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Revisiting the Meaning of “Vacation”


24Jun 2011

This past week I had the privilege of taking a short vacation to the mountains in Colorado with my wife.  We had a delightful time (just the two of us, our four kids are ‘out and about’.)  We were in awe of the majesty of the mountains; we couldn’t believe how many trees there were (alive and dead); and we loved the power and beauty of the rushing rivers.

While enjoying the time away from work, being with my wife, and in nature, I had some time to reflect on “vacation” — what it is, what it means, and often what it has come to mean in our culture.

First, vacation means “to vacate” — to leave, to get out of here, to get away from your daily setting and responsibilities.  As my wife commented, she gets a different perspective on life when she gets away from the daily routine.  Now, I know that many of us are in tighter financial situations than usual, but even getting away for a few days to a cheap cabin close-by can be sufficient.

Next, vacation implies that you aren’t working.  You are taking a vacation from work.  (Did I mention this is one of those posts that I can pontificate about topics I don’t always fully apply?)  I have been bad about taking work on vacation and working throughout the vacation, doing a little every day.  Not good.  And while I will admit, I took some work to do on the trip out (9 hours one way) and driving back, I limited it to those long trips in the car.  I have heard of some businessmen (primarily guys) who weave work/vacation together throughout the whole time, partly to be able to count the expenses as a business expense.  But their families felt they never fully had dad’s attention.

A third aspect of going on vacation is to do something refreshing and rejuvenating. This takes different forms for different people.  For me, I have to be in and around nature.  Going to Disneyworld would not be refreshing for me.  But it also means (and I am bad about this aspect), not running at such a fast pace that you come home exhausted.  I used to try to leave as early on a Friday as possible and return as late on a Sunday as practically feasible.  But in doing so, I stressed out my wife — who had to prepare everything for everyone, including me, and she had to do all the clean up, too.  (I was a bad husband then.)  I think I have learned to do better on the pace issue.

Going on vacation doesn’t mean only doing what the kids want to. Our child-focused society, and misguided goals of giving our children a “happy childhood” and “building memories”  leads to a distorted view of vacation.  It is supposed to be fun, all the time, for the kids.  And it becomes the parents’ responsibility to make sure the kids are having fun.  Talk about a disaster.  Sure kids should enjoy part of the time.  But being a family includes considering others and what they like to do.  So,  “today we are going to an art museum because that is something mom enjoys.”  Taking turns, being exposed to new activities you wouldn’t normally choose, and being patient while someone else enjoys their favorite activity is part of taking vacations with others.

[By the way, yes, you “build memories” while on vacation — but they are usually from problems you have to overcome, unexpected challenges or spontaneous unplanned experiences.  Think about your memories of childhood events and vacations — are they primarily planned “fun” times?]

Going on a vacation isn’t a competition with your friends, co-workers or neighbors. Where you go, how long you stay, and what you do isn’t a competition with others to see how successful you are in life.  The amount of enjoyment and refreshment experienced on a vacation is not directly related to how much money you spend.  Working with multimillionaire families and knowing what some of them do, I can guarantee you that.  The value of a vacation comes from your own sense of contentment, gratitude, enjoying the moment, and having positive interactions with those around you.  Think of the opposite, and we can easily visualize a “bad” vacation — feeling anxious & uptight, wishing you were somewhere else, thinking about how stupid it is you have to do X or Y because that’s what others want to do, and constant bickering with those around.  Not a fun time, even if you are at a luxurious resort on the Riveria.

So, as you think about, prepare or go on a vacation this summer, think about this:  What would be rejuvenating for me?  for my spouse?  for my kids?  At what pace should we “run”, that will help the time not be hectic and tiring?  What do we need to talk about as a family before the vacation to set appropriate expectations for everyone?

Have a great time, and if you have a chance, go whitewater rafting — it is a blast!!

 

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