Five Days to Go, Working for the next Day (or, Taking Time off in a Country That Sees No Value in Time Spent Not Working)

relax, why don't ya

The company I work for has an HR site where we can request time off and generally access all of our work documents and benefits. A couple weeks ago I went in there and scheduled days off for all the federal US holidays next year. There are 11 of them now. I did that because the company urges us to take our national holidays. So I dumped about a dozen time-off requests on the same day and my boss didn’t even flinch.

I’ve always prided myself on having a good “work ethic.” The older I get the more I think that concept is just a tool of oppression, instilled in us by the Puritans who founded this country. Perhaps if the first visitors to the country, the Vikings, had stayed we’d have very different national priorities, but so it goes.

That “work ethic” may have helped me on two or three occasions that I can think of. But if I honestly assess and reflect on the past, the rest of the time it screwed me. It screws all of us because most of the people running American companies will squeeze every drop of anything you have to offer out of you, giving you nothing in return but a woefully inadequate paycheck. Then after you are sufficiently squeezed they will drop you into a dumpster with the rest of the office trash.

I know that because I’ve been squeezed and dumped many times. Left with nothing to show for any of it. The prevailing belief in this country is a company that employs you doesn’t owe you anything but that paycheck, but where did that backward idea come from? Likey those fucking pilgrims. I blame them for everything.

All right, all right, I’m going off on a tangent here, this isn’t really what I wanted to talk about. Let me see if I can remember why we are gathered here today. Right – time off. Holidays. Vacation. I guess I haven’t strayed too far from the point.

In the past, I never took a day off for all of the US holidays. Something like Columbus day would roll up and I’d think, “Fuck Columbus and his puritan death squad!” and I’d work on that day out of spite. Ha ha. Kind of. But I wouldn’t take off any of the holidays that didn’t apply to me, as I saw it.

And honestly, it wasn’t so much that I didn’t want to take the holidays off, it’s more that I was afraid to. Because that work ethic of mine morphed into a toxic fear of time off that has dogged me for decades.

That is until I landed at a company established and run by Europeans.

Oh my, the Europeans certainly do have some odd beliefs! Like believing everyone should be respected and treated with dignity and fairly compensated – ridiculous things like that. They think national holidays are days off for everyone in the nation, not just those who can afford to be away from work.

As a result, I have the 11 aforementioned national holidays off this year, as well as 5 available sick days, and unlimited paid time off for vacations or whatever I feel like taking time off for. “Unlimited” is not unlimited. There are some rules around that. If there weren’t, someone would say, “Hey, just so you know, I’m taking Monday and Friday off next week. Thanks. Oh, yeah, and every week after that, too.”

But in spirit, it’s unlimited. So essentially I can take off five or six (or seven) weeks a year and no one would try to make me feel bad about it. They would probably pat me on the back and say, “Good for you! Enjoy yourself!” Instead of trying to justify taking off a national holiday – to myself or my boss – I don’t think about it, I just take them off. Instead of being afraid that I’m being judged for taking off Juneteenth (which I am), I know that the people who employ me want me to take it off.

It’s that mythical work/life balance that everyone talks about. The balance that very few of us have the luxury of trying to find.

It’s disconcerting, to be treated like a human being by an employer. I am in uncharted waters, and it’s wonderful. Did I mention that late next year I’ll be eligible for a sabbatical? Do you know what that is? At my company, it’s a paid month off.

Not a month off instead of your other holidays and time off – a month off in addition to them.

A month.

All at once.

I’ll be eligible for that because I will have worked there for three years. Everyone in the company is eligible for that perk after three years. Not just executives or managers. Everyone.

To put that in perspective, I worked 12 years for another host and was very grudgingly given three weeks of vacation time in the last year I was there. For the first more than ten years, it was two weeks, no more. It only became three weeks when I and a couple other people advocated for a change in the time off policies. If we hadn’t kicked up sand over the issue they would have never voluntarily given it – or anything else – to us.

I guess I’ve worked for places like that for my entire life, so this feels weird now. How fucked up is that? How fucked up is it that anyone should feel guilty for taking a day away from work? How tremendously fucked up is it that people who work hourly wage jobs usually can’t afford to take a day off? A single day. For any reason.

Work, work, work, it’s all we care about. When you meet someone, the odds are that within the first 60 seconds of conversation they are going to ask you what you do. What is your work? It’s how we measure each other and figure out how we fit together, and what we might have in common. Our work.

It’s a little different since I’ve been with Ayin. They are an artist and they know a million other artists, so that’s often who we hang around with. When someone in a gathering like that asks what you do, they’re usually asking what kind of creative work you do. What kind of art do you make.

But most other people in the world want to know what you do for a living. It’s really weird when you think about it, but it’s so common that we just accept it as natural.

Okay. Dang. This went on for a really long time, and I thought would be two or three paragraphs. But that’s the way it goes.



  1. Having worked hourly wage jobs that paid poorly for 30+ years ( with an exception of a few years where I sold suits on commission – well paid but soul depleting) I feel this deeply.

    I took those jobs so I wouldn’t have to commit to something, I wanted to be able to write and call that my job. But that’s not how it works in North America. Ha.

    And the work ethic hoodoo…I have that. But that’s a problem in low paying jobs, when they find a sucker like me who won’t leave until the job is done to some crazy and arbitrary standard I have in my head, that sucker is given more stuff to do. For the same low wage.

    Just so I don’t have to commit to a job that might define me. Sucker indeed.

    Anyway, to put a happy ending on this, I still work at a low paying job, but I’m in a position now where I picked the job I want and only work a couple days a week.

    How’s that for European! Take that, Sam Walton!

    • But that’s a problem in low paying jobs, when they find a sucker like me who won’t leave until the job is done to some crazy and arbitrary standard I have in my head, that sucker is given more stuff to do. For the same low wage.

      The same trap exists in salaried office work too. What hurts is I realized it a long time ago, yet I continued to feel like I had to be in my office when my boss left for the day. I couldn’t leave before him. And, of course, I had to be in that office when he arrived for work too.

      You’re right. When you do that kind of thing, you’re just seen as an always available malleable tool that can be used until it breaks.

      Bonus irony: I’m taking a week off soon, and as I was scheduling the time off, I noticed that I hadn’t taken an entire week off in over a year. So…I’m not cured yet.

      I feel your I’ll work this crappy job until I make it doing what I love idea too. I did that with music. I made a living from music for a couple of years, kind of, but it wasn’t a realistic idea. And I knew that. I knew that one day when I was older, I might regret devoting myself to a creative existence instead of getting an education or finding a pension job to work for 20 years. As it turns out, though, I don’t regret it. If I were working for Sam Walton, I might feel differently, but I’ve been lucky.

      I think for any art to exist, there have to be a certain number of people who have borderline-delusional belief in their creative side and are willing to sacrifice a “normal” life for it. By doing those sustenance-level jobs, we were demonstrating a belief in ourselves that the world needs. So congratulations, you essentially saved the world. We are awesome!

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