Last night on the radio, several experts debated the American workaholic mentality, especially in comparison to other nations, where four, six weeks or more of vacation per year is the norm. In France, school meets for six weeks at a time, then two weeks off. Throughout the school year. Plus two months break in the summer.
Here, though, American workers are squeezed dry. Take a sick day? Forget about it. Work a full year at a new job before you’re granted a single week off. There is something really not right with this nose-to-the-grindstone mentality.
Compare that with a recent column by Tom Walsh of the Detroit Free Press, interviewing Mark Davidoff, the chair of the recent Mackinac Policy Conference. (Read it here.) What caught my eye was the conversation about Israel:
“In 67 years of existence, how did 8 million people from 100 countries convert itself from an agrarian society to one of the greatest innovation engines on the planet? There’s a DNA to that. There’s a societal, cultural commitment to innovation and entrepreneurship.” Davidoff said.
In my humble opinion, the answer lies in perspective.
Here, we expect to have big houses, big new cars and lots of bling. Fashionable recognizable-label clothing. Perfect hair and perfect skin. Organic, unadulterated diets when we don’t live in climates that produce such edibles. A pristine life.
And so we pay for it by working working working all the time, even on vacation. Dare you say you are literally out of touch for a week and your coworkers, colleagues, clients will have a fit. You simply cannot be away or disconnected and succeed.
I love Israel. It’s where I would love to retire. And there is no such expectation there.
It’s more like this: you live in a modest home in a highly populated enclave. All food is local, so you eat fresh produce all year-round. You can be fashionable without breaking the bank. People really do take off on Friday and Saturday and on holidays, whether religious or not, they go on picnics, hikes, day-trips.
They work hard. They rest hard. They are fiercely proud. They are connected as a community, despite all the political rhetoric and media-spinning of untruths. There is a sense of we are all in this together because if they aren’t, then the whole nation crumbles.
To be Israeli is to build the nation toward success. To want to survive. To need to bond with your brethren to make it happen. Because they are surrounded by a sea of nations that want them wiped off the planet.
Six-thousand miles away on the other side of the globe, we sit in plush chairs with our feet up on the coffee table, so comfortable we’re almost asleep. And yet, we’re killing ourselves with work. And we’re fighting one another to the bone to come out on top.
That’s no way to live.
This summer, I’m trying something new. When I go Up North for my writing retreat (which is not vacation for me, but it is not office work), I won’t be available for clients. Four work days when I will be out of touch, and that will have to be OK.
And then, the last week of July and first week of August we are going on family vacation. Two consecutive weeks of being with family. I vow to not work during that time, and plan to let my clients know this. They will be well cared for before and after, but while I am away, I really will be away.
It’s an experiment of sorts. I want to be able to jump in the ocean with my kids and eat clams fresh from the water without having to obsessively check my iPhone and put out metaphorical fires from afar.
And I shouldn’t have to.
Our lives are only as good as the difference we make in the world. The contributions of goodness and caring. And that can’t happen, our hearts can’t expand and swell and open for others, without proper rest and nurturing for ourselves.
Going inward, connecting to our souls, living in sync with what we believe, that’s what helps us accomplish anything worthwhile.
I am deeply devoted to my clients and to my work. I am also learning to be deeply devoted to higher purpose and to life.
We get one chance at this life. Better make it a good one. And being chained to a desk or handcuffed to a paycheck just doesn’t cut it.
Try this: imagine your life without the current job and current financial gain. What would happen? Would you really quiver and die?
Or might you see a door open where before you could not imagine it? A new opportunity? A new way of living?
I sometimes wonder what life would be like if I stopped running so fast and took a different route to meaning. What would happen? How would I respond?