Once upon a time (circa 1988,) in a magical land called “Aruba, Jamaica, ooh I wanna take ya’,” the American workforce was offered the unthinkable, “ tropical drinks melting in your hand” and the opportunity to fall in love “to the rhythm of a steel drum band.” And for the last 20 years, “Kokomo Syndrome” has plagued us like Don Quixote’s impossible dream. Eight hours into overtime, we stare at our computer screens and wonder, “Have the Beach Boys been lying to us? Is it even possible to 'get there fast' let alone 'take it slow'?” In truth, the American vacation is disappearing in more ways than one. Not only are we taking less time, we’re getting less leisure in our leisure time. Luckily, both problems have one solution: Work/Life Balance, or more specifically, Work/Play Balance both on the job and off.
The first step is getting out the door.
First things first. If you are reading this on your work computer, stop! Please take the time you would spend reading to take a nice mental break instead. According to the leading statistics, it may be the only break you take all day. A study by Office Team, a national staffing service, recently found that 19% of Americans work through their lunch breaks everyday and a whopping 62% do so at least once a week. It comes as no surprise, then, that the people who won’t even eat without the ambiance of their office aren’t taking the vacation days they have earned either. And another study by travel-giant, Expedia.com, revealed that American’s have forfeited over 415 million vacation days every year since 2003! Moreover, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics found that an estimated 41,550,000 American workers took no vacation time at all in 2004. That’s approximately one-third of the workforce. And before you blame your boss, consider another startling statistic. According to the Expedia survey, 67% of Americans believe that their employer encourages them to use allotted vacation time. The cards are stacked in favor of your Vegas get-away. The only thing standing in your way is you.
Use Work/Life Balance to plan your dream escape.
Please take a moment to locate the calendar nearest you. If you’re in an office, have a PDA, or carry a date book this should take no time at all. Where are you supposed to be 5 months from today? If your calendar is clear, dare yourself to write VACATION in PEN on that and the next five days. If it is not clear and cannot be cleared, find the first blank dates and write it in there. Congratulations, you have just successfully scheduled your vacation, now please turn off your PDA or close your date book immediately. Begin to use your downtime (yes, it does exist. Think showers, commutes, cat-naps, etc.) to constructively fantasize where you would like to go. Buy a guidebook. Read it on the lunch break you force yourself to take. Talk about it at the water-cooler instead of who wore the ugliest tie to that big meeting. Research flight bargains while you watch your evening TV. Allow yourself to dream big. You have earned this, literally, financially, and legally. Give yourself the permission to enjoy what you deserve! Vow to limit how often you check your voicemail and e-mail. Leave someone capable in charge while you’re gone. Most people will help out when promised souvenirs.
The next step is to put the treat back into your retreat.
American philosopher Elbert Hubbard wisely said, “No man needs a vacation so much as the person who has just had one,” and he was absolutely right. According to the Expedia survey, only 52% of vacationers return to work feeling “rested, rejuvenated, or reconnected to their personal life.” If you’ve gotten this far into the article, you have chosen to be part of the two-thirds of Americans who actually take vacation time. Go one step further. Challenge yourself to be part of the one-third who not only takes the vacation, but actually enjoys it. Once again, use the principles of Work/Life Balance to assure the most bliss for your buck.
- Balance your budget. Budgeting is the one work-reminiscent task you are encouraged to do. This will prevent future stress and the need to work extra hours to pay off your partying.
- Balance your energy. Rome wasn’t built in a day and you cannot expect to see it all in one, either. Rushing about non-stop will leave you more tired than a double shift at work. Alternate periods of activity and of rest.
- Balance your time. This is crucial if traveling with others. Sticking to one person’s agenda will only cause hostility. Try to work in something every member of your party wants to do everyday, even if it’s just lounging by the pool. Schedule yourself a little alone time, too. If all else fails, get a massage. No one can pick at you about what to do next while you’re on the table.
- Balance your body. Pace yourself! One major stressor in the post-vacation days is weight-gain. Find creative ways, like walking tours, to burn calories while you’re away from home. Try the local delicacies but don’t feel pressured to visit the all you can eat joint. And, nothing says a ruined vacation like one Mai Tai too many. After all, wouldn’t it be nice to be able to tell the story behind the photos you take?
And if all else fails, find a little get-away in each and every day. We cannot always rush off to Paris sunsets, but candlelit dinners actually are pretty easy to pull off. Take the time, even just a few minutes, to do the things that you enjoy. When you’re resting, turn off your work phone. Put up an Out of Office on your email during your lunch breaks if it would ease your guilty conscience. And, as always and above all, take the time to laugh. Milton Berle put it best when he said, “Laughter is an instant vacation.”
* This article is dedicated with love to real-live touring Beach Boy John “UJ” Cowsill and his niece Marissa, who have reminded me on more than one occasion that I should play as hard as I work.
© 2008 New Perspectives. Permission to copy this article is granted as long as the authors are notified and the following information is included:
Annie Passanisi, the daughter of motivational speaker Kathleen Passanisi, inherited her mother's love for women's issues and the platform. If that does not tell you enough about her, she is also a Chicago-based actor, singer, freelance writer and editor, 1950s pop culture enthusiast, and swing set champion. For more information, please visit www.TheAnniePassanisi.com.