If there’s one thing I’m particularly bad at, especially in my adult life, it’s relaxing. Yep, I pretty much suck at it. Now, don’t get me wrong; it’s not like I spend all 16 of my waking hours working. In fact, I allow myself one delicious hour of TV at the end of each weekday. But even those 60 minutes are carefully scheduled into my day. I zip through commercials (thank you, DVR) and as soon as the show is finished I turn off the TV and get into bed. And sometimes I wonder whether I was truly entertained or just felt compelled to watch the show in order to find out which poor guy the bachelorette sent packing.
For years, I’ve accepted my inability to fully relax—to let go, to do nothing, to chill out—as part of my personality. I’ve also figured that it might just be a reality of working for myself. Sure, it’s wonderful being my own boss and I wouldn’t have it any other way. But even when I have back-to-back deadlines and more work than I can handle, I’m still constantly worried whether I’m doing enough, whether I’m branding myself in the best possible way, whether I’m pitching enough, whether my work is the best it can possibly be, whether I’ll still have more work than I can handle (apparently in my book that’s a good thing) a month from now…six months from now…six years from now…
Yeah. It can be stressful. And I’ve let the pressure dictate not only what I do when I’m working, but also how I feel when I’m not.
That is, until someone special came into my life last year and has continued teaching me how to unwind ever since.
I guess you could say I learned by example. Because I saw that being driven and ambitious and taking time to relax aren't mutually exclusive. On the contrary, I’ve learned that the harder you work the more important it is to find that time to kick back. To do whatever you want. To do absolutely nothing at all. Part of the reason why it’s so crucial, of course, is self-preservation. But more importantly, it’s about taking the time to enjoy life. To taste the fresh berries on your tart frozen yogurt that you picked up on your walk home from the delicious pancake brunch at 2 p.m. on a Sunday afternoon. To feel the sunshine on your shoulders and fully enjoy the company you’re in (
even especially if it’s your own). To simply do the living that’s so difficult to do with deadlines and e-mails and phone calls.
My newly discovered ability to relax was truly put to the test a few weeks ago during my family’s sailing vacation to the British Virgin Islands. (Tough life. I know.) My fear was that the trip would be wasted on me. It was my first non-working vacation since I’ve been, well, working, and I was terrified I wouldn’t be able to let work go. That I’d cling to my iPhone, checking my e-mail every 10 minutes to make sure I didn’t miss the chance to accept an assignment or correspond with an editor.
Fortunately, I had had some practice in this whole relaxing thing in the months leading up to this vacation so I took steps to prevent this frenzied approach. I let everyone know I was going away. I put up a vacation message for the first time ever. (I actually had to Google how to put up a Gmail vacation message.) And luckily, my phone didn’t work in the islands. The only person who could keep me from soaking up what it truly meant to be on vacation was me.
But I got out of my way. And I relaxed. Fully…completely…entirely…
Without a shadow of a doubt, it was the very best experience of my life.
Maybe I owe it to the buzz of Pusser’s rum in my morning coffee. Or the feel of the cool breeze against my skin, sticky with SPF and humid air. Or the crescendo of laughter echoing from our cockpit countless times per day. It could be the pina coladas and deep-fried conch fritters we sampled on every island; the water slide and infinity pool; or the five-star meal at TradeWinds on Peter Island.
More likely it was because I got out of my way so I could soak up every moment of joy. Because I knew that there was nothing else on my agenda but to do just that.
A couple of months from now I might forget the taste of the nutmeg sprinkled on top of my rum punch and the hard-to-pronounce name of our boat, Lalie. But what I will remember for as long as I live was that this was the very first time in my life I surrendered enough to let life in. And it is my deepest hope that I will never forget how.
In case I ever need a reminder of what relaxation looks like.