This love story, fraught with facts I made up, plot twists, and gossip about my co-workers began with a sore throat.
I know full well that a sore throat is a harbinger for a cold or the flu and that ignoring it (or anything else, for that matter) is not very effective. I know too that if I tended to it early by staying home for one day, sipping broth, binging on really good TV and napping I’d likely quash it before it developed into anything worth writing about.
So I ignored it.
I went to work for a week through this sore throat and through every other symptom that followed it: the stuffy nose and headache and fatigue and cough.
How did I get it to begin with? I suspect from someone at work (whose identity I will protect because she knows too much about me), who instead of staying home showed up at the office through all her symptoms.
And of course I took down with me another co-worker, possibly two, who also came in feverish and coughing after they caught the virus from me.
It got to the point where I could barely stand. To stay home, all I needed was to get through that business trip – media training – meeting with the CEO – meeting with the executives – brainstorm – business trip.
To make a long story short, after nearly five weeks (five!) of fighting (and losing) against an exhausting, frightening bug and witnessing my entire team similarly embattled it occurred to me to ask myself: what the heck is wrong with us?
Once upon a time people used to take sick time. And I could blame the economy, the industry, the system, the infrastructure, how times have changed; but I’ll start with myself.
I recognize I am the creator of everything I complain about. That staying home makes me feel like I lost, like I’m weak, irresponsible, like I’m not being a hero, like I’m not a trooper, guilty. So it becomes a preposterous personal crusade instead of choosing to do something as basic and necessary as taking care of myself.
Which takes me to another matter under the category of taking care of myself: once upon a time people used to take vacation. And here again I will not bother blaming the industry and all the aforementioned higher powers and instead confess I have been known to go a year or two without taking any real time off. Travel used to be one of the great joys of my life and suddenly I can’t be bothered to set aside a date to go.
I don’t want to give the false impression that I work constantly. Rather, I have developed a faulty on/off switch with work so that it’s always flickering in the background, even when there is no need for it to be. I have lost touch with sprinting outside and slamming the door behind me because it’s recess.
An astounding 87% of employees do not take sick time or vacation time as often as afforded by the companies they work for. And yes, this is the made up fact I promised in the opening sentence, but still. I bet this is an epidemic.
We have convinced ourselves that our world cannot do without us for a few days (well played, ego) and are as a result impoverishing our profession and ourselves. And in the process we’re getting sick.
Why are so many people feeling somewhere between disenchanted and burned out? Why is the sense that we don’t know what we want to do next, that we lack purpose or have lost our way so pervasive?
How are we supposed to acquire a crisp vision for our life if we never allow ourselves to slow down, to rest, to get perspective?
What is it that feeds creativity? Where does it come from and how can we get more? (Not in replying to one more email, that’s for sure.)
This is not a reflection of a mid-life crisis (not that I would ever consider a mid-life crisis a bad thing.) I’m not suggesting we collectively chuck it all and take a year off (although I would never discourage it.)
Let’s see how much inspiration we find in a daily dose of silence. Let’s find out how much clarity exploring another place for a few days grants us. Let’s see what revelation we experience from a long weekend lying on the beach doing nothing. (Yes, you can hold a slushy, fruity drink with an umbrella in it.)
And let’s stay home guilt free if we suspect we’re getting sick. Because you know that my aspirational day of sipping broth, binging on really good TV and napping sounded pretty good to you too.