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Jack Bentz, S.J.July 18, 2018
Photo by Deanna Ritchie on Unsplash

More than half of the Americans who are lucky enough to have jobs that give paid vacation days do not use all their days. These workers accumulated over 700 million unused days, according to the State of the American Vacation 2018 project. More than half of us would rather just keep working, leaving money and our mental health on the table, than get the family in the car and head out over the horizon. Perhaps this leaves more time to humblebrag about how much work we have to do. But this is not the pro-family or pro-life way to be.

The top reason given for not taking those days is the fear of looking replaceable. Sixty-one percent of workers are afraid that if they left work for two weeks, their employer would either phase out their job or replace them with someone who would not take the contracted paid vacation days. Now maybe their workplace cultures are cutthroat, and that would be a problem. But the same study shows that employees who do use all their vacation time are not only happier but more successful and valued at their jobs.

Which group are you in? Why do you stay or why do you go? Are you reading this while at work or while dozing in a hammock in the Maine woods?

How many studies and pushes do you need to finally step away from work and into your life?

Vacation is a pro-life issue. A pro-your-life issue. If you are working through these days, it is no good blaming your boss. She hired you for a job with paid time off. Your boss is not holding you back. You are. How many studies and pushes do you need to finally step away from work and into your life? Your family and friends are waiting for you to finally do it.

We Americans do a lot of things well, but going on vacation is not one of them. In part, we lack the tradition in our culture, and we often place greater value on our work and getting ahead than on some of the less obviously profitable time spent with family or friends by a lake or in the mountains.

Don’t get me wrong: There are parts of the vacation stuff even we workaholics can get behind. The planning, the buying of gear, the getting there, the setting up camp on a hillside or in a five-star hotel—all play to our strengths. But then there comes a moment when everything that could be done, everything that kept the steady hits of achievement dopamine coming, is checked off the list, and we have to actually begin the hard work of the vacation: shutting down the doing and remembering how to just be.

Jesus would have definitely taken his paid days of vacation, all of them.

Turns out you might not be as pro-your-life as you thought. You are certainly less pro-your-life than God meant you to be.

Sigmund Freud famously observed that “love and work are the cornerstones of our humanness,” and getting that balance right should be a central preoccupation for all of us. If this is true for people in general, it should be especially resonant for Christians. By becoming human through the gift of the Incarnation, Christ forever changed our humanity. Living in a way that is fully human is our project as Christians, as people who follow a God who loved us enough to become one of us and redeem all aspects of us. Jesus would have definitely taken his paid days of vacation, all of them—this for his own healthy human living but also to model for us how to be human.

Even if you have just begun a job, you most likely will at the end of one year get about 11 days paid vacation. No, you will not be getting it the second week of work, but you will be given paid time off eventually. And this is given to you not because it is required by the government but because your employer wants you sane and happy. And generally speaking, the more years you are with the company the more paid time off they will give you. Unemployment is at a historical low; your employer wants to keep you. Go ahead and take the time off, and learn how to spend these days. Try new things, create traditions, make memories and learn to travel.

You don’t have to go far. The United States is a big country, and 86 percent of Americans feel they have not seen enough of it. Are you in that group? Maybe your next vacation, the one when you take all your paid days off, you will travel somewhere new in our big country.

You might even make your vacation a trip to the Other America we all hear so much about. If you are red, go blue; if blue, go red. Progressives head out to the gorgeous Alabama beaches, and conservatives enjoy beautiful Seattle. Rub sunburned elbows with someone who thinks differently than you do. Come home rested; come home changed; come home with plans for your next vacation.

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Drew Hodge
5 years 11 months ago

Well, I enjoyed the article--and I wholeheartedly agree with its advice. I've never understood why anyone would not use their entire vacation entitlement every year, end perhaps even go into debt.

Christopher Lochner
5 years 11 months ago

As the old concept goes...no one lying on their death bed ever wished they'd spent more time at work.

Tim Donovan
5 years 11 months ago

I'm retired after more than twenty-five years working in various capacities with disabled people (including six years as a Special Education teacher). Of course, as a public school teacher I had considerable time off, and was glad for the breaks. Although I worked most years for most of the summer, I still had off many days during the summer. When I worked at several year-round positions, I was glad to take my full vacation. However, although I agree vacation can be good for one's mental and physical health, I think it's an exaggeration to describe vacation as a "pro-life" issue. While there are legitimate disagreements about what it means to be pro-life (opposing capital punishment, supporting stringent gun control laws --both positions which I hold) I feel that working to end the violence of legal abortion is the paramount pro-life issue.

Mary Therese LEMANEK
5 years 11 months ago

Maybe I am splitting hairs but this seems less of a pro-life issue and more of a small piece of the economic social justice platform. Considering the many people who do not accrue vacation days or receive any benefits for low wage jobs, it is not something that is of significant concern. Every aspect of life is a "life" issue but it is enough of a challenge to move people from their single minded focus on abortion as the only legitimate pro-life topic without spending ink and energy on something like this.

Henry George
5 years 11 months ago

I never had a job that gave me 11 days vacation until I had worked there for two years.

The Homeless never get a vacation.
Those who do not make enough money to live on -
never get to buy gear, pack up the car and go see America.

I am afraid this column is another proof that many Jesuits have no idea how the
poor/low income live in America and in the world.

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