Earlier this month on a whim, I decided to go on vacation. Once I decided to go, my trip began! No planning required. I didn’t need to pack a suitcase or use my GPS. No security lines, airports or yelp. I didn’t need to rearrange my schedule, clean out the fridge or even take the dog to the kennel.  And on top of it all, my vacation was the ultimate in affordability: it was free.

This trip was not your regular getaway. In fact, it might be even better. No jet lag, just clear blue skies of the mind. I was going to take a vacation from worrying.

My trip began on a Friday. Heading into a holiday weekend, there’s not much to be done about most worries, so why not shelve it for a few days? It was worth a try. And who knows, I may never want to return from this getaway.

Conscientious

All my life, I’ve been conscientious.

At my preschool conferences, my mom told me that the teachers would marvel about my desire to do things right. I’m not sure how a preschooler can be conscientious, but I found a way. In first grade, I discovered the joy of selling Girl Scout cookies. The more I sold, the more I wanted to sell until the entire order form was filled.

I was also one of those unusual kids who liked to keep her bedroom clean. The last time I didn’t make my bed was in second grade. By the fourth grade, my hobby was organizing my dresser drawers and vacuuming my bedroom. I’d stand at the doorway and admire how clean and pretty my rust-colored ‘70s carpet in my basement bedroom looked. It felt good and oh-so-right.

During my grade-school summers, I’d ride my bike to the bookmobile and check out the maximum number of books (10) each week. The librarian knew my tastes and always made sure she had a new slew of books for me. God bless her.

My desire to do things right continued into graduate school and then work. I’m not sure I’ve ever missed an assignment or turned one in late. About 10 years ago, I took the quiz in the popular book Strength Finders 2.0 by Tom Rath. On the trait of conscientiousness, I received the highest score possible. No surprise there.

Being conscientious is great. I get lots of stuff done efficiently. I’m organized, dependable and usually on time. But of course, every strength has its dark side. For me, the downside of conscientiousness is worry.

Worrying – The Other Side of the Coin

I’m not a world class worrier and often, I don’t worry much. But at times, I can definitely hold my own. In school, I’d worry about getting my homework done and studying adequately for tests. After college, I could always find something to worry about at work or in my personal life.

No matter how many or few responsibilities I have, I can brood. These days I have some big responsibilities which can lead to well-deserved concerns. But even when I objectively have little to worry about, I can find something. Am I getting enough calcium? If my skin is this saggy now, what’s it going to look like down the road? Will the chemicals in my sunscreen give me cancer? And what about North Korea?

Let It Be

After deciding to go on vacation, I had to remind myself that I had left worry-town.  A concern would pop into my head and I’d tell myself, “Jenny, remember, you are taking a break from worrying.” Oops! I forgot! Okay. I would stop thinking about my worry of the moment and think about something positive.

As my trip went on, I started to get better at remembering that I was on vacation – I didn’t need to remind myself as often. And during my vacation, I started to think about worries in a different way.

Worrying can be good and there is a place for it. From an evolutionary standpoint, worrying served us humans well. It motivated us to gather food, store it, and build shelter. Without this worrying and subsequent planning, we would not have survived.

Today, worrying is still important. It alerts us to something that may need attention. It motivates us to head off future problems or address current ones. It helps us figure out what priority tasks need to be done.

But it has its limits. For the most part, especially if one is conscientious, worrying can be unproductive and painful. Of course it motivates me to get things done, especially things that are difficult or unpleasant. But it doesn’t keep me alive like it did for my ancestors. And most of my worries never materialize anyway.

My vacation ends tomorrow. But I don’t want it to end! Maybe I will see if I can change my ticket to an open-ended return. I don’t want to leave. I like it here.

Maybe you would like to join me? Everyone is invited. And did I mention that it’s free?