On Weekends, Vacations and Sabbaticals

If I had to mention one thing that I miss from my corporate years, it would probably be that almost euphoric Friday night feeling. A mixture of sense of accomplishment with the consequent possibility of doing absolutely only what you want, including nothing. That moment when you turn up the volume, drink some wine… and allow yourself to relax.

After a few days relaxing, an allegedly contemporary version of the superego may show up, that will judge you for “not enjoying”. The agony does not come from the feeling of doing something wrong. Instead, it comes from doubting whether you are making the most of everything.

On weekends, you almost throw away your Freudian superego: you allow yourself to get drunk, you may numb yourself. You drown that inner voice that would otherwise tell you constantly not to do this, not to do that. That you may not go to bed too late because there is a conference call at 8:10. That being knackered is no excuse to skip the gym. That you should not drink too much because being hungover at work is too close to death-in-life to be endured.

Such a shame that euphoria is eventually over. And when it is over…

However, when it comes down to vacations, with too much free time in your hands, things may get a bit more complicated. In principle, you may even indulge in a few days of total idleness. The inner prosecutor will probably allow it. After all, you are doing everything under the rules: you earned those days. You may rest. You may do nothing.

So far, so good. But then comes that damned “postmodernity”… because after a few days relaxing, an allegedly contemporary version of the superego may show up. A superego whose may concern is not whether you are a law-abiding citizen. Instead, this new superego will judge you for “not enjoying”. The agony does not come from the feeling of doing something wrong. Instead, it comes from doubting whether you are making the most of everything. You must optimize the use of your free time. What an endless labyrinth…

Optimization techniques normally presuppose known parameters. At best, they will lead you to the finest you can do among familiar situations: the best choice among those you’re acquainted with. However, it will keep you away from truly experimenting.

The negative side of the end of the great causes, the outcome of Nietzsche’s hammer, is that we no longer have religions, leaders, nations or whatever to tell us what to do. Nevertheless, the positive side is that we are now free to do anything we want.

The problem is when we don’t seem to be capable of choosing either side. We can do whatever we want, but we don’t really know what we want. Indeed, when working twelve hours per day, it is hard to know anything. In all those working hours, the mental energy flows towards making things happen in a certain way, maximizing results. Whatever it is that we want, our subjectivity, becomes more and more hidden from us. How can one practice listening to their aspirations with no time for that?

And then we believe we may bypass this must-enjoy agony when we are actually feeding it: when we meticulously plan what we are going to do during our vacations. Granting us one free afternoon, at most. One afternoon that ends up replicating that Friday evening freedom: “I visited 8 places I wanted (had to?). Therefore, I can do nothing now.” The question is whether such pleasure maximization has indeed led to any real enjoyment…

You allowed yourself to relax, but only because you accomplished a certain goal. And then you relax only up until the idleness-led restlessness pops up again. An anxiety that prevents you from using your lazy moments to find out what really brings you pleasure. An otherwise precious moment ends up being overwhelmed by more actions.

All those selfies people take in museums… I wonder what one can enjoy of a painting in those two seconds the spend taking a picture in front of it. But maybe my wondering comes from my envy: maybe I just underestimate people’s ability to get involved with a work of art so quickly.

It is something like: “I don’t know what I enjoy. And I know even less why a painting would bring me any pleasure. So I take and share a picture of it so that I leave to others the task of letting me know whether that experience was worthy or not. And in the meantime, I keep running around, trying to maximize my time”.

I remember this time in Amsterdam, when I listened in to a guy saying to his girlfriend that “those were the best vacations’ moments, when all there is to do is stroll around, no obligations”. Isn’t that what we should do during holidays? Aren’t we supposed to do things out of pleasure not obligation?

Sabbatical year. “To do what?” If I had the answer, it would not be a sabbatical year. It would be a course year, a round-the-world trip year.

Sabbatical year. Sabbatical period. “To do what?”, I used to be asked. If I had the answer, it would probably not be a sabbatical year. It would be a course year, a round-the-world trip year.

A little more than one year has passed since my sabbatical started, and only now I begin to understand what it was for: to try and shut up this voice that keeps telling me to seize the day. To make carpe diem once again a recommendation for pleasure, not a chore.

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