How would you grade your summer vacation? Oops, didn’t take one?

 (<a href='http://www.shutterstock.com/pic-149993498/stock-photo-tropical-island.html'>Island</a> image courtesy of Shutterstock.com)

(Island image courtesy of Shutterstock.com)

As we approach Labor Day, the popular cut-off for summertime fun, take a minute to look back over the past three months. How would you grade yourself on your vacation skills?

In getting away from work, do you deserve an A? B? Or is pass/fail an easier gauge?

Vacation, all I ever wanted

If you don’t know the basic and depressing info about Americans and vacations, try this on:

We’re taking fewer vacation days than we did 15 years ago.
We’re taking far fewer days than we have technically earned in our yearly accrual.
We’re using vacation to tend to things like housework and doctor visits instead of getting away from the daily grind.

What’s more, most Americans who earn below about $25,000 a year or who work part time or have more than one job simply don’t have the option to take time off work. The same goes for households that have, say, a single parent to keep all the balls in the air.

At the same time, we’re being reminded of how delinquent we are in getting away. There’s plenty of info coming at us about how detrimental it is to our work lives to skip out on play time. Taking appropriate time away greatly enhances productivity, colleaguiality, and overall health. WHYY’s own Dan Gottlieb did a great show earlier this month highlighting things like how the fatigue of unrelenting overwork can make it harder to regulate yourself healthily in other areas of life.

Yikes.

So maybe you’re thinking, “Whew, I did just fine. I got away for a couple of weeks this summer.” Or maybe you’re thinking, “Damn, I didn’t really take any time off, and now I feel even worse about it than I already did.” Or worse, “Sh—t, I did take a vacation … but I don’t feel like I did..”

I really understand how hard it is, especially if there’s no travel money but there are plenty of bills looming. It can feel counterintuitive to step away from work.

Still, the simple facts about the essential benefits of escape stand.

‘Leisure, the Basis of Culture’

So maybe here’s a different way to arrive at your self-grading, or to unpack your vacation, so to speak.

How do you feel as you head into work these days? Do you have a new perspective, whether you vacationed or not — like you’re in a new place with your work, even if it looks the same to others?

Whether or not you got away geographically, did you at least function in a different way for awhile? Or did you just teleport your work style into your away time?

Is there something tired inside of you that still yearns to step away from the familiar beat? A need to get outside of the routine?

I needed a different way to think about it than just “vacation: yes or no,” and I stumbled on it this week in Brain Pickings, in which writer Maria Popova scans history to show how leisure — which may or may not coincide with our modern ideas about vacation — is a different mode of valuing our humanness. It’s just as active and needed as our working mode, only … different. It’s more about being truly still and receptive. Popova quotes philosopher Josef Pieper, saying that leisure is the “condition of considering things in a celebrating spirit” and that it “is not the attitude of the one who intervenes but of the one who opens himself; not of someone who seizes but of one who lets go.”

Considering things with a celebrating turn of mind? Not intervening, as work so demands, but letting go?

It may be that, whether you had a vacation or not, you haven’t been able to achieve that mode. So as you’re thinking about what grade you get on your vacation, think about what grade you get on your leisure.

Not an A?

That’s OK. It happens. So just ask yourself: What would it take for you to get that A in leisure? And what would your work and life look like then?

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