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What Happened to Summer Vacation?

I’m noticing a disturbing trend among my clients. Several I spoke to recently had not taken a single day off the entire summer. Nada.

These are high-level leaders, with plenty of “use it or lose it” vacation time banked. Technically they could take the time off, but they don’t feel like they can. “There’s too much to get done, I can’t take a break,” they tell me.

What they fail to recognize are the costs of NOT taking time off, measured in stress levels and long-term health impacts, family connection and bonding time. But most importantly, they are missing the benefits of free time. That time that allows us to think creative thoughts, innovative ideas and just plain give our brain a rest.

It’s amazing how with a bit of distance and perspective, our problems take on a whole new light. But we need to give the space and time for things to shift and change.

So why aren’t we taking time off? What is preventing them/you/me from unplugging for a week or two (or even 24 hours!) at a time? What’s the culprit?

 1.  Our ego.

Yep, that’s right. Our ego doesn’t want us to take a vacation. Because our ego is invested us feeling needed and loved, being the best, the most competent and frankly, the most indispensable.  And where do we get to feel these things the most? At work. Our ego loves work — where we can check off boxes, clear out emails, file reports, command others to get things done, and feel generally productive. (And let’s be honest here, just between you and me — we don’t always feel so needed and in demand at home with our spouses and children!). This is why I say time management is really about ego management.

 2.  Our Fears.

If we were to actually take a break, we might have to face the discomfort of the void — of not having something to do all the time. I recently did a four-day silent retreat. It was like staring down the barrel of a gun the first 24 hours. What could I possibly do with all that open time? It was scary how lost I was without my iPhone.

3.  Dreaded Images.

This is where we worry what others will think of us if we take time off. What if they think I’m selfish, uncaring or, God forbid, lazy. Oh how we dread appearing like a slacker! One of those people who is irresponsible and not committed!

Let’s say you do manage to take a vacation, do you disconnect from email? Do you stop answering your cell phone?

Do you break out in a sweat even thinking about it now?

A few years back a client told me he was trekking to the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro when his cell phone rang. He answered it without thinking and found himself talking to a vendor on the other line. When the vendor asked where he was, he suddenly realized he’d answered his cell phone in the middle of his life-long dream vacation. Remotely planted on Mt. Kilimanjaro he could not fully disconnect.

How do you create space for recreation, rest, rejuvenation in our hyped-up, digitally-addicted and constantly doing world?

You can still make a plan for next year!

17 thoughts on “What Happened to Summer Vacation?

  1. Laura, you reinforced ideas that have been swirling around in my brain lately… I’ve become much “busier” than I ever intended to be and I’ve been hankering to “take back my life.” Thanks for the time management link, as well as for your sage thoughts in this post.

  2. Totally agree with what you have to say Laura.

    One of the toughest things I have come across as a leader is to get people to take time off even when they see me do it. I think that you have clearly explained the reasons for this.

    I have also found that the best employees are those that take reflective time…to sit back and assess where they are, what is working and not working and what they could do differently. This is pretty hard to do if you are going from one meeting to the next with out even time to catch your breath.

  3. Hi Laura, this is such an insightful piece. The ego, the fears and the dreaded images are familiar allies. Is this where the ego coaching comes in? Any quick tips to help go on vacation or find the reflective spaces?

  4. Laura, this post reminds me of the importance of managing the balance yin and yang. We really cannot perform at our best if we don’t allow ourselves to let go from time to time. In my experience, the periods where I do absolutely nothing (vacations primarily) are so important for my ability to play full out the rest of the year.

  5. Great article, good tips. I’d try and follow them but with the present economy, I really due fear that using my vacation time when others don’t makes me look the most expendable to the higher ups.

  6. Taking time off, especially during the summer when the weather is nice is something I have to do every year. Otherwise I’d have burned out long ago.

  7. I learned the lesson of ego the hard way. I though I was all that and my workplace would belly up if I wasn’t there doing my job every single day. I worked myself to a bad case of walking pneumonia which led to two weeks at home recovering. Low and behold, when I came back to work the place was humming along without me. Even with this lesson learned, I struggle with all the reason that you’ve stated. I’m getting better but still have a way to go.


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