No, Seriously! Vacate, Staycate, Just Take a Break Already!

When was the last time you took a holiday? A real “sabbatical” as it were to relax, unplug, rejuvenate?

A guest around our New Sabbath Project table this week said the last time he took a holiday was 14 years ago – when his 17 year old daughter was three. He could afford it financially. It just never happened since then. It was a tough one to explain. Interestingly, the question about holidays came up as we were talking about stress, sleep – or lack thereof, and the difficulty so many of us have with permitting ourselves to truly relax and recharge – often with a change of scenery. As someone who has always guarded my personal time and space and who had also spent a fair bit of time outside my hometown – I was floored by this piece of news from our guest. I understand how much more difficult “getting away” – even for a day – becomes with full time work and children for instance. I live this experience. However, for me this occasional change of scenery – this need to rest and recharge my batteries is not an option. But perhaps I shouldn’t have been so surprised.

While we know that Canadians for instance receive far fewer paid vacation days than our Scandinavian and (some) of our European counterparts, recent studies show that too many Canadians take those precious vacation days they are allotted. When the surveys asked why Canadians didn’t use all their holiday time, about one-quarter said they couldn’t afford it, and 15 per cent said they didn’t have enough time to plan something. Sadly, others worried their bosses would think poorly of them and yet others said they were just too busy. While he didn’t say so, I suspect my New Sabbath Project guest, a former senior manager in a large corporation, likely fell into that second last and/or last category. I suspect it’s more common than we think.

Even worse, two thirds of Canadians in one survey said they check in with the office by email or voicemail while they are on holiday – lower than some European and East Asian countries but nothing to sneeze at. My husband could relate to that idea. He found a work relationship forever altered for the worse when he didn’t stay connected to his work place while we were on a hiking holiday years ago. To his boss at the time, it was a sign of disloyalty and a lack of commitment.

It is well-documented that regular sabbaticals – recharging our batteries with unscheduled, perhaps unplugged time – preferably with some change of scenery – help relieve stress, stave off burnout, keep us healthier and can strengthen bonds with family, friends and community. Without it, our 24-7 working world with our over-scheduled lives leave us with little to no time to pursue personal interests or hobbies or heaven forbid – an afternoon nap. The problem I think is compounded in a tight job market with more competition – and a work culture that says if you love your work, there’s no need for a break from it. If there is, it’s a sign something’s wrong.

While I realize that a vacation in the traditional sense is a luxury many many people cannot afford, I can’t help but wonder if, by neglecting the need for any kind of conscious sabbatical — we are making ourselves sick – both mentally and physically. .

I remember a former colleague of mine – responsible in part for scheduling holidays for others in our workplace – was particularly resentful of all those vacation requests. In a sense, he seemed to see them as superficial demands from spoiled employees, for time “he” never took. I recall one conversation in which he expressed with bitter pride, that it had been years since he’d taken a holiday. Shocked, but careful not to insult him, I asked him why and encouraged him to do so. He said he was just too busy. I doubted both then and now whether that was true. But, if that was true – then his priorities were and are off-track. Not because we all have the same ideas of what a holiday or vacation or sabbatical looks like – but because I am quite certain we all run out of physical, emotional and creative space without them.

In the meantime we continue to sleep fitfully, pine for sun and surf and for a growing number of Canadians (and others) continue to call in our prescriptions.

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Do it for the Kids

This Friday night we have some newer friends that we first met on New Years Eve. They came to our home as friends of friends. We also had a couple of old friends as well as half of a new family from around the corner. While they grew up in New Brunswick, they only recently moved here from Drumheller, Alberta – where’d they’d lived for about a decade. Only half the family came because the husband stayed home with the two year old. That way his wife could come over with the six year old and enjoy dinner with us. Just as important to us, this arrangement allowed for some company for our six year old. You see he’s been complaining — and rightly so — that there have been few kids coming to our Sabbath dinners lately. While we enjoy bringing adults in to our home — as much as some of them enjoy a night out without having to tend to their young children, well this time it just didn’t seem right. Sometimes in the effort to bring people together and create community we can forget to engage and enrich the lives of our children.

So much in our culture encourages us to leave our children behind. We claim that they are of the utmost important but read through any job description these days. The vast majority include code words that are really saying: Please choose between your family and this job. Consider: “Must be willing to work some evenings and weekends.” or “ you are passionate , committed and willing to give 150% to making a real difference”.

Well I’m not very good at math but if I give 150% to my employer then I must be running a deficit in the rest of my life, be it family , friends or community.

By the way, the punchline to most of those job postings is, “salary commensurate with experience”. Which is code for, “We plan to pay you as little as we can.”

So, when my six year old complained that another Sabbath was passing without us inviting any children we agreed and reached out to these folks who’d recently moved here and who live just around the corner — people who by the way have felt something missing and disconnected so far from their experience in our otherwise family-filled neighbourhood. So again, the Sabbath Project has helped us remember what is important and nudged us toward engaging with friends new and old. Wouldn’t it be nice to see a resume that reads “Reward commensurate with the sacredness of your experience.”

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