One of the toughest lessons I ever learned was that my business won’t fall apart when I go on vacation. It was a blow to my self-esteem to realize that I could step away from my desk and, more importantly, from my email inbox for a week and the world would keep on turning.
During my first few years as a freelancer, I was reluctant to leave my work at home when I took a trip. The nature of my job meant that I was able to work remotely, so I did. I scaled back but remained accessible. I juggled work and play on the road. I mistakenly believed it was better for my growing business and my bank account to turn my vacations into business trips. I was wrong, and it took a wicked case of burnout to convince me it was time to step away.
Are We Too Valuable to Take Time Off?
It seems I’m not alone in my reluctance to take a break. Some reports claim U.S. Employees leave 49% of their eligible paid vacation unused. If you think about it, that’s a crazy statistic. Nearly half of the workforce isn’t taking the time employers are offering. With Americans’ unused vacation days soaring to a 40-year high, we’re leaving money on the table and sacrificing our mental health.
I can’t help but wonder if all those workers secretly feel the same way I felt. Do they believe their company can’t handle their temporary absence? While most of us wouldn’t want to admit to thinking this way, we do. We believe we are too valuable to take time off. We believe our contributions are too important. When we don’t take a break and step away, our actions communicate that we believe our business will suffer immensely if we do.
Let’s face it, we all need to get over ourselves.
There’s a good chance that the work we’re doing, though important to the economy and our customers, probably isn’t life or death. Taking a well-timed, thoughtfully planned week – or, gasp, even two – off isn’t going to do irreparable damage to our careers, our companies, or our long-term goals.
Here are three things to keep in mind when you finally bite the bullet and take the time off that you’ve earned.
Teamwork makes the dream work
You can trust your team — if you can’t, why are you working where you’re working? The people you work with, work for, or lead are invested in the success of your projects just like you are. They are competent and capable — if they aren’t, why are you working where you’re working? They can help carry the ball forward or, at the very least, hold off the opponent until you return. You’ll enjoy your time away much more if you trust that your team is in control.
While you’re away, things might be done differently
Let me share the most valuable piece of advice I’ve ever paid for, “Different isn’t bad or good, it’s just different.” While you’re away, your tasks will likely be accomplished in ways that are different than the ways you might have accomplished them. This is okay. In fact, it might even be a blessing in disguise! What if you’re in a rut? Maybe your team member has a perspective that will save you time and energy in the future. Remember, in this situation, the task actually being accomplished is more important than how it was accomplished. Be grateful, learn from the differences, and move on.
Being missed is a good thing
If everything goes smoothly while you’re gone, that isn’t necessarily a good thing. After all, what are they paying you for? If your team misses your good ideas, your charming can-do attitude, and your efficient and productive work while you’re away, consider it a win! The gaping hole you left while on break is job security. Let the mess you come back to put a smile on your face. It’s proof that when you’re in your groove, you are killing it.
I’ll admit, it was a jolt to return to work that first time and see that things hadn’t come to a screeching halt without my contributions. Once I was able to repair my fragile ego, I realized that the fact that the world kept turning while I was away was excellent news. The experience helped me put my work into perspective. It proved to me that I had people around me that I could trust and count on. Most importantly, it meant that leaving the next time got a whole lot easier.