The worst part about coming back from vacation is the brutal knowledge of just how far away your next vacation is. This first stage is called Despair. During the Despair stage, I stare at my future and imagine all the ways it is going to suck. I compare myself to other people, both real and imagined, and decide that their lives are easier or better than mine.
I think about my friends that make more money than me, and how their student loans are gone, and how they can do whatever they want now, and how glorious that must feel.
I think about the hundreds of millions of people in Europe and imagine what it would be like if I lived there. Sure I’d have bad teeth and a weird obsession with royalty, but I’d also have the entire month of August off and all sorts of old festivals and holidays. Can you say 35 hour work week?
I think in great detail about how my future vacations are all going to suck, compared to where I just left. I idealize the past and stare hopelessly at the future.
For example, in August, I’ll take 5 days ‘off’ to have a baby. I’ll level with you. I’m excited to meet the little guy, but those 5 days are pretty much gone. I know exactly what is going to happen. First, there’s the worrying about my wife’s health and the baby’s health (2 hours). Second, there’s the joy at meeting a new creature that is now part of my family (25 minutes). Third, there’s sleeping on a fold-out hospital couch for 4 nights, waking up every 2 hours, and somehow juggling childcare for 2 toddlers at the same time (4 days, 21 hours, 35 minutes). As far as vacations go, it’s not exactly the Virgin Islands. (is he kidding? Is he kidding?)
Then in November I’ll take a couple days around Thanksgiving to
rush around from house to house doing stuff with my sprawling modern family. I love them, but there are batshit crazy people in my family and planning is extremely stressful. Same thing with Christmas. I’ll be forced to do chores and spend time with people, and I’ll get yelled at for reading too much and not being sociable.
My next real vacation is likely not until next February, when we’ll try to go back to the Caribbean, this time with our children. It’ll probably be too expensive or we’ll chicken out or something. Which means it’s a full year until another summer lake vacation, where I can just relax and be myself.
As you can see, I can talk myself in self-pitying circles for days on end, every waking hour filled with an inner monologue of ruthless spoiled self-loathing.
Eventually, my brain will transition to a slightly more practical stage, which I will call Resolve. It’s day 4 and I am just entering the Resolve stage.
During Resolve, my brain identifies the structural problems in my life that it perceives to be weighing me down and ruining my future. It then focuses on finding solutions for those structural problems. There are two.
The first structural problem is that I require a large income. I have student loans, a home loan, a car loan, a unquenchable fetish for Apple products, and 2 1/2 kids to put through college in 15 years. So I need to find a way to increase my income or decrease my expenses. The Resolve phase is filled with long sessions with Mint.com and Microsoft Excel. Mostly it just increases my anxiety but it also translates into some concrete actions like packing my own lunch every day.
The second structural problem is that I want more leisure time so I can write a book, sell it, and finally receive the recognition and wealth that I deserve. This isn’t some vague dream anymore, it’s an acute obsession and it’s driving me crazy.
Despair is necessary to get to Resolve. Hitting bottom and all that. I’m fully embracing Resolve right now, living frugally and writing like crazy. I’m hoping to really ride this Resolve stage for all it’s worth.
My guess is that I have about 1 week at Resolve, and then I’ll return to Equilibrium: crushing anxiety, existentialist angst and daddy issues.
Shouldn’t denial be a stage? Maybe my theory is flawed.