I’ve decided to take two days off. Just 48 hours away. No work. No emails. No text. No Teams. No calls or video conferences or even lunches that are really networking and therefore a bad meal. Just two days of fly fishing. Why do I feel so guilty about taking such a small amount of time to do something that brings me both joy and balance?
I always encourage others to take vacations. “Enjoy Florida!” I say, with a wave of my hand. “I’ll handle your clients while you’re on that bike tour!” I remind people that balance is important, that rest is important for creative work and focus. “Focus on your kids and maybe read a book or two on your stay-cation,” I tell people. “Leave the contract details to me. You get that pontoon in the water pronto.” Wellness is important. Sleep is vital. You can’t burn the candle at both ends without eventually getting singed. These are the bromides I dispense around the office—except that I actually believe them. “I mean it, don’t send me any emails from Europe, okay?!”
That is the kind of leader I want to be. It is the kind of company culture and community I want to build. But I’m not good at taking my own advice. Vacations are hard. My family has come to expect that I’m a part-time participant on family trips. I typically spent a couple hours every day on the phone, online, on video. They’ve come to expect it and we block out time and build our schedule of activities around my expected absences. And that’s an improvement. I used to hide in restaurant and airport bathrooms to check emails. I once faked stomach pain so I could slip away and make calls.
Busy is good, right? “Busy” gets ahead. “Always on” wins. There’s an awkward pride in it. Maybe it is some kind of deep-seated Gen-X self-loathing-type thing because of course there is a very unattractive side of it, too: an unasked-for martyrdom. “Oh… I’m so busy.” “I don’t have time for vacation. I barely have time to sleep.” I’ve said that and sometimes still do. I’m not proud of that. It’s icky and I’m ashamed of it. (Cue more Gen-X self-loathing.)
Because let me just say out loud what we all already know: “busy” comes at a cost. Less sleep. Degraded relationships.
So I’ve decided to take two days off. Just 48 hours away. No work. No emails. No calls.
And no phone.
Can I do it?
I have to do it. Because a phone is a tether to the outside world. A phone is an IV that drips work stress into the bloodstream while you’re on vacation. It begs for your attention. It buzzes, beeps, rings, and coos with notifications. We pat our pockets looking for reassurance that our devices are still there; the latest update or text just one face-recognition blip away. We tell ourselves it’s for emergencies—in case the kids burn down the house or Aunt Agnes is hospitalized. But when you find yourself in Yellowstone with a phone pressed to your ear, tuning into a conference call, it’s impossible to lie anymore. The gigabyte is up.
I’ve decided to take two days off and go fly-fishing. The thing that brings me joy and balance. Two days on a stream can do more to restore my soul than just about anything. My casts aren’t always elegant. I lose more fish than I land. My big decisions will be do I use a hopper, shad, redneck pheasant tail or a rootbeer midge. My fishing buddy tells me that I don’t fish enough to call myself a fly fisherman (what a jerk, right?). But what I love about fly-fishing is that trout are found in remote and beautiful places. Getting to where they live is hard. Finding the fish is a whole different issue.
My buddy and I will talk a big game. But one of the great things about a great fishing buddy is that you also don’t really have to talk to them. Sometimes you talk for hours. Other times, you don’t say anything all morning. No talking, no typing, no news, no calendar invites, no emails, no feelings even, just quiet and eventually, peace.
My goals for these days off aren’t noble. They’re not for self-improvement or podcast-worthy. I will not post on social media. I will not share reflections. I will not look for the perfect golden hour picture and add some pop psychology statement and post it on Instagram. I’m not looking to create content. I’m giving my thumbs a break. Like the trout that I’m chasing, I’m going to do as little as possible, just feeling the current sweep past waiting for something interesting to come to me.
Do I expect to come back rejuvenated, refreshed, and a changed person?
I’m just going to take a few days off. “Did you catch any fish on your trip?” someone will ask when I return. Doesn’t even matter. That isn’t the point. What’s the point? Maybe this: The one that got away was me.
Marcus Fischer is CEO of Carmichael Lynch