It strikes me as ironic that in this heavy and incredibly hard year of COVID, people have, on average, taken fewer vacation days than in the past. According to this article, workers left “almost all of their vacation days on the table” in 2020. This, coming from a culture that only takes about half of what it’s allotted anyway.
I get it. We’ve feared for our jobs this past year. We’ve been stuck at home without the opportunity to travel. And we’ve felt guilty about how little motivation and time we’ve had for our jobs, when we’re doing “all the things” at home.
And yet, our non-stop-work behavior doesn’t make sense from a logic perspective. Hear me out with an analogy.
The Year of the Heavy Sofa
Imagine, for a moment, that you and a friend each carried a small (lightweight) bag of groceries up 3 flights of stairs. Then, you went back down to the ground floor and lugged a huge, heavy sofa up those same 3 flights. How much of a break do you need to recover from the first trip with the groceries? How about the trip with the sofa?
This past year has been the year of carrying the heavy sleeper sofa up 137 flights. Not the year of carrying the groceries. But if you haven’t taken time off recently to pause, rest, and recover, please ask yourself why that is.
Perhaps you just haven’t thought about it at all. Completely understandable! It’s easy to get so trapped in the motion of simply trying to get through one day and then the next, that the idea to pause for a day literally doesn’t even cross our minds.
After I took a day off a few weeks ago to go hiking alone, my husband said to me, “hey, I can do that, too?!” (He has worked for himself for over a decade, so it’s not as though he even needed to ask a boss for permission.) He blocked a day last week and took himself out to a curb-side pickup lunch.
On the other hand, perhaps you’re telling yourself a story that makes taking a day off really challenging. Maybe you’ve already told yourself that my couch analogy is silly. “Physical breaks after a challenging feat of physical strength are worth taking,” you might argue, “because your body simply won’t move after hauling that heavy couch.”
But does that mean mental and emotional breaks aren’t just as necessary? Does it mean that if you stop, even for a day, your career will collapse? Or your kids will be abandoned? Perhaps you’ve said to yourself that you don’t “deserve” time to re-set and restore? Or that it’s simply too hard?
Take a Day Off Just for You (Then Take Another)
Repeat after me: “The more I’m holding up, the more I need down time.”
Recently, a friend challenged me to take one day off per month. Just for me. As a reset. “WOAH, that’s indulgent,” was my mind’s first thought. “How can I justify that?”
You don’t need to justify it, my friend reminded me. Look at everything you’re holding up. It’s a LOT. And you need a break. Period. Better than this encouragement, my friend held me accountable for taking this time. She insisted on knowing the date I had selected for my first “vacation day.” Then, once that day passed, she texted me to ask for the next date.
Get Yourself an Accountability Partner
As the story of my friend illustrates, there’s something magical about being put on the hook by someone other than you. We’re more likely to show up for a morning workout when we’ve told someone we’ll meet them there. We’re more likely to follow through on a commitment if we’ve said it out loud.
Who can that “taking a personal day” accountability partner be in your life? If you need it to be me and this blog post, so be it. Just drop a note in comments about the day you’re taking off, and consider yourself to have told the world about your commitment.
We *need* white space, working parents. We need down-time. Away from everyone time. This isn’t a nice-to-have. It’s not indulgent. We are so fried, so burnt-to-a-crisp right now. We’re carrying mental loads heavier than a dozen sofas.
Days off are life-sustaining. And every single one of us has a life worth valuing enough to sustain it.
Want more practical tips on working parenthood? Check out my book, Back to Work After Baby: How to Plan and Navigate a Mindful Return from Maternity Leave