Sending an email a National Geographic editor, only to get an out-of-office reply that says “Thanks for your message. I am out of the office with limited internet access and will be checking my email intermittently,” is a full-on disappointment.
I feel cheated, robbed. I want to know more.
Why not “Sorry, currently frolicking with piranhas as Amazonians guide me to my next jungle meal in the bowels of the Amazon”? Or perhaps, “Presently freezing at base camp on the Kilimanjaro, desperately seeking last snows. Reconstituting freeze-dried pudding has never been so exotic.”
I want to know, as I sit here typing away in my fat pants and nursing a lukewarm cup of instant coffee with powdered creamer, that somebody, anybody, is leading a life more glamorous than I am right now. Give me a moment of vicariousness and honesty.
Or make me grateful for my present dullness as I toil away to the grind.
“I’d love to be replying to your email, but my three-year-old has engaged his inner-Jackson Pollock and egged the kitchen. Again. So glad I bought a Costco 18-pack.”
It’s not humble-bragging or bravado, it’s realism. More to know about our peers, something to make us chuckle, think or even get inspired. The “sorry I’ve taken so long to reply” apology response has gotten old. We all do it. When did valuing life over work become a mortal sin?
While the National Geographic editor’s plaintive OOO reply might drive me crazy with wondering about his adventure, part of that extends from my lifestyle. Unlike most folks tied to mortgages or family, I went “nomad” a couple years back, sold everything I own, and am presently visiting my 18th country in 27 months while working remotely.
So, I’ve got the freedom to be inspired by other people’s adventures. I take notes, make lists. I’m temporarily living in Chiang Mai, Thailand, for two months before beginning a remote writer-friendly, authentic Thai experience on the Mekong River, up on the Laotian border.
And as glamorous as my nomadic life seems, I have credit card bills and rent to pay, like you. I work as much abroad as I ever did at home. After work these days, though, I wander through chaotic street-food hawkers to get a Thai massage in the old town, next to a 900-year-old temple.
Occasionally, I get sacred days off. But when coupled with up to 15-hour time zone differences with my North American contacts, I can’t disappear. I usually bang out a short reply saying I’m unable to answer in-depth, inspired by whatever my life entails right then, like my recent “Sorry! No time. Knee-deep in two weeks of wine-and-cheese tastings for a cheese article I’m researching!”
I’ve enjoyed sending brief, real, entertaining replies like that from amazing places in 18 countries over the last two-plus years. Other top hits included spending Christmas on a Greek island, nursing my coffee addiction in Sarajevo or tasting port wine in Portugal. And there were those days I signed out as I whiskey-tasted and got weepy-eyed listening to the song of my peoples – bagpipes on Edinburgh’s Royal Mile and went AWOL for a week-long lobster-shack road trip in Eastern Canada.
I’ve decided to start using really descriptive email signatures, because I’ve earned the right to ignore work for a couple days. That’s the least my selling-everything-I-owned-to-travel-five-years sacrifice should buy me.
We all deserve to ignore work periodically. Our time is worth more than our jobs pay us. Let’s boldly hang our “gone fishing” signs with no apologies. And while it might be great to list some wonderful reason you’re out of office, doing nothing is all the reason you need.
“Hi! After eleventy-billion emails and calls this week, I’m spending quality time with my best friends Bed, Bath, Book and Shiraz. Will rise above the bubbles on Monday. Namaste.”
Or perhaps, “Sorry, out of office and avoiding being crushed underfoot by the elephant I’m washing at a rescue sanctuary in Thailand’s jungles. The Heffalump says hi.”
Let’s end our guilt over time off for self-care, fun, food, adventure or anything else that compels us to abandon our desks.
Can’t think of a good reply? Here’s one for free: “Away for an adventure, or for no reason at all. A smart, dead person once said, ‘taking time off to do nothing puts everything in perspective.’ Like your email. I’ll be back Monday.”
And with that, I’m off in search of that doing-nothing that soon will be my everything. Will write later.