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Learning to Disconnect and Listen

Posted Sep 18 2013 1:47am

When we decided to travel to Hawaii for a month, I made a conscious decision to try to make it as much of a real vacation as possible. I can’t remember when last time I took a real vacation. As a freelancer, your schedule is flexible and you often work around and through things…like vacations because when you take time off, you aren’t billing or making money.

But I knew that my body, mind and spirit needed to be refreshed . So, I made arrangements, told my clients that I was going to be unavailable until after Labor Day, made peace with my break from blogging and social media (mostly) and got on an airplane.

The first week in Hawaii was blissful and peaceful. I loved being in a new and beautiful place. I loved having no expectations or obligations bearing down on my shoulders. I loved being able to just be with my family and to laugh and smile and enjoy. I loved saying yes to the boys – about 10 times more often than I do at home. I felt like it had been a long time since I really did that or at least really let myself be that unencumbered and free.

My vacation and the slower lifestyle we adopted in Hawaii made me realize some interesting things about myself and what makes me tick. It’s also given me a lot to think about in terms of what I need and want to work on.

cliff jumping
My inner introvert needs nurturing, even on vacation. Spending 24 hours a day, 7 days a week with your family is amazing but also exhausting at the same time . After the first week or two, I started to feel myself getting cranky, my temper and patience running short with the boys. I think that my crankiness was due in part to not being able to exercise much thanks to my plantar fasciitis.

At home, we have the buffer of school, after-school activities, friends, and work but on vacation, it was just us together all.the.time. Yes, it was a rare opportunity to really plug into each other and be present but it does take getting used to. There’s an adjustment period. And as an introvert, I was longing to retreat, reset and recalibrate so that I could continue to be present and have fun.

I have no idea how I accomplish anything at home. Seriously, there was no work or school in Hawaii. All we had to do was get up, figure out our plan for the day, go to the pool/beach/surf/hike/snorkel/explore, feed ourselves, bathe ourselves and go to sleep. And that’s pretty much all I was capable of accomplishing most days. I was exhausted by 8pm and in bed mostly nights by 9 or 10pm – about 3-4 hours earlier than I’m in bed normally.

cliff jumping hawaii
I get anxious when I feel like I’m unproductive. I intentionally cleared my to-do list before going on vacation. OK, I did have a short list of things that I wanted to accomplish while on vacation, like read some books, learn how to use my DSLR properly and write but there were no real deadlines.

Somewhere around week two, I started to feel the weight of the lack of productivity bear down on me and the anxiety rising. I felt so restless in my own skin, like a cat trying to claw its way out.

This made me think a lot about what being productive means to me and how to recalibrate that meaning. We weren’t being “productive” and I don’t think that I accomplished anything on my short list. But we were squeezing as much out of each day as possible (see above) and living.

I don’t do well without a to-do list and without being busy. I had hoped that vacation would free up time for me to write and pitch freelance pieces but I found that I was less creative and more sluggish. I couldn’t get myself to write and I felt like all the ideas I came up with were stale. My husband and I talked about how I do too much and commit to too much but I think that there’s a part of me that needs that pressure. Or at least I think that I do.

At the same time, I need to lighten my load. While I do like to be busy, I realized that I had a lot of extra filler in my life. I did feel lighter by eliminating those things during vacation. Maintaining that lightness has been tricky since we’ve returned home but I don’t want to fill my life up only with busy things again.

hanauma bay
I feel ambivalent about blogging and social media. I do. I missed writing regularly and sharing stories with all of you (hence the backlog of Hawaii posts!). I thought about this blog a bit while we were away – what I want to accomplish with it, the types of posts I want to and like writing, my amazing readers who inspire me, and what value I add. I treasure this space for so many reasons but mainly it has helped me to reflect on my experiences and has helped me to learn and grow. But honestly? I don’t know.

While I did read blogs while we were away, I just didn’t comment or only commented when I truly had something to add. That in and of itself made me feel 10 times lighter.

The thing is, life goes on. If I don’t know what someone is doing 5 seconds after they do it by seeing their Instagram photo or if I don’t update everyone about everything I do, that’s OK. Remember how we used to keep in touch with family and friends before blogs and social media? By phone, over a cup of coffee  or through a letter.

I do think that there is a benefit to lightening our online load. Just imagine the space, clarity and energy that may open up.


Disconnecting forced me to listen more. It forced me to pay attention to what was going on around me, what I was thinking and feeling. I didn’t have my social media feeds to distract me from paying attention to those thoughts and feelings. I had to sit with them, even the uncomfortable ones, and provided some clarity on areas that I want to continue to work on – that I need to work on. By disconnecting, we can get better at listening.

I didn’t mean for this post to be a downer or so long (sorry!). I did come home feeling refreshed and I’m thankful that my family had this time together. I’m thankful for the lessons, even if some were tough to digest. But that’s how we grow, right?

Read more about our trip to Hawaii:


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