I’m doing something unusual this October. Nope, I’m not planning to dress up as Father Christmas for Halloween. I’m taking a holiday. A long holiday. But, unlike Bilbo, I do mean to come back. It’s particularly important that I do, because the holiday I’m taking isn’t from work, but from myself.
When it comes to our professional lives most of us are well aware of the need to take time out to relax and recharge. Whether it’s the odd half day, a long weekend, or one of those lockdown holidays where you hiked across the upstairs landing for a week and filled your Instagram with candid shots of the banister in its natural habitat.
What about the other things in our lives that drive us?
I have ambitions. I have life goals. I’ve got a plan (it’s even printed out on fancy paper, because I’m a bit OTT like that). Since I was in my early teens I’ve known what I want to do with my life: write books. And a lot of my spare time since then has been devoted to working towards those aims. I get closer every year, every month, maybe even every day.
I’ve touched on the downside of this in previous posts. As the years go by it becomes harder and harder to stare at the summit of my ambitions and ignore how far away it seems, and how difficult the climb to get there looks. There are sections that I have no idea how I’ll traverse, obstacles that risk dislodging me forever.
And, to be honest, I’ve reached the point in the climb where I am tired. The obsession with goals and progress, of thinking about my free time in terms of productivity, as though I need to create a pie-chart of my life to present to the board of directors.
Learning to trust myself again
Is this because I’m giving up? Of course not. I think the issue here is one of trust. Somehow I’ve ended up in a place where I no longer trust that, without the constant micromanagement, I’ll actually do the work necessary to get to where I want to be.
I’m afraid that if I let go of the leash I’ve crafted for myself even just a little bit that I’ll stop doing anything of importance. I’ll use all my free time to simply enjoy myself – as if that’s a bad thing – and one day I’ll turn around and realise it’s been years since I wrote anything or read a book or blogged or any of the other things that are important to me.
I recognise this for what it is: catastrophizing. It’s where your mind naturally goes to the most extreme outcome instead of foreseeing a more moderate – and considerably more likely – outcome.
As I noted in my very first post, the reason I want to write books, and read them, and blog about them, is because they are my main passions in life. I’ve become unnecessarily controlling, unable to just let myself naturally gravitate to what matters to me. As though I’m not qualified to be the judge of what’s important to me.
Taking a month off
Which is why in October I’m taking a break from all that. I usually have a monthly wish list of things I want to achieve, which I use to keep me focused and to quiet the demons in my head that jabber constantly about whether or not I’ve made progress towards my life goals.
This month I’m letting go of the leash. I’ve cast the boat free from its moorings and am seeing where the current takes it. At the end of the month I’ll review what I actually did. I’ll compare that to previous months and see what’s different. Most importantly, I’ll see how I feel.
It may be that I spend the entire of October finally watching all of Castle. It may be that I end up writing something anyway, or doing lots of reading, or finally painting all those Age of Sigmar miniatures I’ve got lying around.
But it doesn’t matter what I actually do, as long as it’s what I feel like doing. For too long I’ve been setting goals not to give my life direction, but in fear of where I’d end up if I didn’t. And yet the irony here is that my goals are derived from the things I felt were important and wanted to focus on in the first place.
What do I want to do with my time?
It’s time to let go and spend some time just doing whatever feels natural. Maybe I’ll prove to myself that the goals and the overthinking are unnecessary. And if I prove the opposite, that without the goals and the constant self-imposed pressure I wouldn’t do anything, well, then I’ve learned something important, and I need to have a good think about what that means.
Ultimately, there’s no way that this month – that this little experiment – can be wasted. I’ll admit I’m slightly concerned about what conclusions may arise from the results, but I’m also aware the time is long past due that I answered the key question:
Am I only keeping this up because I’m forcing myself to?
Come talk books and stuff with me on Twitter: @RewanTremethick