Overcoming My Fear of Vacation

Thirty-two months ago in June of 2015, I hit my ten year anniversary at my current place of work.  Upon that anniversary, my annual allotment of vacation days increased from fifteen days to twenty.

I had already been a good hard worker bee for twenty-two years at that point consisting of nine years with Crook County and then three years with a horrible town that employed me from spring of 2002 through spring of 2005 during which time my son was very young and my daughter was born, and ten years with my current organization.

I had occasionally cashed out vacation days over the past few years, one here, two there and occasionally three, but it was then that I decided that taking a day off was more valuable to me and my family and my mental health than the extra dollars.  The extra dollars were much needed, but my sanity was needed even more.

Since that first of June in 2015, I have accumulated an additional fifty-three and one-third vacation days but have taken only forty-two.

In all of 2017, I took only fourteen.  In 2016, I took seventeen, which matches the most I have ever taken in a year.  From June 1st of 2015 through the end of the year, I took ten.

During the first month of 2018, I took one vacation day on Martin Luther King, Jr., Day since my children were both off from school.

So on the U.S. Travel Association’s Project Time Off National Plan for Vacation Day, why don’t I plan for nineteen more vacation days this year?

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One word: Fear.

Per Quentin Fottrell’s May 2017 article on the issue, fear is the underscoring theme of why more than half (54%) of us Americans did not take all of our vacation days in 2016.  The 2017 statistics will come out in the spring.

Like many others, perhaps including you, I fear getting behind on my work, I fear that someone else will screw something up while I am out, I fear my new boss questioning my dedication and I fear being seen as replaceable.  All legitimate for a middle aged Middle Class Guy.

I admit to being jealous of those who are at liberty to take far more vacation days than I do.  My sister, for example, takes a six week-long vacation every summer.  She is an educator in New Orleans and rather than facing the harsh, humid climate there over the summer, she travels with various combinations of her  husband and two daughters camping out, staying at our mother’s home for a week or so, staying in a hotel here or there, and mostly staying at the homes of her well-to-do friends.  I have to bit my tongue until it bleeds as her journey winds to an end and she complains of having to return to school in a week or two.

Even though it has yet to turn February, my sister is already lining up her family’s lodging for their annual summer journey around the Midwest and east coast.  And I do not think she has ever even heard of Project Time Off.

My brother sprinkles his vacations throughout the year, but he works so hard as a self-employed attorney that he spends much of the time on his phone with clients.  I am still not sure how to qualify staying at a rental condo on the beach for a week with his children when he spends three to four hours per day discussing cases on the phone.

My daughter’s friends skew towards the upper middle class, so we are constantly subject to viewing their vacation photos over school breaks on Facebook as their families travel to Hawaii, Mexico or some resort in the Caribbean.  These families typically include two higher-income parents like lawyers, doctors, teachers, finance professionals, engineers and the like.  Some own small businesses.

So My Vacation..

Today being National Plan for Vacation Day, I am not able to fully plan for the rest of my 2018 vacation days, but I do have a crude plan.

I have planned to take a full week off, something that I have not done since the last week of December 2016 (in New Orleans), to spend a week in New Orleans with my son in mid-March.

I will take a couple of days in February because I am coming up on my accrual limit of forty days.  Despite my philosophical opposition to cashing days out, I might just do so this “one last time.”

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I plan on taking my family to visit my wife’s father and his wife in Lake Havasu City for the Christmas holiday.  I need take only three vacation days, December 26th thru 28th, in order to have eleven days off in December, from the 22nd through January 1st.

A big wildcard is whether or not we make it to the U.P. this summer or perhaps even a new destination.  I cherish going somewhere in the country with my family to take some time out from our hectic lives together.  We were not able to do this last summer due to my unexpected transfer to a new department with a new boss early last July.

Besides spring break, Christmas week and maybe a week during the summer, I would like to take random days here and there.  A few Fridays and a few Mondays here and there.

Speaking of My Boss

My boss is in a different career place than I am, obviously, since he is my boss.  I continue adjusting to his more blustery, aggressive style.  Sometimes like a bull in a china shop.

He still gets three weeks of vacation per year and has told me that he only has a two weeks on the books and is saving them for when he and his wife have their first child in the next four to five weeks.  My boss upholds the Millennial trend of not taking many days off, as he plays a big role in the operations of the town that I work for.  Even on his odd days off, he emails me and his other subordinates a few times per day.

Although he has not yet given me any negative feedback about taking time off, he certainly gives off the vibe that only less than completely dedicated employees take more than the odd day off here and there.  As the key economic development person for my community, it is true that missing time makes me fall out of the loop when it comes to projects that I am involved with.  Nevertheless, I require time off in order to recharge and to maintain my sanity.

Irony Comes With Age

Ironically, the closer I get to reaching the brass ring, the closer I will get to feeling like I can take the vacation time that is due to me.

As of today, January 30th of 2018, I am compelled to work for an IMRF employer for seven years, eleven months plus tomorrow.  That is how long it is, 2,892 more days, until the year 2025 comes to a close.  I would be fifty-five years old, plus six weeks, and would thus qualify for a modest pension of about $75,000 per year plus 3% annual increases.  A post for another time, I would still need to remain gainfully employed, hopefully self-employment, but would need to generate a significant amount of income beyond my pension.

The closer that I get, say five years from now, the more I would be able to think “F it” in my mind when it comes to any negative feedback about taking time off.  Don’t get me wrong: I would not be in a position to walk away from or lose my job five years from now.  I would just be five years closer to making it and less trepidatious about taking vacation time.

Having an additional source of reliable income would also help me overcome my fear of taking vacation time.   But as of now, with no other source of income to rely upon, I simply cannot afford to put my continued employment in jeopardy.

Despite being a card-carrying member of the American middle class for 4.7 decades, my family would rapidly fall out of it should I lose my income.  Thus my fear of falling out of favor at work due to taking too many vacation days.

So don’t get me wrong.

I would much prefer to be on vacation today than at my stressful job in a middling town in the Midwest, making calls and inquiries of potential businesses at the behest of a young boss who truly does not understand any of the subtleties of economic development.  Since I discuss it with him for about an hour per day, I think he is at least learning the difference between what businesses want (great location, easy approvals, low risk, the ability to reasonably profit) versus what the elected officials want (great photo opportunities, businesses that their friends and family like, businesses that the towns that they envy have).

But alas and alack, I am not going on vacation today.  No trip to New Orleans, the UP or Arizona for me today.  No dream vacation in Hawaii.  I am not heading to the Bahamas or out of the country.

I will be traveling from my suburb to the suburb that I work for, for eight hours, and then traveling back home again.

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But National Plan for Vacation Day has at least got me thinking about taking another fifteen or more vacation days this year.

I urge you to think about taking some vacay too.  Who knows, maybe we will pass one another wearing our shorts and sandals with smiles on our faces and drinks in our hands.


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