Many Grownups don’t use all the vacation time they’re entitled to—but for a better quality of life and to get ahead in your career, taking a vacation may be just the solution.
YOLO, or “you only live once,” is a mantra often heard from Millennials, usually as an excuse to do something they normally wouldn’t—or something dumb or dangerous. But the concept, when applied with some common sense, is actually one that can help change your perspective on time and how you use it.
Meditations, a series of diary-like entries by the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius, continuously reiterates that time is not a renewable resource. Aurelius wrote, “‘If you seek tranquility, do less.’ Or (more accurately) do what’s essential…” and “Not to live as if you had endless years ahead of you.”
The way Aurelius grappled with time feels like the original version of YOLO. And rather than being a depressing reminder of our mortality, it’s empowering to realize time is a valuable commodity. As we round through the winter solstice and the days begin to get longer, it’s the ideal time to plan how to make the most of our time in the year ahead.
Of course, this full-on carpe diem attitude is often tempered by work and budget constraints.
Time is Money
For my husband and I, maximizing our time is a dance between enjoying the present, while still considering our finances for the future. Unlike my parents, who often tell us they wish they’d spent more money on travel when they were younger, we are thoughtful about spending our money while we’re alive and in good health (and can do things like hike through the Grand Canyon). At the same time, we balance that with the hope that we will live to see retirement and, therefore, need to use the live-in-the-present mantra in moderation.
When we lived in Seattle, people often said, “I’ve never been to the top of the Space Needle.” The reason was never because it was expensive or out of the way, but because it would always be there. But if there’s one thing moving around a lot has taught us, it’s why not take advantage of opportunities as they arise versus assuming they—or you—will be there tomorrow? Waiting for divine intervention or a midlife crisis to push you toward a dream or desire seems silly when you can control your time for yourself.
Your Time: Use it or Lose it
In terms of vacation policy, there’s less you can do when your employer dictates your time. In the U.S., time off is viewed as a benefit, not a right. But we should treat all our time—including any days off—in the same way we treat milk or bread: Use it before it’s expired (and while it’s still good for your health).
By law, companies in the European Union give employees at least four weeks of paid time off. Compare this to the U.S. where no law exists, and the average worker gets 16 total days of paid time off including holidays (though those 16 days surely seem incredible to the 25 percent of workers who get zero paid time off). Even when Americans do get time off, only 57 percent use all of it.
While some argue that more downtime means less productivity (therefore less revenue), studies don’t show any major correlation to vacation time and its effect on the economy. If anything, some time off is shown to improve productivity.
Protect Your Time
Disconnecting, when it’s not the norm, is challenging but doable. Plan your time off as far in advance as possible, taking into consideration any major work commitments. As your vacation approaches, let colleagues know you’re going off the grid and set a coverage place so no emergency will interrupt your game of bocce. Alternatively, if it’s Wednesday and Friday is looking meeting-and-project free, why not take a spontaneous extended weekend?
Even when you can’t get away from work completely, take a five-minute walk to clear your head or enjoy a picnic lunch outside. After all, which are you going to remember in the long run: the tulip garden coming into bloom around the corner of your office, or the memo you’re typing for the finance department?
For freelance workers, it’s just as important to give yourself a break to avoid burnout. Build in the cost of your vacation time into your rates and give clients advance notice so they can find coverage if needed.
Valuing your time as much as your career or finances is liberating. As Aurelius wrote, “Remember: …Time. How brief and fleeting your allotment of it.” Aka: YOLO.
Kate Sitarz is a freelance writer living in Germany. Her work has been featured on Yahoo Travel!, The Huffington Post, and USAToday, among other outlets.
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