Returning home after a much-anticipated vacation always has the same effect on me. It’s hard to describe that effect in one word. In fact, I need to use a whole phrase. It is this: “Well, that’s it until next year”. My family and I wait 364 days from the time we arrive home from our annual vacation to the day we start the next one. It’s sort of like Christmas. We’re exhausted and have a lot less money when it’s all said and done, but if done the right way, it’s worth every minute. We’d do it again in six months if given the chance.
The weird thing is, as much as I enjoyed my recent vacation (getting up when I wanted to, eating food I don’t normally try, staying up late and not caring), I was aware of an itch to be doing something productive. Is it just me? I was almost relieved to be scanning through my pages of emails (I try very hard not to when I’m “away”). I’ve seen articles that the average American worker takes only about 10 days of vacation a year compared to our European counterparts such as Britain where it’s a month. In fact, Americans cash in their vacation time at an alarming rate, preferring to work instead of taking a well-earned rest. Perhaps that makes it more difficult to truly disengage when we’re on vacation. It makes being away more challenging because we have a hard time “getting away”.
All of this can make it hard to truly relax and reenergize as we dole out our vacation time. We’ve all heard the word “workaholic”. In Japan, they use a word for “death by overwork.” It is called karoshi. The last time I was at Disneyland, it wasn’t the European or Asian tourists who kept answering their cell phones while taking their kids on the Matterhorn. It was American parents – spending one of their 10 paid vacation days still hooked up to the machine known as “work” – who didn’t know how to relax and actually enjoy some one-on-one family time.
I realize it may not be possible for everyone to get away somewhere different for an exotic destination. Financial realities and other obligations may mean we may have to have a “staycation”. But it’s important for us to take a break from the demands of our normal routines. In the social services industry, we’ve recognized the need for care givers to have a break from the often emotionally demanding jobs they perform. “Care giver relief” is a necessity to maintain a healthy emotional balance. In my faith tradition, taking a “sabbath rest” meant making one day a week different from the others. It was not only a break from work but a time to re-center and re-focus, in that context on God and our relationship with him.
It might take a while to truly be able to disengage from our normal work routine and be able to relax without feeling guilty or useless. But I think we’d all be better off as individuals and families. As it is now, we seem to be headed straight toward having our own way of saying karoshi.