Earlier this month, as I downed my second Manhattan on a rainy afternoon in New Orleans, it struck me.
This year, I’ve done something that I’ve never been able to do in my post-college, professional life. I’ve taken off every major holiday. Easter. Memorial Day. The Fourth of July. Labor Day. For all of them, my laptop was closed and I was downing an adult beverage of choice without a care in the world. And the fact that I was able to do this for the first time ever is pretty profound.
It’s only in the last six months that I’ve made an honest go at working as a writer. Most of my eleven years in the working world was spent in retail. I worked in a flagship store for a major retailer. That store was only closed one day out of the entire year-Christmas Day. And if it could open on that sacred day, I’m sure it would because there’s always money to be made. When your job is open for business 364 days a year, that means people have to go to work 364 days a year. Instead of taking off every major holiday like the corporate folks, you have to negotiate with your co-workers to figure out which holidays you can take off. And often, when you do get a holiday, it’s literally just the actual day of the holiday. It isn’t attached to a lovely three-day weekend. It’s often sandwiched between two hellish days of work. People think the demands of finance and law are tough to deal with. But they’ve got nothing on the vacuum that is big box retail.
"This year, I’ve done something that I’ve never been able to do in my post-college, professional life. I’ve taken off every major holiday."
As a late-stage millennial, I’ve grown up under the influence of parents who preached the value of working the same job for decades until they could collect their retirement checks. But no matter how hard they worked, they always relished their time off from work. As a kid, my parents were always off work on the holidays. There were limits between their careers and their personal lives. Though many would argue that we are the ones who enjoy a little too much idle time, that’s not the case at all. It’s my generation that’s created the image of the obsessive careerist that works at all hours of the day.
Refinery29 published this piece earlier this week. It details how millennials are suffering from work burnout more frequently. My generation is a whole new breed of worker-the “work martyr”. A “work martyr” is a person who’s afraid to unplug from work; whose anxiety about their workload is actually worse when they’re not there. Most of these people are pushing themselves to the limit in the hopes of being recognized by their bosses. But what happens when your boss is you?
When you run your own business, you never turn off. After my Labor Day weekend trip to New Orleans, I was looking forward to a brief, four-day work week. But I had five days’ worth of work. I ended up working on 11 assignments for clients over the weekend. Where I’d usually take Saturday and Sunday to rejuvenate, I spent it playing catchup. By the time I got to Wednesday of this week, I wanted to shoot myself. I literally couldn’t type another word. I shut my laptop, turned my phone over, and ate a mini pack of Oreos while I binge watched The Aliens on Hulu. My brain shut down. It was the exact opposite of what’s supposed to happen after a vacation.
"I shut my laptop, turned my phone over, and ate a mini pack of Oreos while I binge watched The Aliens on Hulu. My brain shut down."
I felt all this pressure to make up for the day of work that I took off. Instead of feeling happy about having a shorter workweek. I even felt slightly guilty about taking Wednesday afternoon off. As the sole member of Uptown Bourgeois, LLC, an afternoon off for me means an afternoon off for the entire company. If I was burning out, did that mean I couldn’t hack it as an entrepreneur? Was I being a pussy? Was I motivated enough to really make this happen? Why the hell was I forcing myself through a guilt trip for wanting a few hours of relaxation?
It’s because Americans don’t take vacations. And to some degree, I was one of them.
According to an article from NPR, more than half of Americans who work 50-hour workweeks skip their vacation time completely or only take a small chunk of it. 30% of Americans keep working while they’re on vacation. Before this year, I fell into the latter category. When I was on vacation from retail, I was on the job for my creative pursuits complete with daily schedules and productivity goals.
We live in a society that values achievements, promotions, and cash bonuses. But collectively we don’t value our time off. We feel guilty for taking it. If we ask for a day off or, God forbid, take a full week of vacation, it’ll mean we aren’t dedicated. We’re not passionate about the work we do. But that couldn’t be further from the truth.
"More than half of Americans who work 50-hour workweeks skip their vacation time completely or only take a small chunk of it. 30% of Americans keep working while they’re on vacation."
Vacations improve mental health and reduce our stress levels, among other benefits. If you ask me, strong mental health and less stress sound like a surefire formula for success. Pushing through and “dealing with it” aren’t productive. You think you’re accomplishing a lot. But when you crash and burn, you lose a lot of time as you recover.
Our vacations shouldn’t be taken for granted. I don’t know about you but I like my mental health. And I want to maintain it so that I can succeed in the long run. The short-term gain of pushing myself to the max isn’t worth the long-term damage. I don’t care if people think I’m lazy for taking an afternoon off to get my mind right. When those same critics are ripping out their hair and ingesting coffee via IV just to survive a Monday, I’ll be coasting through my week with ease.
Which method do you prefer?