The Importance of a Break

I have a good friend who grew up in Britain, and he is always making fun of my work habit. Growing up, I was taught that hard work and constantly pushing myself to accomplish the things that my company or organization that I worked for would make me a valuable member of society. I pushed myself so hard sometimes that I would feel worn out at the end of the day and would work for long streaks without ever taking a break. There was one time when I was earning my teaching degree that I had a streak of 28 days in a row where I commitments with either work or school. In my mind, this made me important.

This idea is still a part of who I am. Rarely do I take a day off from work. Granted, as a teacher, it is actually more work to take a day off from work than it is to show up sick and just work through the pain. Of course, my thinking about this has changed with the recent pandemic, and I have since taken a few days off when I have had a cold, but even then it was a struggle.

One of the benefits of being a teacher though is having these times throughout the year where I get to take an extended break. With my work ethic, this does not mean that I stop working; it just means that I have more time during the day for myself. As an English teacher, I always have a stack of student writing that I have to chip away at, and during the summer, I have to read the works I am planning on teaching and coming up with ways that I can get my students to connect with them. But this only takes a couple hours a day as opposed to the ten to eleven hours I work on a normal school day.

If my British friend was reading this right now, he would be laughing at me and calling me a fool for putting so much effort in to an employer that would turn their back on me as soon as I decided to move on to another location. And I hate to say it, but he would be right. There are many other people that dedicate a lot of their time and energy to their profession. A lot of these people happen to come America because they are all chasing for that elusive dream that they have been told is out there. They just have to give a little bit more of themselves, and push a little harder in order to get it. What they do not realize is that this dream is already right in front of them, and as long as they accept that they already have what they are looking for, they won’t push themselves so hard to get that other things that the great American Dream is trying to sell us on. I would be a happier individual if I could only just accept this fact.

It shouldn’t come down to how much money I make in order to determine my happiness even though this is the thought that has been sold to me at a very young age. It also is sold as me working hard to make money for others so they could throw me bone from time to time and I will feel important. Another way of looking at it is trickle down economics. I work really hard to make money for somebody else, and it is not really about my happiness or how much I enjoy the work I am doing just as long as another dollar is made for the man on the top of the ladder.

But this is where my British friend comes in. Just not him, but all of the people I have met over the years from Europe. They have a different kind of thinking there. It is not about how hard you work, but how much you enjoy the work that you are doing. Now I know that there is not a single job out there where there will be a task that you will have to do that you will not enjoy. Being an English teacher is this way. I am not a big fan of reading developing writing about the same subject over and over again. It is really painful. But there is a payoff in the end. I do enjoy watching my students develop as writers as they slowly start how to get to that level as a writer that will make them successful in life. I enjoy talking about literature and thinking about the bigger ideas presented by the greatest writers in history. I love connecting students to reading and watching them become lifelong readers. I just love consuming media in general and I enjoy talking about how to consume it with an active mind.

This is where the problem comes in. For all of the things that I love that feed me energy to continue to do the job I am doing, the routine and humdrum existence of my job are enough to wear me down after awhile and make going to work a chore rather than a joy that I always hope it will be. I need a break from the routine to look at thing with a new perspective. I need to put the humdrum aside for long enough so I can get excited about all of the other aspects of the job that I love. For this reason, I need those breaks that so many people view as a benefit as opposed to something that I need in order to maintain my sanity. It is what allows me to be the effective and engaging teacher that I know I can be. 

But this is not the same attitude that a lot of companies in the United States take. They want to get the most out of their employees and they will do everything to make sure this happens. Yes, they will give them a couple of weeks vacation throughout the year, and they will close down for national holidays, but otherwise, they expect their employees to be there most of the time. This is taken up a notch in Korea too. They have their employees working ten hour days, and forcing them to spend their downtime with their bosses outside of work. They are not given much time off to recover from their hard work and they are constantly pushing themselves to do bigger things and more of them. The reality of the situation is that Korea has the most work hours out of any nation, and also the lowest productivity rate during those hours. Their workforce is overworked, and this is evident when you see the amount of effort they put in to get their job done. They spend more time scrolling through their phones rather than completing their tasks. If they were given more free time, they might actually spend that work time being more productive.

There is the other end of this spectrum as well. Scandinavian countries give their employees on an average three to four weeks of vacation time per year with Sweden claiming that the average worker there only works a six hour work day. Looking at the quality of life index and the rate that people are happy in that country, and you will see that most people are happier here than anywhere else in the world. It might be because they have a healthy balance between work and life where they do not have to feel stressed out about getting those little things done during the day and still have time to enjoy with other people. Now, I have never lived in any of the Scandinavian countries and only visited there for about two weeks over ten years ago. I cannot say if this is the reality of the situation or not, but I am willing to find out.

Basically, my point is that we are all happier when we take time off and enjoy the world around us. We all have stressful jobs, and working as a high school English teacher is no exception. Even though I still do work during those periods that I am supposed to be off, I value that time and look forward to it every time it comes close. I also find that I am more productive and a better teacher when I get back into the classroom after an extended break. I know this goes against the bottom line for a lot of companies, but if they started to do the same for their employees, they also might find a change in the work force production.

Back to the New Normal

            I have talked about my struggle before. Is it fair of me to talk about my travels while so many people are under lockdown around the world? Would this just make them angry, jealous or depressed? Would it do more harm than good?

            I could never decide if I should just wait until things opened up again before I started posting these stories again, and in the meantime, look towards other things I could write about while waiting for that moment. Things changed a little bit on this latest trip though. The day after we left, a large outbreak of Covid cases came out in Surat Sakorn, the province just southwest of Bangkok, and there was always talk of locking the country down again, making sure that its citizens were safe. During the first mention of the outbreak until this moment, I had to keep one eye on the news while keeping the other eye on my vacation. Well, the news came in the other day that they would restrict intra-provincial travel starting at 6 AM on Monday morning, and we were relaxing on the island of Koh Lanta on the southern tip of Thailand, a twelve-hour drive from our home. It meant that we needed to pack things up, get up early the next morning and take the drive back to our home before we got stuck somewhere far away from the comforts of home. It was Thailand’s turn to join the rest of the world as they braced itself for the fight against the second wave of Covid.

            There were mixed emotions when this announcement was made. The uncertainty of what to do fought against doing the right thing even though it was not something that we would enjoy doing. Logic prevailed and we joined the rest of the people who made their ways back to their homes to do their part. We had to cut our vacation short by a couple of days, but it was a small price to pay in order to make sure that we and those around us were safe. And I really can’t complain because while a lot of other people were not allowed to partake in those travel experiences, I had been enjoying life on a tropical paradise. But I realized that there was another thing that I should also be grateful for, the fact that the threat of a lockdown loomed over our heads the whole time we were on our trip.

            I know that sounds like a weird thing to appreciate, but hear me out because it changed the way I vacationed.

            A semester of school for a high school teacher is an exhausting experience, and by the time I put in that final grade, I am spent. I need those three weeks off to get my energy back and change my attitude. We have usually travelled to someplace relaxing to start our break off, and we have spent that time sitting around doing nothing of any importance. It has usually taken a week for us to get the courage to go out an explore our surroundings. I would not consider that time wasted because it is needed to get our heads straightened out.

            We were not given that opportunity this time around. Just knowing that our vacation could be taken away at any moment made us look at it in a different way. We needed to make the most out of our experience because the probability of spending time locked away in our home without anything to do loomed over our heads. It meant that if somebody offered us a kayak or paddleboard, we took them up on the offer. If there was a cave in a mountain that we could climb up to, we took on that challenge. If there was a choice of where to eat at for dinner, we did a little more research to make sure that we would not be disappointed in our choices. We sucked out the marrow from our vacation because the bone could be snatched away. In other words, we did not take the moments for granted.

            I cannot say that I have done this on my recent travels. Before Covid hit, I would happily move from place to place and every once in awhile take in everything that the place had to offer. I had become a little complacent with my travels, but Covid rejuvenated in me the reasons I loved travel in the first place and forced me to get out there are experience it in that way again.

            It takes me back to that struggle that I had when I first started writing about my travels, and now that I have thought about it, I am glad that I have made the choice that I have made. It demonstrated the ability to make the most out of every opportunity given to me. If this is the only thing that I take from this world-wide pandemic, I believe that it is an important lesson to learn. And I know that it might be hard for everybody else to see the same thing when they have been stuck in their homes through the holiday season, but I hope that they can see this as well.

            Before the world went into lockdown, people just muddled their way through life, rarely appreciating those moments that were given them, and making the most out of them. This does not mean just travel, but any moment where they could look back at with fondness. It could even be the smallest moment that is happening in your life right now, playing a game with your loved ones, taking a walk and waving to a neighbor, enjoying a sunrise or a sunset, or even sharing a laugh over a Zoom call. Whatever small thing it is, I have learned to savor it, for it might be some time before I get to have a moment like it again.

            I know I have been lucky with where I ended up and how well the situation has been handled in this country, but it had finally come to an end. This does not mean that I should be mad that this has been taken away from me; I should be happy that I was given the opportunity in the first place.

            I hope you can see that as well.

P.S. I was in the middle of putting a couple of other posts together before I was given this news to return home. My plan is to finish these posts and release them in the coming days, but understand that the trip is over and these are things that have happened before the lockdown took place. I am at home now, and I do not know when I will have the opportunity to get out there in the world again, but when I do, I will make sure to share it with all of you.

            Thank you for taking the time to read this, and please enjoy those moments when they are given.

Greatest Hits

In life, sometimes you need a vacation
Where you do not witness anything new.
You need to fulfill your relaxation,
And to make sure the surprises are few.
You know spots where they treat you like a king,
Ready to serve your favorite meals.
You won’t engage in any sightseeing
Or search out the touristy appeals.
You’ll surround yourself with the familiar
As you walk down paths you’ve walked down before.
The last time you were here, they were a blur,
But this time around, you know what’s in store.
You know that the short time only permits
You to revisit all your greatest hits.

Siam Summer

The beach at Koh Samet, Thailand

The soft sand squishes in between my toes
As the crashing waves taunt me to jump in.
The salty breeze on the seas gently blows
Massaging my heart to slow its pumpin’.
Right now, no place begs for my attention
And I have taken care of all my work.
The whispered name that this beach chair mentions,
Talks of taking advantage of its perk.
The waiter brings me a fruit filled smoothie
As I lean back to face the shining sun.
The scene has been taken from a movie
As I know my vacation has begun.
It took awhile for summer to start,
And now that it has my stress will depart.