Why unplugging is harder than you think.
I just spent two weeks on vacation with my family, and my main goal was this: to unplug and refresh. I hear of people taking digital hiatuses all the time, and I figured it’s no big deal. Truth is, I had no idea how hard it is, nor how rewarding it would be.
Unplugging was my goal. To simply get away. This was easy enough…
Because when I go to the beach in another country and I’m stuck in the room with a spouse and kids who I really enjoy, and there’s culture out there, waves to play in, drinks to consume, new foods to explore, languages to practice, and things to do…the last thing I’ll ever want is a facebook stream of baby pictures or a twitter feed blasting at me with a world of ideas in five seconds.
Nope. Facebook? That’s just too easy to ignore.
And my coworkers knew I was headed offline. Maybe my phone might not even work. (It didn’t.) They were no problem.
So disconnecting would be easy, or so I figured.
But the thing is, even the presumably offline snapshots we’d take with our phone would lead to one nearly mechanical behavior: constantly checking it. when you have a phone with you, you want to check it. All the time. Give me my alerts fix, man.
So I left the phone behind, everywhere I went. Not even any picture posting, for I knew the habitual checking would get the best of me. These would be moments we’d have to remember and not rely on a bevy of digital pics in retrospect.
And that felt great, although we cheated a little. We did have an iPad for Kindle reading, and on the two long rainy days I skimmed messages for any major emergencies. And toward the end of the trip my wife brought her (no-data-in-Mexico) smartphone to grab some snaps of the kids, for which I’m grateful.
In the meantime, though, we swam. We snorkeled. We dove in the cenotes. We ate. We spent twelve days together and fell into a nice groove with each other, napping nearly in unison each day and staying up late together (the harmony was honestly a bit of a surprise…it’s not always the case when you’re traveling with a 7- and 9-year-old). All with a soundtrack of soothing ocean waves just outside our window.
In short, it was perfect.
And that’s why we travel: to lose ourselves in order to find ourselves.
Except…that apparently made me nervous. About 10 days in I realized that I was simply enjoying this trip, and it occurred to me: I’m not providing value. I’m not even generating ideas.
Where’s the natural spark? Isn’t that my place in the world, being endlessly curious, spotting fixes for problems and opportunities in areas unseen? Sharing those with others, crafting a big vision around that and making shit happen? Igniting laughter along the way? That’s what I do, right?
It’s pretty obvious in retrospect that this was a nearly ideal state of being, one in which all gears truly shut down and you simply are who you are, doing whatever you’re doing, and enjoying it without question. The spirit and soul in a rare moment of rest.
But I had to remind myself of this. I had to specifically keep this in check for a few days, realize this to quell the nervousness that was growing. Unplugging was what I wanted, and it’s what I got. I just needed the smarter me to realize I’d be happy with that.
I’m home now. Back at work. And it’s clear to me this reflection process is actually quite simple and perhaps overwrought: we all need breaks to recharge. I had one. It took me a while to get used to it. End of story, right?
But putting the phone down was easy. Putting the brain down was easy too. Until I realized I had.
I’m grateful I had the chance.