Now that the Memorial Day weekend has passed, summer has unofficially begun, or at least will once school gets out.
You have probably read somewhere a hand-wringing story about why Americans have so little vacation compared with other countries. Which impacts this state, because while Wisconsin license plates say “America’s Dairyland,” tourism is one of the state’s top three employers, and most of that tourism spending is coming up.
I won’t be one of those tourists, for a lot of reasons. It’s not because I love this job, because you should never love your job, since neither your job nor your employer love you. It’s not because I have a work ethic better than anyone else’s, or that I’m a workaholic, because I don’t and I’m not. It’s not because I think I’m irreplaceable, because The Journal survived just fine for 113 years before I showed up.
In the days before social media, there was an email floating around that demonstrated that a week of vacation is actually only one day, because you work doubly hard to get things done before you leave, and work doubly hard catching up when you get back. The day off I took to go to a Brewers game earlier this month made me, you guessed it, behind on getting the next week’s newspaper done.
It’s bad enough getting the paper done with one fewer day to get it done, as is the case with Memorial Day, some Independence Days, Labor Day, Thanksgiving, some Christmases and some New Year’s Days. (Most of which are, and all of which could be, depending on what happens those days, work days anyway.) Readers are paying for a new edition of your favorite weekly newspaper each week, so we’d be ripping you off if we decided to skip some summer week. Everyone who works here has more than enough to do without doing my work too.
Parents never have a real vacation — as in a release from their parental responsibilities — unless their vacation is away from their kids, which is unfair to the kids. On the other hand, the stereotypical school summer vacation — days where nothing other than lunch and dinner is on your schedule — is disappearing for kids, too. Those who believe Americans don’t get enough vacation time are countered by those who believe that American students aren’t in school enough. Our kids are participating in summer school, swimming, baseball or softball, Scout or church camps, and the UW–Platteville Heartland Festival.
There’s also the cost of travel, particularly in this Recovery-in-Name-Only economy. There is no inexpensive form of travel anymore, not with gas prices approaching $4 per gallon (again). The air travel experience makes air travel a necessary evil at best for business, and something to avoid for leisure. And of course the farther you go, the more time it takes to get there, meaning the more time you have to take off work and the less time you have to experience your destination.
The travel industry has been promoting the concept of the “staycation” for several years. That kind of “staycation” inevitably involves doing things you haven’t previously had time to do or because you don’t like doing it, or taking the kids someplace you wouldn’t otherwise choose to go.
Part of the reason Americans vacation less, I believe, is genetic, believe it or not. Our ancestors came to this country to better themselves. Those Europeans then believed, and Latin Americans, Asians and other minorities who come here now believe, they would have better lives here than where they came from. What that does equal? Work, including more than one job in many cases. Those not interested in improving their lives never came here.
One reason to go into business is to make more money (you hope); another is to be more in charge of your own destiny. Another is to be able to do what businesses do — serve their customers, employ people, and contribute to their communities. However, most businesses don’t have many employees, and making a profit (the most important thing, the thing without which nothing else happens, for any business) is hard. Business owners’ work hours vastly exceed 40 per week. They work nights and weekends and holidays. Their employees get vacation time; they often don’t, or if they do, they are the ones emailing and calling back to the office. (Former Journal owner Dick Brockman claimed to have taken one weekday off between 1967 and 2001.)
I assume that part of the harrumphing about us not-enough-time-off Americans has to do with your attitude toward not just work, but your current work situation. If you’re not doing what you want to be doing, or if you’re in an undesirable work environment (however you define that), or if you feel undercompensated (however you define that) for your work, then you’d probably prefer to be anywhere else other than work. If you see work only as a way to get a paycheck, or that you get too little vacation time, maybe the problem isn’t in your vacation time, but in your work.
Supposedly on our deathbeds we won’t regret not having working more. But will we regret not accomplishing more or having done more? Many business owners I’ve met over the years don’t believe they’ve worked a day in their lives; that’s how much they enjoy doing what they do. And even a cursory reading of the Bible shows that we are supposed to work; we are on this earth to accomplish things and serve others. Work has value in itself.