I took this past week off after my team at Stripe launched the new stripe.com redesign. This was actually the first time this year that I took time off, which would’ve certainly happened sooner if it weren’t for the virus grounding us for months now. While I had plenty of opportunities to take time off leading up to the launch, using up vacation days to stay home and not go on vacation felt like a waste to me. Sure, it’s a time to reset, but I honestly don’t think I would’ve been able to think about anything other than the upcoming launch while sitting at home—which is where I had been for the first couple months of the lockdown. Being able to work at the studio now definitely makes a huge difference in separating life from work, but we’re still not leaving our neighborhood, so we can’t really get away like we typically would to visit our friends in Joshua Tree or Tucson.
As soon as the new redesign launched, however, I instantly needed a full week off. Whatever was holding me back before, and trying to discourage me from using up vacation days, was completely gone. I now saw the value of time off, even if I’m staying home the entire time. I simply needed a mental break from the one thing I’d been laser-focused on for almost a year now. I knew I wouldn’t be able to go the full week without “working” on side projects, but at least I’d have a break from my day job. Between the work and the team, I absolutely love everything about my job, but I definitely realize that such a long stretch of 100% focus completely drained me. If I kept going, without the reset, I guarantee you my attention and creativity would’ve been at half capacity or less. No one wants to work with half Jonnie.
Leading up to my week off, I planned to start a daily exercise routine, cook every single meal, and get my life in order. One day into vacation, however, I was overwhelmed by the urge to pull a Seinfeld and simply do nothing—or at least not have any “goals” for the week. Maybe another week, but this week, I should just ride it out and do what I feel like doing. While I couldn’t bring myself to running each morning like I thought I would, I did start each morning off with a long walk. “Long” is a somewhat deceiving word considering how much we used to walk pre-COVID, but these were long enough compared to the last few months of isolation. The route was simple—walk up the main street from our house about 20 blocks, take one block over, then walk back. The first stretch takes me past all the local storefronts in my neighborhood. It’s a truly enjoyable view of all the restaurants that were able to open their “parking spot patios”, but it also reveals all the restaurants and stores that didn’t make it.
When I get to the end of that stretch, I pass Trader Joes, which always has a long line wrapping around the block, regardless of COVID. Strangely, this became a landmark for me to look forward to seeing and comparing day-to-day—how long is the line each day? I was often shocked to see that weekdays are sometimes busier than the weekend, but now that most folks work from home, it’s not all that surprising. Walking the next block before heading back is when I pull my mask down, if it’s clear, and breathe in all the smells from the Mediterranean restaurants. This moment is always such a hit to the senses, as is every time I briefly pull my mask down to breathe in. I don’t know why, but I smell what I can only describe as “memories”. Sometimes, I smell my first house. Other times, I smell my childhood G.I. Joe action figures. Or, I’ll smell a memory from a place I haven’t been yet. Keeping my mask on for most of my walks actually provides this amazing gift of smelling the environment so intensely.
On the walk back, I spend the entire time looking at all the brownstones that I’ll never be able to afford. A major downside of renting in a beautiful Brooklyn neighborhood is the constant reminder that we’ll most likely always be renters. If we’re lucky, we might be able to save up for a one bedroom. This often leads me down the rabbit hole of thinking about a life outside of NY, which I immediately shut down because I know, with everything in me, that this is our home. At the same time, plenty of our friends continue to leave the city. I understand, but it still hurts. I’d like to hope that they actually return once we’re back to normal, but I know that realistically, they’re more likely to find their new life in their new home.
Another constant throughout my week off has been writing. Maybe two days into vacation, I realized that this is my week’s purpose—writing every day. At first, I thought I’d use the week to solely work on Cushion and make great progress there (which I still did!), but I also found myself incredibly drawn to writing. The output from my writing felt like more of an accomplishment than the actions that I wrote about. It also didn’t feel like the kind of daily writing that guilted me about potentially missing a day as yet another to-do on my list. I simply wrote when I wanted to, like I am now on my final day off.
As I got closer to today, I started getting excited about returning to work, which is always a good sign. That feeling alone made this week worth it. I would’ve hated to take the entire week off and feel like I hadn’t taken any time off, which has definitely happened to me in the past. This time, however, I completely cut myself off from work—I put up an OOO notice and removed Slack from my phone. I honestly have no idea what happened at Stripe last week, but that’s also exciting. After watching each teammate take their week off over the past few months, this was my time. I didn’t start running like I had planned or cooked as much as I thought I would, but I feel great, and that’s all I really wanted.