A news story released on CBS This Morning of an interview Dr. Ian Smith, author of the book “Happy: Simple Steps for Getting The Most Out of Life” over a survey linking wellness and happiness as a result of vacation. Dr. Smith points out that Americans get the least vacation time, about 14 days on average compared to France and the UK which get about 30 days. Yet still, despite our constant lament for more time off, less than 57% of Americans take their vacation time, failing to use the little time we are already given. Having lived and traveled in different parts of the world, especially in Caribbean countries and Europe, I can attest to our biggest downfall being our mindset – our need to live to work, as opposed to work to live.
One of the things that I love about European cultures, such as Italy and France for example, is that the interest in “what you do” relates more to your passions outside of the office – do you paint or play music or write poetry? I remember moving back to the States after a short stint in Italy and being shocked with Americans’ eagerness to know what it is I did for a living – some even wondering if what I did paid well.
Even now, as a blogger living my passion, people on both sides – agency and within the blogging community – want to know: do I make money blogging? And HOW do I make money blogging? And is it enough?
Enough. Enough being measured in the value of dollars, as opposed to my quality of life and overall happiness.
When I left my job working in public relations 6 years ago, I made $65,000 a year. Not bad for someone who wasn’t in any type of managerial or director position – those people make well over $100,000 a year today, at least in the field I worked in. But I had no “life”. I literally went to work, came home, ate, slept, worked some more. I was often too tired to “play” and vacation time was limited, though I had a tendency to use the combined sick and paid time off as vacation which often forced me to come to work with fevers if needed. I did so because traveling was THAT important to me.
In this life, as a blogger, I make enough money to help support some trips for my family and myself. The money I make supplements the lifestyle. I am not focused on my career per say, as much as I am focused on the experiences we have as a family. It requires a lot of sacrifices and doing without a lot of things most people would consider symbols of success and financial strength.
As we have gotten older my husband and I have learned a very important lesson – even after working so many years to build a professional career for ourselves, even after having invested so much money in graduate degrees and other programs that would further enhance our education – personal happiness is really all that matters, and it turns out, personal happiness is most often found away from the cubicle. And though having the funds to stay afloat and not feel as if you are struggling for your next meal definitely has an impact on your happiness, a lot of times our ideas of what we need don’t correlate with the realities of what will make us happy.
Dr. Smith mentions as well that most Americans work hard because they are so focused on their personal image and how others will view them. We are programmed, as a culture, to be valued based on our efforts and hard work. I won’t deny that these things are important to me as well. I want to be regarded as someone who works hard for what she earns, but I will admit that as I get older I am caring less and less how I am “regarded” and more and more to how I “feel” and what I do with my time with my family, with my husband, with my life. When I die, my hope is that my children will remember the laughs we had together and the adventures we took on. I want my legacy to be that of a person who lived her life to the fullest and inspired in others the courage to do the same.
Take that vacation time. The work will still be there when you get back. Don’t live to work – because when you are gone, someone else will still be doing the work in your place. The only thing that is truly worth anything, the only thing that can never be replaced is the life you lead. The memories you built with your children, your partner, your friends. The thing that makes people remember you most, with smile on their faces, is how you made them laugh, how you made them feel. Work to live the joy of life, to experience it yourself and to share it with others.
Live your passion, work on your dreams. Do what you must to pay the bills, feed the family, but remember you are given but so much time to make the most of this gift, this journey – how will you spend it?
Be kind. Be generous. Be fair. Be honest. Be considerate. Be happy.
Doctors may not be able to prescribe vacation days, as the CBS story discusses, but we should empower ourselves to taking them. We should empower ourselves to live the dream, if only for 3-4 weeks a year.
Go. Have an adventure. You deserve it.