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I had missed why I need to vacation

With the end of the year coming, there are a variety of staples that seem to exist year after year in the manufacturing world. We typically just wrapped up our annual outages and have scheduled our invasive post-outage review to make the next one better. We have our performance reviews due in a few weeks, requiring a thorough reflection to recognize the team’s accomplishments and areas of improvement. Also on our list of to-do’s is to start drafting our goals for next year that build upon our current year’s results. Regardless of which business we are in, many milestones indicate the cyclical nature of a production year. Panic also sets in this time of year when I realize how much vacation I have left and will give back.

I know I am not alone in this complete dysfunction of an assignment that appears to be pretty simple to accomplish on paper. I have heard many people over the years remind me that there are even instructional guides on how to implement vacation days, but still, I fail. I admit that I suck at using my vacation. Being in a position where vacation is part of my benefits, for more than 20 years I have only used all of my vacations in a calendar year one time. Yes, once. As Charles Barkley said, “I am not your role model.”

Inability to vacation

Over the years, my teams have routinely recognized this inability to vacation. To assist, they ask if they could relieve me of my responsibilities so I can personally reset. Grateful for their support, I usually just change the subject. This isn’t an avoidance of delegation, because I believe my history shows that I have built trust and demonstrated confidence in my team to complete delegated responsibilities. I don’t believe I am a micromanager that gets me into the weeds of daily tactical problems to be solved requiring me to avoid vacations. Instead, my teams have routinely demonstrated the ability to make critical decisions without my involvement. I admit, I just think I don’t need a vacation. But why do I avoid them?

From a personal health perspective, I have been curious about this for years compounding the friendly reminders. I have read plenty of articles and white papers that say vacation is needed to improve things such as health, sleep cycles, and energy. However, I have stood firm in the position that I have evidence that scholarly perspectives don’t apply to me. I am as healthy as I have ever been and remain committed to validating this with routine checkups with my doctors. My sleep has dramatically improved over the last few years as I have aligned myself with better eating habits, nightly routines, and commitments to myself to wake up early regardless of the day of the week. From an energy perspective, I am not a superhero and I require a refuel after a stressful bombardment of events at work. But I tend to refuel in a day or two versus a week. So if it isn’t for personal health, why should I take a vacation?

The bottom line is, taking time away from the stresses of work and daily life can improve our health, motivation, relationships, job performance, and perspective and give us the break we need to return to our lives and jobs refreshed and better able to handle whatever arises in our daily work life. Jeffrey Borenstein, M.D., Brain & Behavior Research Foundation.

Challenging the norm

There was one year when I used every vacation day given to me. It was 2018, and I was enrolled in AltMBA from Seth Godin’s AKIMBO team. During this 2-month workshop in the spring, the course did a magical job for me to explore publicly my engrained habits and surface those that are falling short of desired expectations.

During one of our exploratory activities, classmates within my cohort got into the subject of personal health correlating with vacation time. We all admitted that we were not the greatest at using vacation days, but they were amazed about my inability. Stressing on the word “inability” with overwhelming evidence that they uncovered from my confessions, we explored my list of excuses. I admitted that I truly enjoy working, maybe borderline addicted. I truly enjoy problem-solving, collaborating with colleagues, and going to bed knowing stoked to do better tomorrow than today. I even tried to provide the excuse that I was intimidated to come back to work overwhelmed with a list of actions, but that excuse withered away as they pointed out that I had no evidence to validate the claim.

As I continued to try and pivot the conversation to another subject, my classmates kept coming back to my “vacationing inability” within every assignment of the course. I began to recognize that this vulnerability was the intent of the class and I was being challenged to personally explore what prevents you from being a better person for yourself and those around you.

I remained stubborn in my excuses until a classmate asked how do you choose to spend time with my family. I immediately broke. It was at this moment that I realized that my inactions of taking a vacation were specifically only benefiting me. What I failed to see was that my support team at home needed a vacation. A break was needed by the team that picks up the assignments around the house when work calls with an unexpected breakdown. A break was needed by the family that understands why their dad didn’t go to a recital that was originally committed to or wasn’t there on multiple Christmas mornings. I had forgotten that vacation was earned by the team at home.

Challenge accepted

The team at my home wanted me to be present with them versus being distracted by another ding on the phone that steals my attention. My cohort at AltMBA revealed something that I had never recognized. I had not recognized that my team at home wanted a vacation with me versus me needing to take a vacation for myself.

To counter this, my cohort realized I needed an intervention. I needed an immediate jolt to my nervous system if I was to be successful. They sensed that if they didn’t do something in this moment of clarity it would be lost. My cohort demanded I schedule half of my vacation by the end of the summer. Borderline harassment from an outsider’s eyes, they followed up with text messages, emails, and chat boards ensuring that I followed through with my commitment. They recognized that any procrastination in scheduling vacations would be a sign of a relapse. I followed through with my commitment for the balance of the summer leaving me with a little over a week's vacation left between Labor Day and the end of the year.

Since this sobering moment, I will give myself about a C+ on my annual performance. I remain somewhat dysfunctional at using my vacation, but I believe I have dramatically improved at disconnecting from work to connect to my family and friends more often. I have built more routines into my life at home to invest time and attention. I have requested the empowerment of my team at home to encourage me to take vacation days. I am not perfect at it, but I remain committed to disconnecting from work more in exchange for connecting with my family.

Since my cohort identified my disorder, I remain committed to researching the subject of work/life balance and respecting what is required by those around me to disconnect. I remain in the position that I don’t need a week-long break but remain committed that others may. I don’t need to go on a trip to the Caribbean to reset my focus nor do I need a vacation to read two books to remove myself from the day-to-day distractions of the heavy manufacturing industry. However I do recognize for me to be successful, my support team at home requires a vacation to continue their underwrite of my commitment to my work team.

They don’t need it for themselves, they need it for the family team. In doing so, we can demonstrate a commitment to each other. We can demonstrate that we are aligned on life’s priorities. I must demonstrate to the family team that they know when they call, I will always head home faster than when work calls. To establish this rapport, I need to take a vacation for us.


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