Wisdom//

The Problem with Passion

Vacations aren't for escaping your job. Vacations make you better at your job.

Jasmin Merdan/Getty Images
Jasmin Merdan/Getty Images

I read a quote the other day that said those who are truly successful “don’t need a vacation away from work because their work is their passion.”

I respectfully disagree—with this quote, and with others who have the misguided belief that if you do what you love, vacation becomes obsolete. Vacation is not for escaping your job; it’s for making you better at it.

If you love what you do, you should constantly be seeking ways to be better at it—and vacation is one of the ways you can better your career. Travel offers a new perspective that can inspire a creative breakthrough. And in today’s economy, where innovative thinking is often more critical to a company’s success than producing widgets, the employee with ideas can rise quickly.

Vacation also provides time for the brain to breathe and allow it space to help solve problems. There are countless examples of a vacation resulting in a “eureka moment.” From Starbucks’ Howard Shultz finding vision for the company while strolling around Italy in 1983 to Instagram’s Kevin Systrom taking a walk on the beach that inspired the idea of filters for the app, taking vacations can help fuel the work we are passionate about.

Unfortunately, most Americans are not traveling much. More than half of us are not using all the time we earn, leading to 705 million vacation days being left on the table by American workers last year alone.

Far too many Americans have the flawed assumption that this is part of our storied work ethic. But we haven’t always been this way. While we have shown improvement the last three years, the average American took 17.2 days last year, far fewer than the long-term average from 1978-2000 of 20.3 days.

Project: Time Off’s latest research shows that some places are better than others. In Colorado, the average employee takes 20.3 days of vacation—the most of any state and well ahead of the number two state, Virginia, where the average is 18.9 days. Montanans take the least amount of vacation, at 16.3 days on average, followed by Delaware with 16.5 days.

If you have passion for something, it doesn’t leave you if you leave town. In fact, Americans who travel with a larger share of their vacation time are more than twice as likely to say they are “extremely” happy with their job—the intense kind of happiness that would be most closely associated with being passionate—than those who travel with little or none of their days.

Life outside of work is better for those who travel more, too. They report being 20% happier with their personal relationships and 56% happier with their health and well-being than those who travel with little or none of their vacation time. Not to mention that employees who travel more with their time off are 18% more likely to be promoted than those who travel very little.

It is something Virginians understand. Where the state is number two for the days used, it is number one for days spent traveling, with 12.2 days committed to getting away, compared to eight nationally. Their wanderlust serves them well. More than half (52%) of employees in the Old Dominion State say their company cultures encourages vacation usage, far more than the 38 percent of all Americans who say the same.

On the other end of the spectrum is South Dakota, where employees use a national low of 4.3 of their vacation days traveling and are also below average for days used. Interestingly, employees in Virginia were more likely to report receiving a recent raise and/or bonus than those in South Dakota.

A passionate employee is a great thing. But an employee who is passionate to the point of forgoing other parts of their life is on track for burnout or worse. It is time to stop perpetuating the stereotype that vacation is a threat to our professional success when it is more likely to be a driver of it.

Here’s how to become the right kind of passionate employee:

1) Plan: Employees who take the time to plan out their vacation time in advance are far more likely than average to use all their earned days off (53% to 43%). Get out your calendar or use Project: Time Off’s planner to put every last minute of time off to good use.

2) Don’t Assume Your Boss is Against Vacation: Although most workplaces don’t talk about vacation, managers are overwhelmingly supportive of their employees taking time off. Make sure to give them plenty of notice, avoid peak busy times, and prepare your co-workers for your absence.

3) Get Out of Town: Americans taking all or most of their vacation days to travel are happier, less stressed, and more successful. While a staycation and your to-do list may be hard to resist, a vacation away from it all is going to have a bigger impact. 

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