One of my company’s major perks is a built-in week of vacation over the holidays, which in theory means that nobody would have to work because nobody’s in the office. That’s indeed a theory, and this year I somehow worked myself into a seething frustration by my inability to “relax” while seemingly everyone else I knew was having fun watching movie marathons, baking cookies, skiing, etc. When I finally got back to the office though, I could hear major contradictions in everything I complained about not being able to do: what I thought of as “relaxing” were never things I’d been interested in doing. I can read 250 pages in a sitting, but watching a story unfold over 120 minutes makes me antsy; my mom and I don’t bake well together (one too many cooks…); and I can’t say I “do” winter sports. So what was I hoping to achieve–or feel–by relaxing?
On a typical weekend, I have a list of things to do–chores, meetings with friends, yoga classes–that keep me occupied throughout the day. I schedule my free time down to the minute, and when people ask me if I had a good respite from the 9-5 (or 8-7) I say yes despite my busyness. Scheduling is just in my nature, and so I’m realizing in my quest this year (which is more of a life resolution than a New Year’s resolution) to relax more, to take it easy, to enjoy life rather than just live it, I need to figure out how that applies to me specifically and not impose others’ external definitions upon my me-time. Otherwise, I’m setting myself up for failure and disappointment.
Here are some things I’m taking into account, which may also help you to make the most of the time we have to ourselves.
1. Accept that time is limited. There are only 24 hours in a day in which to accomplish anything–work and fun. I know for myself if I don’t take care of what “needs” to get done (groceries, laundry, cleaning…) then what time I have left will be full of worrying and angst. Instead of lamenting the limitations on fun, I’ll treat them as precious and rare (like dessert!), and with the other to-dos out of mind I’ll be able to enjoy my chosen to-dos with greater presence of mind.
2. Unleash passion. I’ve decided that “passion” is my new mantra. It will apply to as many things as I can think of, in the sense that what I choose to do with my life will be done deliberately, with integrity, and a sense of purpose. When it comes to relaxing, I’ll think of the things I am passionate about–activities, ideas, experiences–and find ways to have them manifest themselves in reality. For instance, I’m passionate about making things (yes, I’m a crafter at heart!), which can mean anything from cooking to knitting. To others these things may feel like work, but to me they’re intensely satisfying. Having something I can say “I made” gives me a sense of purpose and accomplishment. Why shouldn’t I feel that way even when I’m not at work, per se?
3. …But stay open to new things. I’m not ashamed to admit guilt to getting stuck in routine. When I say I like to knit, I’ll find any and every way to use that as an excuse to not do other things: knitting is what I’m doing now, so that’s all I have time for. And yet there’s always the possibility that something else I don’t know about will satisfy some other passion I’ve yet to discover, and by denying myself that opportunity I’m diminishing my passion bank. Yes, there’s a risk that spending valuable free time on an unknown will be disappointing, but even those experiences have some life value. Getting too used to a routine can also make “fun” feel like “work.”
4. Share. Everyone needs to be alone sometimes, but giving your time to others can remind you how important your single life is even outside of yourself. That could mean volunteering or simply talking with a friend or loved one who needs support. The focus may not feel like it’s on you, but in essence it is: because you’re needed. Realizing that fact will make everything you do feel more meaningful and important. You can also think of this in terms of sharing experiences with others–going to a museum with a friend or teaching someone how to do something you love. Again, the scheduling and patience involved may seem like work, but after the initial investment you will have more future opportunities to bring your passions into others’ lives, and vice versa.
5. Be bored. This will be most challenging for me given my aforementioned need for activity. But the inherent value of having nothing to do or think about, even for a few minutes at a time, will enhance my ability to be creative and productively relaxed at other times. It can also help me focus on figuring out what I really want to be doing instead by honing in on those passions I may not have had time yet to uncover. As Rilke wrote, “I have often wondered whether especially those days when we are forced to remain idle are not precisely the days spend in the most profound activity. . . . It is very important to be idle with confidence, with devotion, possibly even with joy. The days when even our hands do not stir are so exceptionally quiet that it is hardly possible to raise them without hearing a whole lot.”
What are some of your personal downtime activities? Please share!
Also by Jennifer: 4 Steps to Downsizing Your Space and Living Bigger
Photo: John Schultz/flickr commons; Martien Uiterweerd/flickr commons