Take the Damn Vacation Days

As of last week, I had 205 hours of paid vacation, personal, and sick time at my disposal for the rest of 2018.

That's 25 days collecting dust in my virtual HR bank.

It happens every year. I realize how many days I have stockpiled, and I panic.

Those hours will not roll over to next year or be paid out, which means I'm losing those days. I wouldn't dump a portion of my salary out a car window. So why am I throwing away days that are given to me as part of my employee benefits package?

Do I feel guilty a co-worker has to pick up the slack while I'm away? Yes.

Should I skip the travel this year so I can save for my daughter's college tuition? Yes.

Does changing my routine give me anxiety? Yes.

But the big reason why I don't like taking time off? I hate returning to a mountain of work.

My manager supports work-life balance and encourages the team to use their hours. But growing up Filipino, I was introduced to a work ethic steeped in the need to produce quality results. A lot of results. We Filipinos need to work, want to work, and find fulfillment in our work. It's who we are.

But honestly, I think this is a mindset a lot of Americans can identify with.

My mantra used to be, "Work hard."

But these days, it's "Work hard (but don't forget to relax)."

As I write this, I am burning 24 hours of my vacation time. I can't check email because I turned off my work phone and tucked my computer away. I deleted my social media apps, so no notifications can interrupt the calm I've come to crave but cannot enjoy when I'm working.
Seems fitting since the word "vacation" comes from the Latin word "vacare," meaning to be empty and free. 
How did I go from refusing to take time off, to a love-hate relationship with vacation days, to completely disconnecting from work?

I plan. (And yes, I recognize the irony in that answer.)

When I realized it was already Q3, I pulled the calendar out and began to mark which days I actually wanted to take off. Then I let my manager know the dates. No excuses. I have to take those days off now; they're circled in permanent marker.

Then I hustled. I worked like crazy to hit deadlines. Then I worked some more get ahead of the game so not much waits for me when I return.

It's all worth it. Vacation is a chance to reevaluate who I am and the direction I am headed. It is not a luxury but a necessity for a well-balanced life.

So how am I spending my 24 hours I have off? I didn't travel. But I did knock two items off my personal to-do list. I'm reading. I'm writing. I'm trying new restaurants. And I'm spending time with family.

Vacation is an excellent time to reflect and see the world through an unfiltered lens. There are no editorial calendars, lacrosse practices, or doctor's appointments cluttering my mind. Taking time off helps me regain perspective. And it recharges my senses as I return to my daily routine.

Why not do yourself a big favor? Make yourself a priority and take a breather. You'll be happy you did.

photo credit: Jody Claborn