Sunday, September 14, 2014

The Vacation Conundrum

We are a country that loves what we do.

Well, that's almost accurate. We love to define ourselves by what we do. It's the first question at a party, the first thing we mention as an introduction at lunches and meetings and Bible studies, the first thing mentioned when you're brought home to Meet The Parents. Before long, these descriptions take on a life of their own -- they become an explanation of your life, of how you spend your time, and most of the time they get dressed up. We do what we can to make our jobs sounds more interesting and important, despite the fact that they are, for the most part, pretty interesting and/or important all by themselves. Since it's a definition of you, though, it needs a little bit more emphasis, and we find ways to do just that.

It is no surprise that this focus means we also spend a lot of time doing those jobs. In the US, it's not just a matter of a paycheck; the more time you invest, the more on-paper benefits you accrue. We have no federally mandated time off -- no required holidays or vacation time -- and one of these on-paper benefits is vacation time. "After three years, we'll add a week!" These days become precious, hard-earned and somehow, harder to part with. It becomes a matter of pride if you don't use the vacation you're granted. You're stronger than that! You don't need the time off! Vacations are for the weak and frivolous!

... WHY?!

If you live in the US -- or any other developed country -- and you have the kind of job where vacation days are given, you are part of a minority with a fantastic gift. You get to take a break from your job without worrying about it disappearing while you're gone or not being able to feed your family. You get paid to leave.

I know. I know getting away isn't easy. (Trust me. I know.) I know some jobs just plain won't let you leave without a fight, even while dangling that carrot of accrued vacation in front of you. I know there's often enough prep involved that by the time you actually clock out, you're wondering if it's worth it.

But by not leaving occasionally, even if just for a personal three-day weekend, you're more likely to hit that wall -- the one where you stop caring about what you're doing, where there's no improvement, where treading water is as good as it's gonna get.

Our workaholic attitude has made us very good at driving ourselves directly into burnout. Suddenly, that complacency is all we can manage, that tiredness is the new status quo ... or if we're really lucky, we have an explosion of nerves and irritation that takes no prisoners.

And at that point, you may as well leave because you're of no use to anyone, much less this job you've devoted so much of yourself to.

It won't be easy, trying to sidle out the side door before someone appears with just one more task, one more question, one more request. It's not easy to admit that, at least on a temporary basis, the world can probably go on without you.

Don't worry. They'll miss you. You may just need to step away for a bit for that to become clear.

You can time it well enough to not interfere. [I don't vacation in the summer, ever.] And it doesn't have to be drastic. We even have a word for it: the staycation. If you know staying home won't work (especially if, like me, you actually do live at work), go further. Do your research. Whatever you can afford, whatever you can make time for, just go.

And while you're gone? Try -- try -- to put away the smart phone, even if just for one day. Give yourself a chance to be disconnected. It may just be the hardest request yet (I'm blogging on vacation, for crying out loud) but it's definitely worth a day of silence if you can manage it.

It's time, people. It's time for us to put away the excuses and embrace this lovely gift we get.

Just go.

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