One of the themes in my upcoming book, A Month of Italy, is that Americans have lost the "art of vacation." According to a recent Harris poll, only 14% of Americans take more than one week of vacation at a time, while the Center for Economic and Policy Research reported that 25% of Americans and 31% of low wage earners take no vacation at all anymore. In a 2006 survey conducted by Expedia.com it was estimated that workers would give back to their employers more than 574 million unused vacation days that year! So less people are taking vacations, while those who do are taking fewer vacations, shorter vacations, and even less vacations then they've earned!
The question begging to be asked is, why?!
In my experience working with thousands of people in business and leadership functions for almost twenty years, and supported by research from sources as diverse as "happiness experts" on one side to government agencies and pollsters on the other, there are several distinct reasons for this bizarre trend. For argument sake, and in an attempt to hopefully get you to challenge and analyze your own prevailing beliefs about vacations, sabbaticals, and leisure time in general, I hereby present my own list of reasons. If you ever get time, that is, if you're not too busy, I mean, if you can catch a break, maybe you can read through these. Or, at the worst, perhaps you can wait and go through them on your next vacation.
For what it's worth . . .
The Top 10 Reasons People Have Lost the "Art of Vacation."
10. Concern for Work Accumulation: The fear of the work that will pile up in their absence.
9. Dread of Competition: The fear that other employees will pass them up if they are gone.
8. Fear of Termination: The worry that they will lose their job or be replaced if they are gone.
7. Pride of Workmanship: The belief that nobody can do their work as well as they can.
6. Avoidance of Hassle: The perception that vacation isn't all it's cracked up to be (it's too much trouble to travel, it's a "fix" that doesn't last anyway, etc.).
5. Fear of Intimacy: A distaste for relating to a mate and/or children outside of their usual structured and frenzied lives.
4. Addicted to Consumerism - in essence, people choosing things and status over time and memories
3. Leisure Guilt: Vacations aren't seen as proper
2. The "Blackberry Effect" - with all the technology of today, people feel as if they can't really "get away" anyway.
1. Financial Inadequacy: Money is too tight.
To varying degrees, each of these reasons may have some validity. But very clearly it is necessary for human beings to do as Stephen Covey teaches in his book, The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People, and that is to "Sharpen the Saw." Legitimate or not, reasons such as those in this list should not hold us back from properly unplugging and recharging (which, electrically speaking, is impossible. But in the figurative world you know what I'm trying to say!) We are not machines. Without proper rest and restoration, we lose our edge. Taken to extremes, we can lose our grip, our health, our relationships, and our ability to perform at anywhere near our peak output.
Now don't get me wrong. I am not trying to become the poster child for self indulgence, dilatoriousness, or laziness. I believe our lives are precious and our gifts are imparted to us for a reason, and neither should be wasted in mere idleness. What I AM saying, however, is that the old jingle, "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy," is still true, and I like to think of the word "dull" there as the antithesis of Stephen Covey's "sharp."
So determine which of the above reasons may be holding you back from properly implementing restorative breaks into your schedule. Make a plan to sharpen your sword on a regular basis. Buy my book when it comes out and learn anew the "Art of Vacation." And stay tuned into this blog where I'll be bringing further information and insights into this neglected topic.