Why we can and should create a life that we don't want to ‘escape’

A few weeks ago, I enjoyed an annual beach vacation with my family. A full week of early mornings on the patio, watching the waves from the shady pavilion, drinking coffee while the red sun slowly rose, and passing nights over board games and beach walks did wonders for my heart and soul.

As always, I enjoyed my time away, but when our week came to a close, oddly, I didn’t feel my familiar lingering sadness about departing. I didn’t dread returning home or getting back to work—our getaway refreshed and rejuvenated me, and I was excited to head home and dive back into our daily routine. In short, our trip gave me energy, and I was ready, rather than reluctant, to get back into the swing of things in our landlocked hometown.

A few years ago, my reaction to leaving the beach was quite different. I remember literally breaking into tears at the prospect of trading quiet mornings on the beach for drinking office coffee in a conference room and giving up our peaceful beach condo for our own house.

Needless to say, I was grateful for how radically different this year felt, and it immediately made me think about a concept I’ve heard time and time again but never truly internalized: we can create a life that doesn’t even require a vacation. We can create lives that we enjoy and from which we don’t feel we need to “escape.”

Vacation as a reset rather than a refuge

Throughout my life, I’ve fallen prey to the societal notion that vacation is a refuge—a form of escapism from our lives and jobs. I’ve been struck by the mentality of other professionals in my field that we “work hard and play hard.” In other words, we grind away at jobs we don’t necessarily love, we work ourselves to the brink of burnout, and we simply accept our circumstances, but then we find a place to which we can escape and shed our stress. The problem with this mentality, though, is that when the vacation inevitably ends, we jump straight back into the very fire that burned us and precipitated the need for the vacation in the first place, and thus we perpetuate a vicious cycle of working to the point of exhaustion and escape, on repeat.

But what if we flip this script? What if we view vacations not as an escape, but as a chance to hit the reset button? A way to intentionally rest, not because we desperately need it in order to avoid burning out but because it will only enhance the lives we are already living?

Fulton J. Sheen, a Catholic philosopher and later archbishop, wrote in a collection of essays on happiness about the prospect of beauty being found in contrasts. In other words, we need periods of work to make our rest meaningful, and vice versa. He also discussed how we need both periods of contemplation and reflection so that we can think deeply about why we do what we do, in both our work lives and our personal lives.

This made me realize that we don’t necessarily need to nurture a “retreat” or “vacation” mentality in our lives (i.e., work your tail off until you literally cannot, then escape for two weeks). Instead, we can weave a natural rhythm of work, rest, play, and contemplation into the very fabric of our lives, day-to-day—a beautiful and harmonious set of contrasts that give meaning to our work and our lives. The result? We construct a life we don’t need to retreat from because we develop a habit of feeding ourselves mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually, every day.

Even if you aren’t in a season that allows you to radically change your lifestyle—like quitting your job or moving—you can make a few small tweaks to build micro periods of rest, reflection, and contemplation into your life so that you don’t need to rely on your annual vacation to keep you sane. By incorporating certain small practices into my life, I have found that I am able to find contentment in my circumstances, even during challenging and stressful weeks.

Rest when you need to.

You don’t need to wait until you “have time” to rest. Instead, you can build rest into your days, like a mini-vacation. For instance, instead of downing your lunch while hunched over your laptop, take your food to a nearby park or picnic table to enjoy some time in the sun. At night, instead of jabbing at your phone while shoveling dinner into your mouth, allow yourself an hour to read a novel, listen to a podcast, or catch up with a friend on the phone while you’re cooking and eating. And on the weekends, plan day trips, brunches with friends, or solo hikes to hit your reset button before Monday rolls around.

Build small joys into your days.

We don’t need to save up for a two-week trip to the Bahamas in order to build joy and excitement into our lives. Think about what small treats would delight you and bring life to your workdays. Maybe it’s picking up your favorite coffee on the way into the office or planning to grab lunch with a friend who works nearby. No matter how small, these gifts can brighten your mood and lift your spirit.

Create your own contrasts.

In the spirit of Fulton Sheen, learn to embrace your own rhythms of work, rest, and play. If at all possible, try to leave work at work, and preserve your evenings and weekends for personal time. Similarly, when you are at work, focus on being all in rather than letting personal distractions bog you down and interrupt your progress. Cultivating these healthy rhythms and contrasts can help you make the most out of both your work and your leisure time.

Cultivate self-love.

If you’re walking through a challenging season, know that it won’t last. If you’d like to change your circumstances, take small steps: for instance, if your job makes you deeply unhappy, start to revise your resume and put feelers out; if you’re navigating a challenging or toxic relationship, speak with a trusted friend about how to move on. Even if you can’t flip a switch and immediately change your circumstances, you can take intentional steps toward a more fulfilling future.

If, like me, you’ve ever mourned the end of a vacation and the return to the daily grind, know that these small mindset shifts can help you create a life that doesn’t require an escape. From resting when you need to, to learning to cultivate patience with yourself as you chart a new course, you can find ways to energize yourself on a day-to-day level, without having to grab your passport.