Last March, my partner Daniel and I took a one-week vacation to Idaho, where we caught the very last days of the ski season with his family. I needed the time off desperately. Work had been stressful for the past few months. In addition to closing a big deal, we had been suffering through some significant internal leadership changes.
At 9 AM on Tuesday, the second day of our vacation, we were sitting around the living room of our vacation rental in our pajamas, sipping coffee while Daniel’s dad cooked breakfast. My phone buzzed.
Invitation: Call with CEO @ Tue 1:30pm – 2:30pm
No warning. No “Hey, I’m really sorry to do this while you’re on vacation” e-mail. Just a conference call number and a time right smack in the middle of our day on the mountain. My heart raced. My stomach turned.
“I fucking hate this job,” I thought.
It’s a shame to feel that way. I actually have a pretty great job that I genuinely enjoy 70+ percent of the time. I work with really sharp people in a field I find interesting and meaningful. But I have near-zero tolerance for lack of work-life boundaries.
After logging in and exchanging a few e-mails, I ended up spending the morning of our ski day scrambling to put together some analysis and a presentation. Of course, everything at work is time-sensitive. Nothing can wait until next week.
Doing a thorough job would have required at least a day’s work, but with my eagerness to actually enjoy my limited vacation time, I scraped together the bare minimum and sent it out after a few hours. Later in the week, I would be reamed for not having gone deep enough with the analysis.
“I think you’re capable of better work than this,” I was told.
“I was on vacation,” I thought to myself. Of course, that fact was never acknowledged.
On Wednesday, we took a break from a skiing and drove a few hours to Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve, a massive lava field in the Snake River Plain of Central Idaho.
We lost cell service 30 miles before we even made it to the park. The entrance booth, where they collect a $5 admission fee during the busier summer season, was boarded up. It was bitterly cold, and the wind whipped right through my jacket and shirt. We saw maybe 3 or 4 other cars over the course of the whole day. It wasn’t an experience many people would seek out.
But it was exactly where I wanted to be.
We spent hours hiking around the empty fields of black basalt and spelunking through lava tubes, periodically huddling back up in the car for warmth. I didn’t care that we were freezing. I didn’t miss having instant access to Facebook (let alone work e-mail). It didn’t bother me that the only food we had brought was a half-eaten box of Cheez-Its.
I was calm. I was happy. I was free.