Can’t Take a Vacation? Ask Madeleine

Stressed woman managerDear Madeleine, 

I am a leader who is conscientious, caring, and committed. Now, at the middle of my career, I find myself becoming a bit resentful of working long hours. I am constantly in danger of losing my PTO and yet the stress of preparing to be off work, along with the avalanche of work when I return, makes it very hard to disconnect completely. 

I’ve read the research and I know I’m not being a good role model for my people when I take vacation time and then end up working through it—which just breeds more resentment. I have a great team and I delegate a LOT to them, but the amount of work we are all expected to do is intense. 

My boss says I need to take vacation and just not worry about it. Any ideas on how I can do that and not kill myself with work when I return? 

—Just Can’t Take a Vacation


Dear Just Can’t Take a Vacation,

Being at the middle of your career, in middle management, and feeling like the proverbial hamster on a wheel is notoriously common and really, really hard. In, fact, I wrote an article about it recently. I hope it will help a little.

The short story here is that you absolutely must must must must take care of yourself for the long haul or you will be a miserable human being. Before you know it, you will not be the wonderful conscientious, caring, and committed person you are now. You will die inside because resentment is like taking rat poison and waiting for the rat to die.

So.

I am going to challenge you to go to your calendar app right now and schedule two weeks off. When you book your vacation, leave on a Tuesday and spend that Monday tying up loose ends, preparing everyone for you to be away. Then come home on the following Wednesday, and spend Thursday and Friday catching up. But DON’T TELL ANYONE YOU ARE DOING THIS. Leave all your emails in your outbox and let them go the night before you are supposed to be back.

That gives you a good week away and some nice padding on both ends to keep you sane.

You can decide you are going to work while on vacation—there’s no shame in that—but set some boundaries. For example, designate just one hour a day to check in and do not attend a single meeting. Keep in mind that when you do this, though, you train people to not let you take a vacation. If you decide not to work, I hate to tell you this—but you are going to have to turn your phone off. It can be done—I know because I have done it. And I have made my husband do it. You have kind of a little mini nervous breakdown on Day 2, and then you get over yourself and relax in way you haven’t experienced since before the internet. (You may still vaguely remember that.) I highly recommend it. And honestly, unless you are the only person on the planet who is curing cancer or engineering world peace, nobody will actually die if you take some time off. Including you.

You are a leader. And I really don’t want to be mean to you, but you are acting a little bit like a victim. It is time for you to make a choice to take care of yourself, defend your choice and stick to your choice. You will be smarter, more creative, and more interesting. You may feel a little buried when you get back, but you’ll have two full days to dig out. If you plan your vacation properly—meaning, it is something you really want to do with someone you really want to do it with—you won’t regret it.

Love, Madeleine

About the author

Madeleine Blanchard

Madeleine Homan-Blanchard is a master certified coach, author, speaker, and cofounder of Blanchard Coaching Services. Madeleine’s Advice for the Well Intentioned Manager is a regular Saturday feature for a very select group: well intentioned managers. Leadership is hard—and the more you care, the harder it gets. Join us here each week for insight, resources, and conversation.

Got a question for Madeleine? Email Madeleine and look for your response here next week!

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