Today is my first day back at work after four weeks on furlough, and I was chatting to my partner (who has not been furloughed) about my time off and if I have any regrets. I wasn’t sure I should have any regrets, but it made me wonder; if he’d had a month off work, would he have done it better than me?
Admittedly, when I got the call from my line manager to say I was going on furlough, my first thought was, “I’m gonna get so much stuff done!” My first thought when he called to say my furlough was ending; “I did not get as much done as I wanted to.” I didn’t paint the kitchen. I didn’t clean my car. I didn’t do anything creative whatsoever, like work on illustrations or concept designs as I had planned.
I’m sure many of you have felt this way at some point or another, whether it’s furlough related or not. You might have taken a week off work to undertake a home DIY project, only to spend half of it procrastinating. Or you may have intended to spend that bank holiday weekend catching up on a tonne of reading, only to binge watch Netflix. Whatever it is, we’re all guilty of it. But what I’m wondering is, why do we feel guilty?
I suppose the obvious answer to that is; time is precious, and we spend so much of it at work it only makes sense to make the most of the little time we do get off. So when an opportunity like furlough is presented to us, we should really do everything we can to spend that time wisely. And that was totally my intention when my furlough began. I even spent the first few days of it in the garden, digging up weeds - which led to a huge archaeological dig of years of buried trash left by the previous owners (seriously, look at what I found). I felt pretty proud of myself afterwards - accomplished, productive, totally not wasting my furlough at all.
But then it all went downhill from there… I definitely lost my motivation. The problem was, I had so many distractions. Call of Duty, for example. And don’t get me started on Netflix… I had already started watching Friends from the beginning when lock-down began, because it was easy enough to have on in the background while I worked. But when I finished all ten seasons, (Urgh, I am so ashamed, but that’s a different story) I had this huge hole in my life that needed filling, and Tiger King was just beckoning me.
I ended up watching a bunch of other series as well, and playing a ridiculous amount of Animal Crossing. I stopped leaving the house even for my daily walk, except to buy chocolate (don’t judge me). And because my partner had moved back home to care for his parents, I was left alone, with nobody to remind me how much time I was wasting.
But last night, as I was enjoying my last day of relative freedom, feeling guilty about my time on furlough, I realised something: I don’t regret a thing. Why? Quite simply, if I had truly wanted to do all those things I said I would, I would have done them. Clearly they weren't a big priority, and taking time out for myself to relax was. And just because my partner would have been more productive given the chance, doesn’t mean I should feel bad. We are different people, with different priorities.
And the same goes for you - if you want to write that novel, you’ll write that damn novel. If you want to start a company, or learn a language, or paint your kitchen, you’ll do all of those things when you’re ready. You will make the time when it’s important. Just because you are given the time to do something, doesn’t mean you have to use it. If you have time off work, do what you feel like doing, because that’s what’s right for you. Don’t compare yourself to other people. Own your choices.
Sure, I am probably never going to get a month off work (fully paid) ever again. But that also means I’m never going to get the chance to spend an entire month completely stress-free, relaxing, playing video games and watching TV - which by the way, has done wonders for my mental health. It turns out, I’m just not that productive without some kind of time pressure or consequences hanging over me. And I’m ok with that.