Vacation Guilt: 3 Reasons why you can’t step away

It’s been a while since I’ve written on here. Over the past year, I’ve spent quite a lot of time travelling. This might not be interesting news to you, but I never thought I’d find myself in this situation. I always thought I was a homebody, never spending my vacation days and always working. As it turns out, I just had a massive case of vacation guilt.

Vacation guilt – The fear of taking time away from work.

Once I started travelling, I figured out that I loved visiting different countries and cultures. So, I asked myself. Why didn’t I do this sooner? What was holding me back all these years? In this article, I’ll be sharing some personal insights along with three major reasons why I think you might be suffering from vacation guilt.

vacation guilt main pin

Your self-esteem is linked to your work performance

This was an extremely tough pill to swallow. I’ve always considered myself a high-achieve/hard worker, and I believed that these were positive traits. However, upon reflection, I realised that over the span of many years, I slowly tied my self-esteem to my achievements at work.

Awesome day at work where I presented a breakthrough to the whole team? I’m on top of the world and feeling as confident as ever. Terrible day at work where I made a simple, honest mistake? I start thinking about giving up, and I begin wondering why the company hired me.

I’ve always been aware of this pattern, but I really didn’t do anything to change it. The honest truth? I didn’t want to. I was addicted to the highs of making accomplishments, and I kept desperately chasing the next one. So, anytime a colleague/friend/family member would ask me to take time away from work, my vacation guilt would skyrocket as I saw it as losing access to my high.

But, I couldn’t see how this high/low pattern was slowly destroying my mental health. It wasn’t until I took my first trip this year to Denmark that I began to see the full picture. A little context about this trip. It was for my birthday, and I was essentially forced by my partner to take some time off. When I landed in the vibrant capital city of Copenhagen, instead of feeling excitement to explore, I was thinking about the work opportunities I was missing at home. At this point, even I knew that there was a massive problem. I had spent so much time working over the past year that I didn’t know who I was without the highs of working, and that terrified me.

vacation guilt

You’re afraid to find out who you are without work

I have hobbies. I thought to myself in Copenhagen. I definitely do other things when I’m not working. It took me about 30 minutes of deep thought to find an example. This completely shattered the way I saw myself. All the hobbies I loved doing, playing the piano/creative writing/various sports, I had slowly but surely abandoned them in favour of chasing work opportunities. My vacation guilt worsened. I could no longer recognise who I was, and I began spiralling.

I think a lot of us avoid taking time off work because when we have all that spare time, it forces us to face ourselves. It makes us take an honest look at the areas of life that we may have been avoiding – our mental health, relationships, physical health. We dedicate ourselves to our work because receiving validation for our work accomplishments is a lot better than putting effort into fixing other areas of our lives.

It took a quote by George Bernard Shaw to bring me back to reality.

vacation guilt

And there it was. The answer I was looking for. Instead of mourning the person I used to be, I needed to focus on creating a new version of myself. Someone I could be proud of. But who would that be? Another difficult question to answer.

I knew that I just needed one insight about myself to kickstart this journey. After another day of thinking about the issue, I figured it out. The reason why it all began, the other reason why I kept staying long-nights in the office. I didn’t know how to set boundaries.

You don’t know how to set boundaries

If I was going to create this new version of myself, I needed to be kind to myself and learn how to set boundaries. Not only with others but also with myself. It turns out my vacation guilt came from a double-edged sword. I was addicted to the highs of working BUT I was also terrified of letting others down.

I wanted to be seen as the team player. Always putting the company’s needs over my own. Little did I know that I was chipping away at my mental health each time I turned down an invitation from friends to finish a project that, honestly, could have waited until the next morning. So, when it came time to booking time off, instead of feeling excitement for the journey ahead, I would be stuck thinking how my team would be disappointed in my choice to ‘abandon’ them. Overdramatic I know.

We have such high expectations of ourselves. We believe that we can do it all. Take on all the work and be absolutely fine. But sometimes just saying no can save us from a world of hurt.

vacation guilt

So, where does that leave me? I’ve started writing again and I’m feeling so much better for it. I’m still working on creating a new version of myself that isn’t constantly working. It’s definitely hard work and I won’t lie and say that I don’t experience vacation guilt. But it’s a work in progress. I’ve also booked another trip in a few months and, for the first time, I’m looking forward to it.

Do you experience vacation guilt? When was the last time you booked some time away from the office? Let me know in the comments below, I’d love to hear your story.

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