I recently shared a table on a jam-packed patio with a Swedish guy in his 20s who was visiting Canada on a week-long work assignment. Over pints, our conversation naturally shifted towards comparisons of what it was like living in Sweden vs. Canada. I asked what he thought of the six-hour workday, if Robyn is his favourite singer (obvi), and, of course, how many weeks’ vacation he has.
He has five weeks’ vacation.
These five weeks weren’t something he’d worked up to, or a special circumstance he’d found himself lucky to be in. Five weeks’ vacation, he explained, was the standard for his profession. I wasn’t surprised, exactly – I’ve long known that Canada’s minimum two weeks of vacation is more or less a bone our so-called progressive country throws its citizens when compared to many other countries.
But what I was curious about was how he chose to spend that five weeks. Was it split up into a little one-week vacation here and another one-week vacation over there, like we do in Canada? The Swedish lad explained that most of his co-workers took a one-month vacation each year, then saved that extra week for a break if and when it was needed.
Wow. Just imagine that for a moment: an annual one-month vacation from work.
The Vacation Privilege
From my experience of working in the grown-up world of Canadian jobs, a vacation package beyond the two-week minimum is generally used as currency to attract people to work for a company – in the same way benefits or a competitive salary are used. In a system like Canada’s, anything more than two weeks’ vacation time becomes a privilege, one that you earn by gaining experience, advancing yourself professionally, and – effectively – doing your time.
We don’t generally understand vacation time as something that we might actually, you know, require as human beings in order to rest, detach ourselves from work, and get a taste of our second favourite f-word: freedom. And while many of us are “awarded” more than the two-week minimum vacation, Canadian employers tend to get nervous when vacation requests exceed the one- or two-week tradition.
A bird doesn’t know it’s in a cage until you let it out of that cage, after all.
But employers aren’t evil control freaks trying to steal our freedom. Studies have shown that one of the main drivers of climbing the professional ladder isn’t to gain power over people; rather, it’s to re-gain a feeling of autonomy that’s lost when one person is in charge of another. Our employers are human too; they just happen to be humans in a different position in the system than we are.
One-Week Vacation Spurts
For the most part I’ve used the vacation time I’m given in one-week spurts, because that’s what we do here in Canada. Some of the time I’ve had enough money to go on a little trip; other times I haven’t had enough money and embarked on a staycation, which was nice as well. But I have to be completely honest: while I enjoyed my here-and-there weeks away, I never really got that feeling of relief and freedom that I thought I would. In some ways, it simply reminded me that my time isn’t mine to do with as I please.
Don’t get me wrong: I have a great job with a lot of perks where I’m treated exceptionally well. But no matter how great a job is or how perky the perks are, as human beings we naturally start to squirm when we realize that we’re not in full control of our lives. It’s not that I’m not thankful for the job I have, or aware of the privileges I have access to; I’m simply referring to that very human need to break free from it all.
I’m not advocating for the polar opposite of being a 9-to-5er, either – which I would imagine is something like a free spirit who sells everything he or she owns to wander the earth in Birkentstocks living off the bare essentials. No, that would be impractical for someone like myself who draws strength from routine and predictability, who needs to have a home to go to at the end of the day to rest and recharge, and who genuinely likes the job that I have.
But let’s, for a moment, imagine something closer to the Swede’s annual routine of taking a month off work. Just imagine that feeling of freedom you’d experience knowing that each and every year you’ll have a month-long opportunity to detach yourself completely from work – and I mean really, truly detach from it. Think of all the things you could do! Think of all the new ideas and perspectives that would come flooding into your mind without the 9-to-5 schedule clogging up your head.
Isn’t that a reasonable thing to want?
It Doesn’t Mean I Don’t Want to Work
Part of me is nervous to write and post this blog: Will my employers read this as evidence of my lack of commitment to work? And what about the rest of the year? Will I regret blowing all my vacation days in one go? Not to mention the transition period of going back to work; it’s not going to be easy.
But I’m willing to take this chance because life is too short to sit and wait for things to come to me. Having gotten the go-ahead from work [ Thanks, work! 😉 ], I’ve managed to patch together my vacation days so that, come next winter, I will have one full month off from work. I won’t tell you what I’ve got planned for myself, but I will tell you that for one month next winter you’ll be getting a special “tropical” edition of The Strong Silent Hype, like when the Saved By the Bell crew went away for the summer and chilled on a beach with Stacy Carosi.
Perhaps the best part of this decision is that everything that comes my way between now and then won’t seem so heavy. Honestly: it feels like there’s an adventure waiting for me around the corner, and that’s something I haven’t felt since my early 20s.
*Great big sigh of relief.*