This past summer my boss ordered me to take two weeks of vacation. It’s my custom to request time off in dribs and drabs, leaving a few days on the table so I can take pride in my above-average dedication and alleged indispensability. But this unreasonable supervisor said, “I want you out of here by June 24th, and don’t come back until July 12th.”
I protested: “But with one holiday and two weekends, that’s like two-and-a-half weeks of non-stop vacation.” I’ll be average, I also thought. She said, “Get used to it. That’s the way we do vacations around here. Oh, and we also expect you to take all your days. No one is indispensable.” The nerve of her! Can you believe this kind of invasive, dictatorial, micromanaging takes place on a church staff?
So I started rethinking my approach to vacations. I discovered that Americans get about 12 days of paid vacation per year, but less than half of us take our allotted days off. That all sounded passable until I learned that the United Kingdom hands out about 28 paid holidays per year. Germans (think BMW and Mercedes-Benz excellence) get a whopping 30 days per year, and 71 percent of them happily burn through their days off.
But the economist Juliet Schor made me feel even more abnormal. Exploring how 14th-century English peasants often racked up half a year off, she concluded, “Before capitalism, most people did not work very long hours at all. The tempo of life was slow, even leisurely; the pace of work relaxed. Our ancestors may not have been rich, but they had an abundance of leisure.” Look at me, I thought, I don’t have much money or leisure.
So I took two weeks off, without interruption. I visited friends, taking an unrushed boat ride and eating a Ghanaian feast. I spent another week with my son’s family, riding wooden coasters, having tea parties with my granddaughter, shooting firecrackers with my two youngest sons, and stuffing my face with humongous pastrami sandwiches.
And when I returned to the office, I made a startling discovery: Everyone had survived without me! I felt humbled but completely refreshed, and by mid-July, I had blocked off all my vacation days for the next year. So from here on, when it comes to rest and recreation, I am officially and happily average.
Illustration by Giacomo Bagnara