I started my business in 2011 while living in the Dominican Republic. At the time, I was teaching high school English language arts at an international school in the capital city, Santo Domingo. English teachers, as you probably know, work a lot. And given it was my first year, I had zero teaching experience and only a bachelor’s in writing to my name. I was overwhelmed. But I also had a compelling vision of working for myself. So alongside my seventy-plus hour workweek, I’d put in another five or ten hours into my business. I read books on teaching and freelancing. I connected with teaching and writing mentors, going all-in for both my students and my business.
I still traveled a lot, but I took my students’ papers or freelance work with me. While my friends played at the beach, I camped out at a poolside table to finish my work so I could join them. Don’t get me wrong, I had an amazing time in the Dominican Republic—after all, I didn’t have kids, so when I wasn’t working, I played.
Then we moved to Vietnam, and I took a less demanding role as a language teacher, working about forty hours per week. Because I was working less, I was able to pour more time into my business and also decided to apply for graduate school, which is in itself a part-time job. My now-husband and I traveled frequently, but I still worked many weekends to build my business, create a portfolio for grad school, and fill out applications. Needless to say, I was overextended. But I did get a fully funded graduate assistantship to the University of Cincinnati, so the work felt worth it.
In graduate school, I built my business, often working full-time hours alongside a rigorous course of study. When I had an opportunity to be promoted to managing editor and then executive editor of a national magazine that reached 11 million people, I went to the head of my department and asked for a favor. Could they allow me to be remote? They had never done so before. But they said yes.
From there, I built my business over the next several years. I published my first book, had my first child, and finished my graduate degree while pregnant with my second. I built my business, sometimes—but less often—working nearly as many hours as that first year in the Dominican Republic. In 2018, we moved to Thailand. In 2019, we moved to Portugal.
Each baby, each move—they were draining. Exciting, wonderful, magical . . . but still draining.
While I’ve taken weeks off at a time over the years, there has usually been a clear purpose: Have a baby. Move countries. Take care of someone who needs me. Celebrate the holidays. But it’s been years since I took two full weeks off, with no other purpose than just hanging out with my family. That’s what I did this month while my mom was here visiting my husband, kids, and me in Portugal.
And let me tell you: I feel refreshed. I feel alive. I feel creatively reinvigorated. And I’m definitely going to take another vacation sooner than later.
If you’re an American reading this, you might be surprised that I didn’t check email while I was traveling. I totally and completely disconnected so I could be fully connected at home. If you’re European, this probably isn’t shocking. Here in Portugal, many take the entire month of August off, or at least a few weeks. Rest and family time are essential components of the culture here. Being together, having meals together, spending time at the beach together—this is an annual staple. And not just once a year. Many restaurants in the Algarve, the southern part of the country where I live, shut down for one to two months during the winter.
As an entrepreneur and creative, there is a fine balance between pushing toward excellence and resting toward excellence. Everyone—yes, including you—needs a break. And not a working vacation; not a trip where you take calls and respond to emails before enjoying the day. A real, total, complete, 100 percent present vacation, even if you stay home and explore your local area. Because as obsessed as I am with writing and business, and as obsessed as you are with whatever it is you adore, our bodies and brains need a break. We need to look our families in the eyes, eat three meals together, and enjoy beach days or mountain hikes or city walks. If you don’t have a family, you deserve and require the same rest and reconnection to yourself.
So I’ll ask you: When was your last real vacation? How did you feel? What did you gain from space and rest? When is your next one?
As for me, I’m already planning another break in December. I can’t wait.
Tell me about your last real vacation in the comments, what you gained from the time away, and your plans for your next one. I love hearing from you—and I’ll be sure to take notes for my next break.