“Here’s my card. It’s got my cell number, my pager number, my home number and my other pager number. I never take vacations, I never get sick and I don’t celebrate any major holidays. ” – Dwight K. Shrute
A lot of people have asked me about vacations, time off etc over the years, and how/why I don’t take any, so I figured I would write this post to address it once and for all.
My vacation history
I’ve never taken vacation in the last (I don’t remember how many years) but let’s say 25. I did take a road trip to Arizona one time where I was technically off work for a bit. I’ve had the occasionally afternoon off or a low activity day. A few times I got sick and I think 1, 2 or even 3 times I may have even taken a sick day. But for all intents and purposes I’ve worked every day for the last 25 years, including weekends and holidays.
I grew up in a town in rural, Northern Maine where “vacations” weren’t really common. It was poor, by American standards, so people didn’t have a lot of money for vacations. A lot of the employment was related to mills, which would shut down for 2 weeks in the summer and that was your vacation. You didn’t ask for or request vacation like in a lot of companies now. If you weren’t working in a mill, you were probably a farmer and farmers can’t ever take vacation (unless they hire someone to cover the farm). It isn’t like people in my town or my family didn’t do enjoyable activities i.e. fishing, snow-mobiling etc but the concept of taking a week off to go somewhere and do something, wasn’t really as common or prevalent as it is now, and for many families wasn’t really a thing.
It was the same for our family. We of course knew what vacations were but really didn’t get the concept of “having fun”. Despite that, my family decided, for some reason, that we would start taking a vacation each summer, renting a small home/camp by a lake that was only a few miles from our house. My parents would read books, or watch TV or something and myself and my sister, who was 8 years younger, were supposed to “have fun” throwing rocks into the lake or something.
The irony was that I was perfectly happy at my house. I had a farm with many animals that I took care of and many other activities to keep me busy. Now, on “vacation” I still had to go home to do my chores in the morning but got the opportunity to stand around doing nothing at the lake for the rest of the day. And I would have to bike the 3-4 miles one way to “commute” back and forth.
My uncle recently remarked how funny he thought it was, that when they visited at the lake and the whole family was there, that I was missing and back at the house because “I loved to work”. Yes, I did, but I didn’t have the heart to tell him that I also hated those lake vacations, which was part of it as well.
Absence creates problems
What reminded me to write a blog on this subject was a situation that happened last week. I never go out, have fun etc but last week I did. I asked my wife to close up the barn to lock in my animals for the night, but something went wrong and when I got back in the morning 20% of my chicken flock had been massacred by coyotes.
Think of it. I go out one night in probably 10 years and I come back to a disaster. This is a microcosm for my 20 years as a founder and CEO. If I stepped away for a day, invariably I would return to some sort of huge problem. This conditioned me to just never step away, especially when coupled to my general aversion to vacations (see above) and some bad experiences (see below).
Yes, I’m sure there are many people who will say “Oh, just hire people to run your business for you” like that is so easy. Even though I had very excellent people working for me, it just isn’t that easy and they couldn’t cover everything I did. But anyway, you are welcome to go on believing that …
In addition to hating every second of my “lake vacations” several bad things happened to me while I was removed from my daily, productive and happy cycle to undergo these “forced fun” exercises.
In one case, I had been promoted to a job at a local farm, to the position of “farm wright”. I hadn’t yet transitioned to the role when the owner called me to request that I come in. I told her that I was supposed to be “On vacation or something”. She asked me to repeat what I said and so I repeated “Rainy, I’m on vacation”. She said “Good bye” and I never heard from her again. I did hear that my friend, who had lost out on the job, was promoted to the position and was working at it before I even returned to work.
Back to the massacre of my chickens, that prompted this post. One morning, I had arrived at the house, from my vacation, after biking the 3-4 miles from the lake, to find all of my chickens killed. With no one at the house, my flock was literally fair game for anything around including dogs, hawks, foxes etc. I was so angry and frustrated that I was taken away from my work, to do something I didn’t want to do, which resulted in the destruction of my business. I vowed that day to never allow anyone to take me away from my work again and thus ended my Maine lake vacations, for good.
Fast forward to my time working in Boston, we took a vacation to the Caribbean. Not only was it one of the worst weeks of my life, as I absolutely hated everything about the place, when I got back my cube was all messed up from guys who had to cover my accounts, and didn’t want to, throwing papers and files on it. I dug myself out from under the piles of crap people had dumped on my desk but swore I would never give them another opportunity, certainly not to spend time doing something I didn’t want to. I did take sweet satisfaction in messing up everyone else’s desks, when they went on vacation, knowing from that point on that they could never reciprocate!
My vacation policy
“Oh, so you don’t allow people to take vacations?!” No, actually my company had a ton of vacations. Two guys had 10 weeks of vacation a year, at the end of the year. Everyone started with 6 weeks I believe and it went up there. We offered all local holidays plus 3-4 “floating” holidays. We offered 5 paid sick/personal days. Oh, and if you didn’t use up all of this you could sell it back to the company, sometimes at a multiple of up to 2x aka double-overtime. So I think vacations were a huge perk at working at my company, and it continues to be under the new organization post acquisition.
I don’t like or appreciate vacations myself, but I do understand that others do and apparently need them and/or find them enjoyable.
I believe that if you want to be successful you must be present. You can’t delegate success anymore than I could effectively delegate the safe-guarding of my farm security to my wife. By being absent you miss opportunities and put yourself in the position of realizing risks, that you could otherwise mitigate.
If you want to have lots of time off, that is fine, but I would suggest you don’t start a business, startup or be a farmer.
Could your family take vacations? Yes – and they enjoyed them, just without me
Don’t you like spending time with your kids, family? Yes – and I was always available for my family and spent lots of time with them. Working naked with full flex time, flex location affording me this ability
Don’t you need time off to re-charge for work? No.
Don’t you realize vacations make you more productive and effective? No. My dead chickens apparently don’t either
Do you realize that you are violating some EU rule that mandates every worker gets 12 weeks of vacations with mandatory spa time, facials and mud bath treatments? I’m not in EU.