About 400 million vacation days go unused every year in the United States. Even the sweet kids in this recent Master Card "Priceless" commercial are calling out attention to this. And yet, I had a really hard time letting myself go on a long vacation as early as February. I kept thinking: Do I really need vacation this soon? You just came back from the holidays. What will my boss and others think?
Many of us are used to just breaking away in the summer once we have put in a solid six months of hard of work. I wanted to break that habit. So putting fear aside, I left for an amazing adventure in Peru's Sacred Valley. I experienced the magic of Pachamama, how the Quechuas call mother earth, hiked with body and soul Machu Picchu, one of the world's most magical places, and met amazing new people. It was a priceless opportunity to reconnect with myself and nature. I came back recharged, ready to give my best at home and work.
Having been on vacation in February, now seems the best decision I've made all year. Here are five reasons why:
1. The best time to take a break is now, not later. Our bodies and minds don't plan perfectly around the calendar year or holiday weekends. We can feel sick or down any time during the year -- we are human. When this happens, taking a break is the best thing we can do to deal with it. So why wait three to six more months until the scheduled annual vacation? I've decided I will take a break when needed and as often as needed. After all, the calendar was first created to know when was the best time to plant and harvest, not to rule our lives.
2. If you plan well, nothing major happens at work in one week or two. We like to believe we are indispensable at work, but the reality is that we are not. In most jobs there are ways to cover the work, keep it on hold or manage your commitments in advance. The key is to plan in advance, cover your basis and make sure that when at work you are always performing; this gives you permission to also "rock" your time off.
3. Well-being is #1 requirement to be great at work and home. When my mind and body feel great, I perform at 110 percent. Too much of anything work, stress, demanding routine, inevitably throws balance off affecting our ability to carry on life's task well. Because I don't want to limp through my life activities all year, I am choosing to invest in my well-being regularly -- that includes regular breaks.
4. You can be a better leader, having a richer life. We are all leaders in some way either at work, family or within the community. Leaders are not one-dimensional. Strong role models typically work hard but also have a well-rounded life. Setting the time to explore other interests whether it is travel, language, volunteering, etc will give you a broader life perspective. Every time you are enriching your life with new experiences, you are working towards becoming a better leader. It also inspires colleagues or mentees to do the same for themselves.
5. If you wait too long, you might not use your vacation. Leaving vacation planning until later in the year tends to be more difficult and expensive. A lot of family holidays can get in the way, too. Prices tend to go up as the year goes on as more people take vacation later and kids are off school. Rushing last minute to use your vacation days can also be stressful. Spreading your vacation days across seasons or once a quarter, makes sure that are frequently taking a break, spreading the cost and more importantly ensuring that you don't run out of time to use all your days!
I am putting these five reminders on my calendar so I take vacation often. I hope they serve you well any time you are hesitating about taking time off. I only have one request in exchange: don't ever let your vacation go unused. Because remember, every day is "priceless."
Machu Picchu, Unesco World Heritage Site, Peru's Sacred Valley. Photo by @crogoll