Welcome to August, 2021, the point by which the optimistic among us had hoped we’d reach herd immunity from COVID-19 here in the United States, thanks to abundantly available vaccines and a public tired of people dying.
Well, yeah. So much for that.
Today the most important thing I want to tell you is this: take your vacation time from work.
Maybe, like me, you’re not in a position to travel. Could be your kids aren’t vaccinated because they’re to young, or the risks to the adults in your family are too high should a breakthrough infection occur. Could be money’s tighter than you’d hoped. Or maybe you just can’t justify it for some other reason.
That’s fine, cancel your plans.
But don’t cancel the time off from work.
I’ve had a number of people tell me lately that if they can’t get out of their house there’s no point in taking time off from work, and they’ll just hold it until later. After all, things might get better later. And if they don’t get better, well, the person might need the time in the future to care for themselves or a loved on, and why burn it now?
For every one of the folks talking about cancelling their vacation time to work, I’ve also had someone tell me they’re totally burned out and they don’t know what to do.
Burnout is like being chased by a werewolf. When a werewolf starts chasing you, you do not have the time or energy to stop and say “Huh. That’s a werewolf. I should sit down and strategize how I’m going to handle this.” No, you run like hell. You hope you can outrun it.
Sometimes you do. Sometimes you outrun it and you stay at that job. Sometimes you outrun it and you run to a safer place.
Sometimes you don’t outrun the burnout werewolf, and you end up in a much worse place, the place where you realize you have burnout. You didn’t plan to go here, you didn’t want to feel like you do. Yet here you are, with a job you hate, a stress level you can’t control, a pile of symptoms that look suspiciously like PTSD, and a werewolf gnawing on your brain box.
Time and distance are the remedy for burnout. (A good counselor and a new job are also quite handy.) The very first thing I tell someone who’s burned out is “take as much vacation as you can right now, even if it means a little less later, and then use a part of that time to plan your escape.” Knowing you’re burned out, after all, doesn’t detach the werewolf jaws from your skull.
Avoiding burnout is hard. Avoiding burnout during a multi-year pandemic that’s killed over 4 million people worldwide is even harder. Even harder still, the pandemic is not our only emergency, locally or globally.
Taking time off of work is not a silver bullet.
It’s still a bullet though, and it’ll slow that werewolf down a little.
Fire the bullet. Take time off from work.
Sometimes the rest you gain is enough to give you the room you need to take a breath, find what’s still beautiful in your home or your job or your family, and recover enough to face the office again before the werewolf catches you.
Sometimes it’s enough to help you recognize that aw hell, you are burned out, these are werewolf teeth pressing into your temple, and figure out your next steps.
This year, we are not going to the beach the way we planned. We won’t be visiting the aquarium in Virginia Beach, or going dolphin watching. This won’t be the year we stop in Chincoteague to see the wild ponies.
We are boarding the dogs for a week and sleeping in. We’re celebrating a birthday, at home, probably with a home-cooked steak dinner instead of a night out. We’re watching movies instead of checking email, playing video games instead of planning processes, reading books instead of reading powerpoint decks.
I’m not going to pretend I’m happy about it. I’d rather be on the beach. My self-discipline is bad and being at home makes me want to fix and clean things. It’ll be hard.
But if there’s one thing the past few years have taught us, it’s that there’s no way to predict what’s coming in the next few months, and we’d rather face it with even a little rest than none at all.
Nobody likes to face the next werewolf when they’re already tired.
And there’s plenty more where that one came from.
Also published on Medium.