So I’m on vacation this week. Actually, it’s more of a staycation in that I’m not going anywhere and don’t have anything planned.
To wit, Day 1 largely consisted of taking care of four kids while my wife tended to an ailing family member and then cooking a pasta casserole to freeze for a future dinner. I’m not complaining, having realized that real downtime doesn’t exist when you have such a large family. Rather, I needed a break from work, feeling like I was on the edge of burning out after a long year – so many NCAA tournament bids to cover and a major health scare for one of my daughters.
Nothing wrong with staying home in the summer, especially since travel can be draining and is a significant piece of my work. The plan is to just sort of hang out, max out on family time – take in JazzFest, maybe a matinee of Monsters U – and get in a couple better-than-usual workouts. (That’s my only true stress reliever; it’s a way to purge the accumulating crazy.)
But there’s already a problem: The Internet. It’s always on and right at my finger tips, meaning so is Twitter and Facebook and Tumblr and all the other places that I go to give or get news.
Journalists are already at a disadvantage when it comes to time off – our business is never never closed, putting out a paper every day of year. Very few jobs are like that. And now, we’re a 24-hour business due to the non-stop news cycle. The days are getting longer and the offseason is getting shorter. Filing multiple online updates and a video and a blog before finally getting to the version of the story that will run in print is not unusual – that didn’t happen in the one-platform, one-deadline days. I will not be a part of that process this week.
Yet I’m certain that I can’t just tune out all work-related news. No way. In fact, I put together two items for my work blog several days in advance in order to keep traffic flowing, and at the appropriate time I’ll be Tweeting out those links. It’s hardly a full day of work to do that and some posts can be scheduled, but it still disrupts true time off – and I do it voluntarily. There’s definitely something wrong with me.
Meanwhile, what to do about Twitter, the place I get almost all my daily news? Can I really just ignore it for an entire week after becoming accustomed to checking headlines every 1-2 hours? I doubt it. And even if I could, what would I miss? If somebody didn’t bring something to my attention, it’s possible I might gap out a (relatively) big story, something that I’ll need to be on top of come next week.
Am I nuts and/or doing it wrong? Or is the vacation-burnout balance going to be a major issue facing journalists going forward? Perhaps it’s a generational thing. I grew up at a time and in a place where kids were encouraged to take up an occupation that they loved so that it wouldn’t feel like work; that makes it hard to shut down.
I’m just tired enough – again, from life challenges as much or more than work – to largely ignore my beats for a few days. But I don’t think I can let it all slide, fearful that will make things harder going forward; I work too hard to let that happen.
In the recent past, my solution has been to skip vacation all together, ending up on the wrong side of a use-it-or-lose-it policy several years running. It’s not the smartest thing I’ve ever done even though I convinced myself that just means I genuinely enjoy the job and have a respectable work ethic. Sadly, I think my approach to perhaps using the allotted vacation time going forward – it’ll help me be more sharp at work – is backward, too.
The only solution is for America to incorporate the siesta. Otherwise, I’m doomed. And I’m probably not alone.