“I’m not going to do another year where I work straight through from January to December without taking any time off”.
That’s what I’d said at the beginning of 2015.
Fast forward 12 months and there I was. Beyond exhausted. Absolutely shattered.
2015 had been ‘full on’ and I’d been operating at a crazy pace. There I was … half way through December and I’d done the exact opposite of what I’d promised myself … again.
I had also moved from Sydney to San Francisco earlier in the year and had planned to fly back home to spend the week between Christmas and New Year with my family.
I hated everyone; I was feeling resentful about everything; I was literally about to crack (some might say I already had). I wish I could have said I was counting the sleeps before I got on the plane, but the truth of the matter was that I wasn’t sleeping at all.
It was 3:08am a few days before I was due to get on the plane. I couldn’t sleep so I decided to start packing for my trip. As I reached for my carry on bag where I usually put my MacBook, iPad, chords, chargers, power adaptors, converters, headset, and remote mouse, I had an epiphany.
“Put the bag back in the cupboard now! You’re not taking any of that shit with you!”
“As if”, I said out loud (suddenly realizing I was actually talking to myself).
The voice inside my head won.
The reality of the situation really hit me as I went through security at SFO. My shoes, belt and jacket came through the x-ray machine. And I was just standing there. As if out of habit, I was waiting for my laptop and carry on bag to come through.
But the plastic tubs never appeared. I had actually left my technological devices at home. All of them. Even my phone.
I started feeling anxious.
What the hell was I doing?
“Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Sydney. It’s 6:30am on the 23rd of December. If your mobile phone is within reach you may switch it on now.”
I immediately reached for my travel wallet in the seat pocket where I always kept my iPhone during a flight.
Talk about a moment of complete panic.
I was home. And yet I don’t think I had never felt so disconnected or isolated.
I actually felt nauseous. And it had nothing at all to do with the bumpy landing into Sydney!
I’ve made a horrible mistake.
Normally I would get home, shower and log on immediately to deal with the in-box tsunami that typically appeared after being offline for 18 hours.
Instead, (without showering) I literally went straight to play tenpin bowling with my brother and sister and my nieces and nephews. And later that afternoon, I was at the beach jumping off a pier into Sydney Harbour.
Oh that’s right. I was on holidays!
Unfortunately the feeling of being on vacation was short-lived. That night (my first night in Sydney) I woke up shivering and sweating profusely. For the next six hours the projectile vomiting (sorry for not sparing you the details) was uncontrollable.
I genuinely believe that I’d worked myself into such a state of panic about leaving my devices back in San Francisco that I had made myself physically sick.
By the morning the cold sweats and vomiting subsided and I finally fell asleep … for 24 hours!
I spent the following few days starting to wind down and catching up with family and friends and only mixed up one of my arrangements due to the fact that I didn’t have my calendar in my pocket 24 x 7!
Fortunately I have always made a point of learning important phone numbers so as not to have to rely 100% on my iPhone’s contacts directory. I actually called my cofounder to wish him and his family a Merry Christmas from my parents’ landline! (How Silicon Valley tech startup is that?!?)
After a week I got back on the plane to San Francisco even though I knew I wasn’t feeling 100% recharged.
“You’re not ready to go back. You need another week. Maybe two. What’s the rush?”.
The voice inside my head was back.
The voice inside my head was on to something.
Within hours of landing back in the USA I had come down with by far the worst flu I have ever had. In fact I coughed so much that I ended up throwing my back out so badly that I couldn’t move. I seriously couldn’t even put socks on.
I was back in San Francisco but rendered completely useless. I was bed ridden (doctors orders).
I literally never get sick. I never take sick days. Ever.
I ended up being out of the office and offline for another 17 days!
Did I watch TV? Not once. Did I read? Not at all.
All I did was sleep.
When I eventually logged back in (properly) for the first time in 2016, you know what I did do?
I deleted over 90% of the emails that had ‘flooded’ my in-box without even reading them. I then deleted all the voicemails that had been left since I figured that if someone really needed to find me, then they would just call me back (and they did!).
And guess what? The world kept on turning while I was offline!
The company didn’t collapse into a heap. The office didn’t burn down. The team didn’t all run away to Puerto Vallarta!
I genuinely believe everyone was happy to see me when I eventually got back to the office. In fact I think some of the team may have even missed me while I was off.
Between my trip back to Sydney and then being quarantined with the shocking flu, I’d been out for nearly a month. And nothing had gone wrong.
Even though it was half way through January, I decided to make my 2016 New Years resolution.
Yes – I only made one.
I will take a 4-day weekend every month. Device free. A 4-day full technological detox to re-charge every single month.
A one-week break after working non-stop for 51 weeks is not enough to ensure you re-charge properly. It was time to stop kidding myself.
I’m not invincible. Nobody is. We all need to re-charge.
Whether we’re listening to a voice inside our head or whether we choose to listen to our body, we just need to stop, listen and re-charge.
I’ve been pretty good. I’ve stuck to my resolution (for the most part!) … and I’ve even thrown in a weekly dose of acupuncture for good measure!
Shut down or meltdown? For me there is no longer an option.