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Dawn’s Column - Overcommitted, Under ‘Fun’ded

POSTED March 8, 2011 11:45 p.m.

Over the past few weeks I’ve felt especially overwhelmed by my amount of “busy-ness.” I deal with bouts of this at different times throughout the year. Work commitments requiring longer hours and late nights as well as home commitments with important business to tend to, evening appointments, and events have left me feeling a little burnt out. There are no signs of this relenting any time soon.

Keep traveling a certain path or following the same patterns long enough and you start to find yourself in a rut that’s so deep it’s hard to dislodge yourself. Certain things just can’t be helped and there’s only 24 hours in a day but there’s just got to be a better way. Sometimes I think that the “better way” means bucking convention but that can be risky.

Our culture dictates that we work, work, work and feel guilty about taking time off — or even worse, that we need to work during our time off. I’ve heard that as Americans we’re more stressed than ever. As I look around that makes sense to me. I’ve gone on vacations where I’ve seen people on the beach with their laptop computers and talking business on their cell phones. How do people truly recharge when they’re in a constant mode of “being on” or “in use?”

In my line of work, there’s still a deadline whether you’ve taken time off or it’s a holiday or not. The deadline is not sympathetic. My husband also frequently finds himself working, answering e-mails on his smartphone, when he’s supposed to have the day off. The unfortunate thing is that if he doesn’t deal with this business it could mean creating some kind of major issue or possibly losing a customer.

Apparently in Europe, for example, there’s a minimum of four weeks of vacation and it’s typical to take twice that much per year. There have been American studies that show vacations significantly cut the risk of heart attacks in men. I’ve also read that there’s evidence that the longer, mandated vacations in other “wealthy nations” increased competitiveness and labor productivity. Although, there’s really no doubt that America is the most productive of countries.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t support having the government dictate the amount of vacation time but it would be great if our culture and our companies recognized the need for balance. America has always been known for its innovation but let’s face it, we’re not the leaders that we used to be. Speaking from my own experience, I definitely feel less “inspired” when I’m tired. However, there’s also a considerable number of Americans who don’t take all of their earned vacation, and it’s mainly because we’re all too caught up in the rat race.

There’s something to be admired in having balance — doing work and then stopping to have some fun. A simplistic example of this is being in kindergarten. Midday naps or just plain quiet time would be a welcome respite. But instead of enjoying a chocolate milk we often find ourselves downing double lattés to keep our eyes open at three o’clock in the afternoon. Recess was a great way to get fresh air, get the blood flowing, and feel ready to tackle class work again. Let’s be honest though, a 10- or 15-minute break at work pales in comparison to recess – that is, if you even have time for a break.

To me, part of being an American means being able to enjoy what we’ve worked for – and therein lies the rub. Yeah, we’ve got “stuff,” but it’s still just stuff. You have to work to be able to afford taking a vacation, but taking a true vacation where you’re completely unplugged from work can be a detriment to your job.

Whether it’s on the weekend or on vacation, how do you relax long enough to enjoy the fruits when there’s work to be done?

 

Dawn M. Henley is a staff reporter for The Oakdale Leader, The Riverbank News, and The Escalon Times. She may be reached at dhenley@oakdaleleader.com or by calling 847-3021.

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