t’s not yet summer, but there are already telltale signs of what’s to come.
My colleague Kelly stood in the office kitchen, tanned and relaxed. Her face was smooth and peaceful and her body floated as she held her cup of coffee. All the signs were there.
“Hi Kelly,” I said.
“Hi,” she replied, the sound breathy and soft.
“You look like you just came back from vacation. Am I right?”
“Yes, how could you tell?”
“Clear eyes, relaxed shoulders, easy smile.”
“It’s that obvious?”
“Yes,” I said, smiling secretly. “Where did you go?”
“Costa Rica. It was beautiful. Have you ever been?”
“No,” I replied, “though it’s on my list.”
“You must go,” she said. “It’s absolutely amazing.” Her eyes welled up with mist.
“There’s only one problem with going there.”
“What’s that?” I asked.
She suddenly went silent and waved her hand away. “Never mind” she replied. “I should get to work.” And she left the kitchen and walked to her desk.
I knew what she was thinking. The only problem with going is you have to come back. It’s the problem with all good vacations.
What’s worse, the American workplace gives so few vacations they take on larger meaning. The contrast between work and time off becomes glaring, creating two separate lives.
In Europe, fulltime employees take an average of seven-to-eight weeks of vacation annually. The American average is half that with only nine vacation days plus six paid national holidays, such as Memorial Day and July 4. Nine plus six, and never consecutive.
I looked over at Kelly and she had visibly sunk. She had a long stare as she looked into her computer monitor. I walked up to her desk.
“Are you okay?” I asked.
“Yea, I’m fine.”
“I know what you’re thinking,” I said in a low voice.
“What do you mean?” she asked.
“You wish you didn’t have to come back. I bet you’ve been thinking about how you can change your life so you can live there.”
She sat up surprised.
“You’re right. How did you know?”
“I figured because you looked so happy. In fact, I’ve never seen you so happy before.”
“It’s true. Ever since I got off the plane I’ve been thinking about how to get back. It’s on my mind all the time. I just loved it.”
“Yes, I can tell. I wouldn’t be surprised if you’re asking yourself the big questions. Why do you live in New York, what you’re doing here, and is this what you want to do with your life?”
She looked sheepish. “Yes. Yes. You’re reading my mind! How do you know all this?”
“Because the way you’re feeling is more normal than you think. Everyone wants to escape.”
“I thought it was just me.” She said.
“Yes, I felt the same when it happened to me. It hit me hardest after my first trip to Italy. I was so happy, relaxed and easy. I was certain it was where I should be. I came home and started scheming and planning. I was ready to give notice at my job and sublet my apartment.”
She nodded knowingly.
“But I slowed down and realized I needed a plan. If I was going to do this, I wanted to make sure it was the right thing and not some romantic notion I’d regret later. It’s easy to fall in love, you know. It’s true of people and places. It’s harder to stay committed. Everything new gets old and everything exciting becomes ordinary. I decided to take several more trips to try it out.”
“And…what happened? You’re still here.”
“Yes. After my third trip I realized that moving was too big a jump. All the unknowns of moving were daunting and I didn’t speak the language. I realized I’d rather just be a tourist.”
“I didn’t stop loving Italy,” I said “but I realized that it’s only a flight away. I could go back as often as I liked.”
Kelly looked dreamy, lost somewhere in the jungles of Costa Rica.
“You’re right” she said. “There’s no reason to be upset. I can go back whenever I want.”
But we both knew the truth: Nine plus six, and never consecutive.