For many people around the world, summer means vacations. When I grew up in Hong Kong, we did not have the practice of family vacations. Early in my career, our family went to wherever I had a summer conference. It was not quite a vacation as I always spent part of the time away from the family, laboring and stressing over various duties.
When I joined the University of Notre Dame, I took a cue from its president, Holy Cross Father Edward Malloy, who took the summer to travel to places that intrigued him. That’s how we started the habit of family vacations.
We are now addicted.
I have come to appreciate the importance of a leader who takes vacations. It legitimizes the practice and encourages the behavior. Correspondingly, I think it is important for employers to create disincentives for employees to skip vacations.
Despite the proven benefits of vacations, study after study shows that in the United States, fewer people are taking vacations or time off. We tend to forego vacation days even if they have already been earned. This should not be. Given the popularity of "staycations," days off do not even have to be expensive or require planning.
On my vacations, I love the freedom from my alarm clock. I let my body, rather than my work schedule, tell me what it needs. I am willing to concede to the sun or the singing birds the job of rousing me. Getting up when I want to makes me feel so pampered.
When we are on vacation, we leave some portion of time unscripted so as to accommodate the surprising delights that capture us. It allows for the possibility of falling in love with places and experiences unknown, whether they are the works of nature or the aesthetics of human expressions. Somehow eyes and hearts open when we open our schedules.
We now try to go places that require a lot of walking and spending the day together as a family in exploration. Having all three meals together with my husband and grown sons invites topics and comments that remind me of how much our sons have matured.
Whether it is a point of history, geography, sociology, politics, economics, literature or popular culture, I enjoy the insights they bring and how these open my mind. Inevitably, I marvel and am stimulated by the depth and breadth of our world. The part of my personality that pivots on efficiency, logic and judgment takes a back seat during vacation and I am happy to "be" without the need to do and fulfill obligations. I drink in the wealth of our lives as family.
During my first spiritual direction session at Notre Dame, my good friend, Holy Cross Father Thomas Doyle, had me read aloud the first stanza of Psalm 127:
"Unless the Lord build the house, they labor in vain who build. Unless the Lord guard the city, in vain does the guard keep watch. It is vain for you to rise early and put off your rest at night, to eat bread earned by hard toil — all this God gives to his beloved in sleep."
Invoke this when you next ponder whether you can afford your days off for vacation.
Woo is president and CEO of Catholic Relief Services.