. not grad school or hourly jobs), I’ve taken off just the weekend between ending one gig and starting another.  Oh, except that one time when I took off two weeks between jobs…in order to write my Master’s thesis.  I know what you’re thinking: that Em Hall sure knows how to relax!

But there’s no reason to punish ourselves for stepping away from work emails and an office environment for a break, even on a regular basis.  I’m lucky enough to work at two jobs now where getting out of the office – whether for professional development, special events, or just a mental break from the cacophony – is actually encouraged.  What a gift!  And I’m really glad that our guest speaker shared with us that she felt no guilt for a six-week break.  She shouldn’t!  Nor should any of us.  I’m not looking to change jobs any time soon, but I know that when I prepare for the next big adventure in my life, I’m going to take some time to myself, to honor all that I’ve accomplished and celebrate what’s yet to come.

I’m riding 200 miles in support of About Face Theatre and other amazing community organizations in this summer’s Ride For AIDS Chicago.  If you’d like to donate, please visit my fundraising page.  Thank you for your support!

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