Ten years ago I changed careers. One of the appeals of becoming a teacher -- in my case, a college professor of English -- was the time off. I remembered the end-of-school, coming-of-summer feeling as a student, and the promise that those pending months of freedom held. And, of course, I remember the actual moments provided during the escape from routine. It was when I grew up. Unfortunately for me, for many years my new teaching career didn't allow for summers off, as I was, for various reasons, obligated to keep teaching right through the warm months. Until last summer. The class I had committed to teach was canceled due to low enrollment. My spring semester ended in mid-May; I would not have to report back for fall obligations until Mid-August. That was three months of no work. Three months. No commuting. No long pants. No need to keep track of the days.
It took me a few week to unpack, so to speak. But eventually a sense of serenity arrived. I slept better. And ate better. And stopped futzing with my cuticles. I picked up things I had long put down: guitars, golf clubs, tennis racket, Infinite Jest. I wrote a lot. And spent much time with my children at the beach. I could go on, but the point is that the summer off was such a pleasure, one that had a profound effect on my state of being. My biggest discovery was what it felt like to be me again.
Towards the end, though, I started to feel guilty. What about everybody else? All those people rushing to the subway, fully dressed in summer heat, while I strolled in flip flops with my dog towards the bakery. And what about my poor friends and dear wife who were getting sick of my lack of obligation? I began to wonder why teachers were the only professionals who get to really enjoy summer. There's not an adult I know who wouldn't be better off with an extended break during the warm season. I thought to take my case to print, to advocate on behalf of the rest of the working world, but then I kind of forgot and started to prepare for the new school year. My summer ended.
I was reminded of my discarded effort to advocate for the summerless when I heard about LinkedIn's recent policy announcement regarding "unlimited vacation time" for their employees. I'm not sure how that's going to work out for them, since "unlimited" and "vacation" sounds potentially problematic, but the general idea of dramatically increasing the amount of vacation time American workers get feels like a winner to me. The European model seems ideal, where pretty much every company and every small business suspends operations for the second half of the summer, giving employees four to six weeks away from their jobs.
The companies themselves must benefit, for the appreciative worker returns well-rested and recharged, informed by ideas only accessible when removed from the familiar for a while.
Imagine how happy people would be. What they could personally accomplish being exposed to the power of a good, healthy break from the routine of five-day work weeks most weeks a year. They could rediscover the magic of summer and all that it holds.
And I personally would be very happy to have more people to play with in summer time.