What I did on my summer vacation

This summer, I did something absolutely unheard of: I took a holiday.

Anyone who’s ever met me will attest to the sheer implausibility of this ever occurring. I’ve been accused of being a workaholic on more than one occasion, and I struggle constantly to maintain a healthy work-life balance. But at a certain point, I realized I was burnt out. I was stressful and panicky, I was overworked, and I couldn’t deal with minor problems well anymore.

So I took time off. I took (almost) the entirety of August off. I hadn’t had an actual holiday since 2010, when I went to the Amazon. And that was mostly a holiday because I didn’t have hot showers or power, let alone wifi. And it was Christmas. Maybe it was time to try it again.

Luckily, my clients are fantastic and understanding. I had a holiday. A classic type-A personality, I couldn’t just laze around on the beach all day. Here’s what I got up to.

1. I went to Brazil and read a lot of Wikipedia.

It seemed fitting that I go to Brazil again. (Maybe in four years’ time, that’s where I’ll be for my next holiday!)

I skipped the Amazon this time and went to Recife instead. I was really hoping for all the fantastic food and lively culture that I’d experienced in Brazilian bars in New York and Lisbon. Instead, it rained for days. The city was difficult to navigate by foot, and the beach was infested with sharks. I stayed inside and read a lot of Wikipedia.

Honestly, it was rather lovely.

2. I learned to play tennis.

Fresh air and sunshine, exercise, an excuse to wear adorable outfits–how on earth didn’t I pick up tennis before this?

3. I took up hand-lettering.

I spend 90% of my day staring into a light source, swearing at Photoshop. It makes me incredibly happy to get away from the machine and make something with my hands. Ink has always been my medium of choice, and lettering allows me to combine my love of type and calligraphy with my love of time-consuming, detail-oriented work.

I love whiskey. And sometimes, other people. But mostly whiskey.
This may or may not have served as the invitation for a far more formal event than the skulls would belie.

I’m aiming to start integrating hand-lettering into my work more as I improve. I taught myself a Uncial script for a client and hand-lettered the header on her site, which was probably a cost-ineffective exercise, but since I wasn’t running my timer, I’ll never know. (Note: it wasn’t. But it was a lot of fun to do, and the result looked lovely.)

4. I drank wine at lunch.

I’ve decided this is a habit I should make a part of my daily routine.

5. I built an app.

Everyone I know is looking for work, and I realized there wasn’t really a good way for people to track their job application process that wasn’t an Excel spreadsheet. So I made one. I call it Suitor. (Because you wear a suit to a job, right? Do people still wear suits to jobs? I’ve been working in my pajamas for so long I don’t remember what offices are like anymore.)

Suitor screenshots

It’s like an Excel spreadsheet, except smarter and prettier. So, like an Excel spreadsheet in the same way a Mercedes is like a Kia.

Suitor was intended to be a simple project, a quick one-off project so that I could re-learn Rails, get some UI experience, and build something useful in the interim. It’s turned into a much more complex beast than that. I’ve improved my git workflow, I’ve become passionate about UI, I can now write jQuery without having to constantly consult the API docs, I’ve set up a server, implemented a deployment system, and configured mail records, I’ve integrated Mandrill for transactional email, I’ve tested until I’m blue in the face–this project has taught me a thousand new things. It’s a labour of love, and I’m not sure what (if anything) will come of it, but it’s taught me a lot.

And I’m currently offering up some limited invites to the beta: sign up for an invite here.

6. I learned the world doesn’t fall apart without me.

Sometimes my ego wishes it would, but it doesn’t. Taking time off allowed me to learn new–mostly complementary–skills that I might not have had the time to incorporate otherwise. It allowed me the space to step back from my work. And, most importantly, it allowed me the opportunity to get excited about my work again.

I’m going to do it again next year.