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Vacation, Vacation, Vacation!

I love going on vacation but the stress of preparation often leaves me reconsidering whether or not it’s all worth it. In conversations with friends and colleagues I found others who also suffer from “vacation anxiety” so I did a bit of research to explore the phenomenon further. Because I enjoy my work and my co-workers, I have a comfort and control over my day-to-day work life that is disrupted by going on vacation. One of the purposes of a vacation is to disrupt that life, take us out of our routine, explore new possibilities. For many of us, work is easier than vacation. The mere thought of preparing for a week-long camping trip in Big Sur seems overwhelming when combined with making sure my work is caught up, that co-workers and bosses are informed of where project stand, how to deal with finalizing documents when missing information arrives from the clients, filling in for my daily responsibilities and determining what can wait until my return.

I know I’ll love it when I get there but preparation is exhausting. Unless, that is, I realize the value gained to my job by leaving it all behind once in a while.

Despite our desire to be good at everything, we Americans are quite poor at taking vacations. According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, the average American man works 100 hours a year more than in the 1970s and the average American woman works more 200 hours more per year. The average American worker takes 12 days of vacation per year and yet 65% failed to use their vacation time in 2010. Is it our competitive culture that leads us into believing that vacation and rest are weaknesses? Do we measure ourselves in terms of how many hours we work instead of the amount of time we spend with friends and family and just ourselves exploring hobbies, participating in sports, reading books, engaged in conversation? Is it all about the money?

Perhaps realizing that vacation time is actually good for the brain will persuade some to realize the good of taking time off. When exploring new places and ideas we use our brains differently. Opportunities arise for the light bulb to go off in unexpected ways that may well impact how we think about projects upon our return to the office. I have found that even taking a day here and there to stay home and work on projects that require my attention help me to regain perspective on my life and look at things a bit differently the next day. But the real advantage comes from taking several days off at a time.

Vacations help prevent job burnout. Taking time off helps us to reconnect with the larger world thereby promoting creativity and a higher level of awareness of others and ourselves. Vacations lower stress levels and lower stress levels contribute to overall health and wellbeing. Vacations can improve job performance because happier employees are generally harder working employees.

There are two reasons I particularly benefit from vacation time. One is that spending time with my family and friends strengthens the bonds we share. Those bonds are crucial to my life and will be with me much longer than my job will. Related to that is the second benefit of creating memories. In the midst of an intense and demanding project I can take a few moments and reflect on a week spent in the redwoods at Big Sur, full of family and friends, laughter, conversation, hiking, and shared experiences and meals and know that my hard work will earn me more of the same.

I am taking a break from packing to write this article. By the time you read it I will have returned. If I pass by and you catch a faint whiff of redwood and campfire, perhaps it will inspire you to begin planning your next vacation.

Ellen Sheffer