For the first time in as long as I can remember, I took a real vacation. Like actually took time off work and didn't worry about what was happening back home. My wife, son, and I traveled to Paris for 10 days and it was amazing.
Let's put this in context. My wife and I married 12 years ago and in that time we have taken one vacation together . . . our honeymoon.
Now before you wonder why she has stayed with me. We have done family vacations with our parents, traveled to other countries while I worked for a non-profit organization, and done work trips to Bermuda and San Diego.
Yet, in reality, this was the first vacation with just us in 12 years.
Our time was memorable for many reasons, but specifically, because we could take our son. He is the joy of my life and being able to share my favorite city with him was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
With all that said, there was something constantly lurking in my mind, my work back home. I genuinely enjoy work, get satisfaction out of my projects, and know I produce excellent results.
When I said I didn't worry about what was happening back home, well that is not entirely true. In fact, I worked every day while we were away when my son was napping or at night when he went to sleep.
How Much Do We Work?
Let's look at some interesting stats:
- "The U.S. is the only country in the Americas without national paid parental leave benefit"
- "In the U.S., 85.8% of men and 66.5% of women work more than 40 hours per week."
- “Americans work 137 more hours per year than Japanese workers, 260 more hours per year than British workers, and 499 more hours per year than French workers.”
Those are incredible numbers and they don't even touch on how many people forego vacation time. "55% of Americans did not use all of their vacation in 2015."
What is going on? Why do we work so much and not take vacation time to enjoy our families, great food, and explore?
I know my answer.
What happens to my clients if I am away? Will they still be my clients if I take even one day off?
I am not so much worried about the actual work. My specialty is digital marketing which means I am good at automating campaigns and monitoring from anywhere with internet connection. The concern is more that we have fallen into a world where meetings "must" happen frequently.
Therein lies my main fear, if I am not available for a meeting, will clients think I don't care?
Let's Dive Deeper Into the Problem
I know I have the signs of a workaholic. Someone recently asked how many hours I work a week, and I responded, "I never go below 60." He then remarked, "that's not fun, but it won't kill you and you're networking to grow your business."
My first thought was, I don't consider growing my business work . . .
If we add that in, I am probably hitting closer to 70+ a week.
Yet, it is not the hours that can become a problem. It is more the satisfaction I get out of work. I have done research on what it means to be a workaholic because I know I work long hours and enjoy it.
Holiday said, workaholics aren't defined by the amount of hours they work but how they feel from work. Think about it, if you are having a terrible day, and the only way you know how to fix it is to work, then you should pause.
Do you use work as your solace from pain? Imagine someone addicted to drugs, they take drugs to make them feel better and keep upping the dose to have the same euphoric experience.
Work can be the same. When you are good at your job it gives you pleasure. Working can become the thing you do to mask other problems in your life.
If I have any down time, I usually start working. Why? Because I like the feeling of completing a project, designing something, writing custom HTML, or solving a complex problem.
I get comfort from my work.
For some of you, that might not seem bad. Yet, let's examine this. An amazing study was conducted by Bronnie Ware. She is a nurse and works with terminal patients. She researched what people regretted about their life. What do you think was one of the main answers?
"I worked too much and never made time for my family"
We all know when we come to the end of our life, work will likely be one of the last things we remember. Our thoughts will turn to our families, friends, experiences, failures, and achievements. Yet, will we really think of work?
Well, What Happened During Those 10 Days?
My vacation was essential to my health, I needed 10 days "off." I put that in quotations because, yes I did work, but for me only working a few hours a day doesn't really seem like work.
I spent time with my wife and son exploring museums, riding "Thomas" (any train is a "Thomas" train to my son), eating amazing food, and the best moment was playing with my son in the Luxembourg Gardens (pictured above).
As I returned, work was waiting for me. I came back and my clients were still there. They were happy to see me and had plenty of projects to do. My fears did not come true and my clients were glad I could take some deserved time away from the grind.
Additionally, my desire to produce great work was re-ignited. Before the trip, I had lost the urge to create anything. I was still working hard, but I was so tired I could rarely come up with creative ideas.
Taking a vacation not only allowed me to spend time with my family, it gave me new motivation to care for my clients.
Recommendations for You
I have hit you with some sobering statistics. Americans work long hours, we don't take our vacation, and you may exhibit signs of a workaholic.
As you read this, did you relate? Do you work because it provides you an unhealthy gratification? Please understand, I firmly believe you should love your job and follow your passions. Alejandro and I have created Your MBA Purpose for you to find your professional purpose.
But the question is, does work provide unhealthy gratification. What that means is do you run to work instead of dealing with personal problems? Do you sacrifice your spiritual, mental, and/or physical health for your work?
If you answered yes, then you will want to take a real evaluation of your life. When I work one-on-one with people I always ask them to sit in peace, think, and write. Specifically, write out goals, what they want to do, where they want to live, and to be brutally honest with themselves.
You could be in such a rush with your life you fail to take a few minutes out of each day to reflect. Take the time to really be truthful with yourself.
Has work become an issue in your life?
If the answer is yes, do not quit your job. Instead start to really think and answer some questions.
- Can you find a more balanced pace to your current job?
- Do you simply need a week off to energize yourself?
- Should you start looking for a new job?
- Is this the time to go back to school or self-educate to learn skills to pivot careers?
- Are you spending enough time with your family and friends?
- Do you wake up excited or miserable?
If you are brave enough, answer the questions with a trusted person. Let them be honest with you and hold you accountable to make necessary changes.
Reflecting on these questions will allow you to grow and become the person you want to be. If in the course of answering the questions, you realize you are a little confused on how to move forward, download our free guide on identifying your professional purpose.
These 11 pages can transform the outlook you have on your life.
Vulnerability is Your Friend
I wrote this article for you and me. My goal was to be vulnerable and show how 10 days on vacation opened my eyes to areas of my life that need improvement. As I was thinking of writing, I realized others are likely in the same situation.
Most of my friends are A-type high-achievers who are already doing amazing things and headed for even greater accomplishments. We don't need to stop striving for greatness and should enjoy our work.
Yet, it is necessary to be honest and realize when we need to search for balance. Doing so will improve our personal and professional lives.