More Vacation time is not the answer

i_hate_my_job_mikecolvin82_flickrIn a recent article for SFGate, John de Graaf concludes that American’s need more vacation time. He calls for an increase (presumably a federal mandate) in paid vacation time, from two weeks a year to three weeks a year.

As those of you who’ve read the Vagabonding book know, another travel writer, Joe Robinson, of the now defunct, once started the very same campaign.

While I support Robinson’s, and now de Graaf’s proprosal, I don’t think it’s really going to help the underlying problem de Graaf is hinting at — that we spend too much of our lives trapped in soul-sucking drudgery and it is quite literally killing us (see de Graaf’s piece for some alarming statistics).

The idea of an extra week off every year sounds good when you phrase it that way.

But turn it around and ask if one extra week is going make the other forty-nine 70-hour weeks any better and suddenly it doesn’t sound so good anymore.

If your job is giving you, as de Graaf puts it, “Irritable Growl Syndrome,” the problem isn’t the lack of vacation time, the problem is the job.

What we need is not more time off, but the perspective-altering experiences that travel can provide, and somehow an extra week a year seems unlikely to get us there.

That’s why you rarely see the word vacation on this site. What Rolf and the rest of the Vagablogging writers are advocating is not just physical travel to some other place, but the mental leaps beyond your everyday experience to some other you.

Travel is a verb. It involves active doing on your part, an engagement with your life and the world around you. It might ask quite a bit of you at times, but it will give more in return.

A vacation is a noun. It is a thing you take, a thing you buy, not unlike televisions, computers, cars and other consumer goods. A vacation asks nothing of you. No matter if it’s two weeks or three, your life is most likely going to be the same when you return.

And if you’re an overworked American of the sort de Graaf is addressing, that extra week isn’t going to help what ails you.

One of the most inspiring travel mentors I have, doesn’t actually travel at all. I once asked him if he’d ever taken a vacation and he said, why would I leave here, why would I want a vacation? I love my life just as it is everyday; if I felt like I needed to escape my life I would change it until I was happy again, not run off to sit on a beach for two weeks and ignore the real problems.

For me it’s hard to really get behind de Graff or Robinson’s plans because the problem isn’t really how much time we have off, the problem is the lives we’ve trapped ourselves in. And that’s a far more complex issue than a simple increase in paid vacation time can possibly address.

It might be cliche, but try facing the old question — if you had terminal cancer and were given two weeks to live, would you go to work tomorrow?

If you said no, then why are you going to work tomorrow? The only difference between tomorrow and the one in question is the terminal cancer bit. If you could walk out on your job using terminal cancer as an excuse then why can’t you walk out without it?

The only thing stopping us from re-arranging our lives is us, and all the fear that we’ve created in our heads.

Should you quit your job? That’s ultimately a question you’ll have to answer for yourself, but it’s been my experience that if you think you need more vacation time, chance are what you really need is the sort of perspective-changing experience you won’t find in three weeks at the beach.

Posted by | Comments (2)  | August 20, 2008
Category: General

2 Responses to “More Vacation time is not the answer”

  1. Cara Says:

    This was one of those posts that had me nodding my head in strong agreement for almost the entire post – although I think it may not be realistic to say “If I had 2 weeks to live I’d still go to work tomorrow, therefor I know the job I have is the right one….” most jobs, being realistic, will not fulfill you. They make it possible for you to pay the bills and have some financial security and meet the responsibilities that come with being an adult, and quite often, being a parent. I perform with a local dance troupe, but we all have day jobs as well, because there just isn’t enough money in dance for us to pay the bills. If I could make a living with dance, I’d do it in a heartbeat, but my job at a library is a steady paycheck and isn’t so awful that I dread going to work. I’d be willing to bet there are a lot of people out there in similar situations. The truly sad thing is the people out there who hate their jobs, who don’t make a decent living, and who need different, better, or more skills to compete in the job market for a decent job and don’t know how to get those skills

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