Miércoles 28 de Junio de 2006, Ip nº 159

Time off is a gift; it would be rude not use it
Por Sue Dahling Sullivan

You snooze, you lose. Vacation days that is.

It is one of life's great mysteries to me why people don't use every last vacation day they earn. Every time I unpack from a vacation, I start thinking I need another one. And so begins the cycle of going away and coming back, only to plan on going away again.

I was shocked when I read an article in the Sunday Globe earlier this month about a series of surveys conducted for the online travel agency Expedia that showed around 30 percent of Americans give up some of their vacation time each year. I vowed long ago, with my left hand atop the employee handbook and my right hand raised over the time sheet, that for better or worse, I would always use the entirety of my accrued days. And I'm proud to say that I have lived through many a performance evaluation while remaining passionately committed to that creed.

I've become somewhat of a modern-day vacation evangelist. I want my colleagues to get away -- far away if they can, but I'm happy if they just take a little time away from the office. One of my most successful converts is a co-worker who had lived, worked, and went to school in the area. One day, a map of the United States appeared on the wall of his cubicle. Soon he was plotting trips well beyond the state border. Most recently he returned from a trip to Morocco.

My obsession with down time started with my first job out of college. Transitioning from the daily freedom of academic life to the more rigid time frame of office life loomed painfully ahead. So, while peers weighed job titles and starting salaries, I scanned the help wanted section for jobs listing ``generous vacation time." And because of that first job, I was able to take a memorable three-week vacation backpacking through Europe with my sister.

Twenty-five years later, I still laugh about the realities of having the time but not the money for that trip. We played endless card games that provided free entertainment in youth hostels in exotic locations -- and wagering bets with cookies instead of coins. Then there was the hotel in Florence where we bargained to stay cheaply in its attic, where the windows were covered with chicken wire. We even decided to forgo paying extra to use the showers -- just so that we'd have money to buy lots (and lots) of jewelry.

I'm tempted to blame my mother for nurturing this vacation lust. There was no happier time than when she would surprise us with a ``sick day" from school -- and away we would motor for a daylong adventure: Santa's Land in Putney, Vt., the US Military Academy at West Point, or sometimes just a lazy day at the beach.Continued...
And of course we road-tripped through the night with millions of other crazed New Englanders on their annual Florida pilgrimage during school vacation. Even as an adult, I still get pangs of anticipation when I drive by the ``Pedro Sez" billboards approaching South of the Border on Interstate 95 in South Carolina.

So why aren't more people taking their vacations?

My sister just gave up a week to take a professional training course. Another friend identifies jet lag with work, so staying in the office seems like a vacation. Still another fears layoffs and has adopted the strategy of sneaking away only a day at a time.

Historians would have you believe Americans tend to measure their worth by work output -- a belief that dates to the Calvinist work ethic. And some would say that our work ethic has become an overwork ethic.

The reality is that most organizations and colleagues can, will, and should survive without you. I tested this theory several years ago when we rented a simple cabin in Maine with no telephone -- even the cellphone didn't work. I planned to call in for messages midway to deal with the usual crises, but the only message I got was from workmates happily wishing me a fun vacation. That week I realized with mixed emotions that life at the office could continue without me .

Even so, as someone who has workaholic tendencies (hard to believe?), it is still difficult to cross over to vacationland. The idea of preparing to leave for several days of R&R is enough to make the bags under my eyes sag. But once I change the messages on my voicemail and e-mail, I feel like I am officially on vacation and my excitement miraculously increases.

Sometimes a vacation takes me no further than my own home, where the project list is overly ambitious yet somehow comforting. And sometimes it means my husband and I will jump in the car without a reservation to our name, poring over maps that lead us to new and undiscovered places.

The best part of any vacation is simply that I am not at work. It has become a welcome reminder that ultimately I work to live, not live to work. So my advice is to just take the time -- you've earned it. And send a postcard.


  18/06/2006. Boston.com.


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