Lonely Planet

Backpackers be warned. The planet has just gotten a little lonelier today.

Remember the days of yesteryear? When “Lonely Planet” stood for that dog-earred guide that led dusty travelers to the farthest corners of the Earth? To places of discovery and wonder? To waterfalls and arid deserts? To exotic temples and camel rides?

The Paris Agreement, an accord signed by 195 parties under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, is meant to reduce greenhouse gas emissions starting in 2020. The whole world, which is clearly impacted by climate change, came together under the agreement to combat its effects. To do something about it. To move from denial to definite action. It was a monumental decision and recognition that we are in this together. The environment does not recognize titles or boundaries or politics. It only knows how to do what it is designed to do.

Nature has unbounded intelligence. It can adapt. It will survive.

We may not.

The only exceptions to the signatories? The Holy See (Vatican) as it is an observer state; Nicaragua, whose emissary claims they are doing climate change on their own; and Syria, a country embattled in a civil war.

148 of those parties have ratified or acceded to the Agreement, even China and India, the countries with three of the four largest greenhouse gas emissions of the signatories’ total (about 42% together).

Where is the United States on the scale of greenhouse gas emissions? The country spews out 17.8% of the world’s greenhouse gas. And yet it represents only 4.34% of the world’s population. Hmmm….

And yet Trump, whose delusions of grandeur as he peers from his perch at the top of his world seem to grow with each passing tweet, has decided to poop in the world’s sandbox by withdrawing the United States from the agreement. He wants to push the coal industry and “save American jobs”. What he is doing is not only short-sighted, it also won’t work. The clean energy industry has surpassed traditional sources in jobs and innovation. China is spreading its green technology throughout Africa, for instance, a profitable opportunity the United States is missing completely.

According to a recent Sierra Club report based on the Department of Energy 2017 jobs data, “[c]lean energy jobs, including those from solar, wind, energy efficiency, smart grid technology and battery storage, vastly outnumber all fossil fuel jobs nationwide from the coal, oil and gas sectors. That includes jobs in power generation, mining, and other forms of fossil fuel extraction.”

The US President claims he works for the people of Pittsburgh, not the people of Paris. For starters, Paris was the location of the conference where the agreement was adopted on December 12, 2015, then entered into force November 4, 2016, just four days before the tragedy that is US politics unfurled with his election win. The best part is it was actually signed at the UN headquarters in New York City, just paces away from his place of residence.  If the man would take just a moment to cursorily review the document, and I mean just the title, he would see that it pertains to the whole world, which includes Pittsburgh, unless the city decides to secede from the planet, which could get interesting. Perhaps Trump would join them then. And we can finally put this whole thing to bed.

In other worlds, Trump is speaking to a handful of constituents at the expense of 7 billion other people.

It is yet another demonstration of the perils this fine nation intends to inflict upon the rest of the planet. And the deep, deep selfishness that fosters hatred in the hearts of those who despise his ignorance.

Yes, Trump, it’s lonely at the top. And as you alienate the country you claim to lead from everyone else, your fall will be even harder.

Why I choose to march

It is time to put on those Big Girl pants and act. I have comfortably, and often not so quietly, lashed out at the state of the world. While it may have felt good for the moment, I knew my days as self-important, indignant complainer were numbered.

The moment we lose the will to do something about an issue is the moment we lose our right to complain about it. We need to take action now.

Remarkably, I have come to terms with the fate of our nation, at least for the moment. But that does not mean I have resigned myself to it. Like many of you, I experienced the five stages of grief as I realized how much power we were handing off to a man filled with vitriol, viciousness and vindictiveness. I oscillated between anger and despair, practicing the utmost restraint (and failing miserably) to not be swept up in the online venting we have witnessed since November 8th. Every day we were fed new fodder from well-meaning celebrities or Senators or reporters. It seems to fan the flame of hatred, catapulting so many of us into a new level of confusion.

Not all of my online interactions have been bad. Many of you have helped me see what I can do to make a difference. I have called my senator, signed numerous online petitions, voluntarily watched C-Span (!) and shared information with people far and wide. It may have budged the conversation only a millimeter for a nanosecond, but doing something felt like a better choice than doing nothing at all while saying even less with a ton of empty words.

It seemed, for a while, that if I fed facts to the faltering followers of the PEOTUS, I would gain new ground. I would, in some hapless way, save the world from its self-inflicted insanity.

It may appear arrogant, and perhaps you are right. I see now that I was wrong. We all have our entrenched ways of thinking. Words alone will not do it. For a writer, it is a hard pill to swallow. After all, don’t we shape the world with the words we share?

Talk without action, words without movement, will do little to sway the hearts we so desperately wish to reach.

And so I will march. On January 21, 2017 I will join the marching million on this planet who care deeply about the future of our world. Places as far as Tblisi, Georgia, Calcutta, India and Dublin, Ireland, Lima, Peru and Nairobi, Kenya are joining together to show their support. To show they care.

This is not just an American issue.

The nearest march to me is taking place in France. It seems appropriate — no essential — as an American living in Germany to participate in an act of peaceful demonstration in France to support all that I have said I care about. While it is easy to cackle at the mean memes circulating on Facebook, it will do nothing to solve the issues we face.

And so I will march.

My son, who is a budding photographer, will join me. My love and his kids will too. We will stand on an historic place in Strasbourg that has showcased many a demonstration in the city’s long history. We will unite to show that action can speak louder than words.

And so we will march.

We will build bridges, not walls, dialogue, not diatribe. We will stand up for what we believe in.

And that is saying a lot.

 

Why Should You Care?

The unyielding darkness has started to seep into the Northern Hemisphere. Abbreviated sunlight in November has always affected my mood, challenging my natural buoyancy by the stagger and sway of light deprivation. And this year we have an additional force to reckon with: a metaphorical shadowy veil that has been draped across our world.

Even in these pitch dark moments I see opportunity. We have a chance to stand brightly in the darkness and call out all for which we stand: peace, love, joy, beauty, grace, wisdom. The sanctity of life remains untouched for our willpower and minds remain free, even if we feel shackled by political, environmental, social, cultural and economic realities. We can make a difference. Show up for what you believe in in a non-violent, loving way. Others will notice and may be encouraged to do the same.

Self-care is especially vital when we feel this vulnerable. My hot water bottle has become my trusty companion, feeling its warmth on my lap as I type words and phrases and lines, sometimes blurred by distraction and an urge to check in on the world to see if it’s alright.

My sister graciously shared her strategy for comfort. A shower and a nap are the best remedies for sorrow. With gratitude she feels the spray of instant warm water that she knows so many in this world do not have. A mid-day respite, bowing to the altar of Slow, reenergizes the fuzziness and frayed edges. Jumpiness is replaced by a Zen-like calm and we return to that greater part of ourselves that knows this too shall pass.

It may be the end of the world as we know it, to quote REM, but it is not the end of the world. Apocalyptic thoughts leave no room for positive ones.

If you are struggling with how best to care for yourself, consider this:

  • Switch off the noise – both internal and external. Surrender to your need for rest when you require it.
  • Minimize your exposure to online vitriol. It won’t help you, but will only serve to fuel confusion, wrath and disconnection.
  • Eat vitamin-rich food. Especially now as the sun quickly genuflects to the horizon, Vitamin D is essential. Ensure you get natural sunlight. Compensate with supplements if you cannot.
  • Connect with others. Isolation feeds insanity. Gather your tribe.
  • Hug more often.
  • Watch a comedy. Laughter heals.
  • Express love and gratitude.
  • Respect our differences. Remember that you may appear as foreign to someone else.
  • Create a safe environment for dialogue with people you meet.

Why should you care? Because you can. Because you do. Because caring for self is the first step in caring for others. The opposite of love is indifference. Recent events have shown we are not indifferent, although we may feel powerless. Your power begins within you. Embrace the power of Slow. The result of its force is mightier than any politician on the planet.

Shadows in the Light

Where there is much light, there will be much darkness. Ah yes, those ubiquitous shadows that dance in the sun’s rays. My intention in life has always been to spread love and light wherever I can. I really mean that. It may sound naive, and perhaps it is. But I am always shocked when I meet people who don’t live with that level of integrity. When they feel more drawn to the darker side of things because, well, it’s cooler and no one can see what they’re up to. If no one witnesses your lying as you lurk in the shadows, have you really lied at all?

Dancing with the Freiburg sun

I recently watched a fascinating documentary called Dishonesty: The Truth About Lies. It turns out we all lie, yet most of us still think we are good people. We are hopelessly optimistic that somehow we are above average. We cheat mostly when our social surroundings support that behavior with the promise of a more favorable outcome with a very low to zero chance of getting caught. So it’s not the honesty we care about, but about whether we can pursue our advantage by whichever means available to us while still being liked or loved.

Shocking. And somehow so true.

Have you ever been in the check-out line at the grocery store and you forget to place one of the items in your cloth bag onto the conveyor belt. You noticed it when you get home. You literally stole it without knowing it. Do you make your way back to the store to return or at least pay for the item? Chances are if the cost in terms of time and energy is above a certain threshold, you won’t. You’ll live with yourself and your justifications about how it doesn’t really matter. Most likely, you will believe what you are telling yourself. And even if you tell your friends, they most likely will too.

Have you ever received too much change after a purchase transaction without giving it back? Have you ever run a red light? Walked across a crosswalk while the pedestrian sign says ‘Don’t walk’?

We look for shortcuts to get things done faster. In the name of economy, we lie our asses off. And sometimes when we get caught, we feel a sense of shame. But usually only the first time. The more we lie, the more it feels normal. Dishonesty tells a few sobering tales about some liars who ended up getting jail time.

So what about those shadows and that light? What makes us choose to step into the light instead of hiding out in the darkness with our reasons and fear? It turns out even being reminded that there is such a thing as a code of ethics can vastly impact a person’s willingness toward honesty. Study after study showed that when participants first read a line about the moral standards set out at the university at which the research was being conducted, people shaped up and gave honest answers. That’s encouraging. So we can learn to be upstanding with a little nudge from the ethics’ committee.

André Gide says: “The color of truth is grey.” A little light. A little shadow. A blend of the two makes up what we believe to be right. Even if we’re sometimes wrong. Or naive. Or both.

 

Capturing those Fifty Bits

The slant of morning light tells me fall will be awakening soon. The dusting of leaves on the city sidewalks layer over the summer’s heat. A gust of wind sweeps them skyward as a crow calls over the sun-scorched meadow.

It has been a fun-filled summer and although it is not over yet, I can feel the urge to brace myself for the darkness that will come.

It always does.

Perhaps it is the wisdom of my years that has settled in, but I have started taking things for granted less and appreciating the moment more. A soft afternoon with my life partner’s aging mother. Laughter in the kitchen with my teenaged children. Drawing boundaries. Saying no here. Saying yes there. Capturing the essence of life in the here and now so that when darkness descends, I will have the rich memories of days filled with light and delight.

Living off the racetrack makes paying attention easier. As a result, I have experienced the most marvelous things. Throughout my wanderings this summer, I stumbled upon a delightful book whose American author, Bob Nease, happens to live on a vineyard in Italy. With my commitment to Slow, I would have preferred a week-long interview at said vineyard, to which he invited me. Given other commitments, we opted for an email exchange instead.

He kindly sent me — upon my request — his latest book, The Power of Fifty Bits: The New Science of Turning Good Intentions into Positive Results. It is based on a simple premise: the human brain processes millions of bits of information at every moment, but only fifty of those bits seep into our awareness. In fact, he claims, our brains are wired for inattention and inertia. With our limited ability to pay attention, we may harbor good intentions but because we are most often on autopilot, we don’t act upon them.

Anyone who signs up for a year-long gym membership come January 1 knows what I’m talking about. We want to live better lives. Then we do what we always do with little effort to really change things. That is, unless you have a pain point so strong, you simply have to take action. Or the other option seems more appealing.

Trained as a medical professional with a large dose of engineering who worked for years at Express Scripts, Bob has designed ways to out trick our wiring to make the better option the more convenient one – or at least the more obvious choice based on our ever-slacking attention span. He offers all kinds of engineery-type arguments, most of which are extremely amusing. I found myself trying really hard to pay attention to his logical thinking. Sometimes I failed because although his writing is clear and very well thought out, I was more aware of not being aware than of comprehending what he was saying. I may have to gather my fifty bits and give the book another read because I do think what he has to say is extremely important. I have managed to make it palatable to a handful of friends. The book itself came up in conversation so much that I found myself quoting from it nearly every day.

Therein lies the lesson. We cannot cruise through life without mindfulness. It’s a richer one when we pay attention -or at least try to. And even if we don’t always understand what is happening, what others are saying or what we ourselves are doing, there are ways to improve our thinking and actions. And to cherish the moment. Right here. Right now. With every bit available to us.

Dejunking the Funk: A Tale of Spring Cleaning

While we may resist change, shaking things up a bit can help release loads of blocked energy. We don’t have to move house to move mountains. Sometimes it just takes rearranging what we’ve already got.

Blame it on the sunshine, but something got into me yesterday. For three years I’ve worked in my home office with the furniture pretty much in the same place. I added a couch and had to move a few shelves, but other than that, my desk always faced the window. In fact, it was the floor to ceiling wall of windows that convinced me this was the right apartment.

Dance floor office“Sunlight!” I belted out as I viewed the apartment for the first time. Standing in my now office, I waited until the other interested parties left before asking the realtor what papers I needed to sign. Somehow I knew this room in particular was special. South-facing with an adjacent balcony, my home office is my castle. It’s where I spend 90% of my waking hours.

In just one second of those hours, I realized yesterday afternoon that although I had the possibility of light, two things were blocking it: the couch, which rested against the bank of windows and my gargantuan iMac, which blocked my view almost entirely. How could I have been so blind? I mean wasn’t it the light that had attracted me in the first place? Only I had shut it out by the way I placed my furniture. I found myself decluttering, rearranging, dusting, mopping and expanding the space by merely putting things in a different order. I now have a dance floor in the middle of the room. The desk is against the wall, the couch is against another one and the bank of windows can now do its job so much better.

All because I suddenly saw possibility where there was none before.

It got me to thinking about how we do this often in our lives. We block out the very things we want, believing somehow that there is no other way. We are blind to our own potential and to what we already have access to. We think things will never change. Until we make that first step that leads to another and another and another. The next thing we know, we are dancing in the middle of the room. In the light. And we wonder why we never saw it before.

If you’re stuck, dejunk the funk in your life. Clear those cobwebs. Make one little change. Sift through a single drawer and remove what’s not working for you.

My astonishing realization yesterday? One baby step can literally bring the mountain to you.

 

 

The Rise of Fast Fashion and the Demise of Humanity

Andrew Morgan set out to tell a simple story. He wanted to talk about our clothing, what exactly we wear, what it says about us and its impact on our world. At first glance, you might think his film THE TRUE COST is about anorexia as he shows paper-thin models getting ready for photo shoots and fashion jobs. But very quickly the viewer realizes the film tells a much broader tale about how just a few brand names have dictated how fast the clothing industry runs today.

TC_logo_WoPBefore watching the film, I had never heard of the term fast fashion. And yet it is an industry that touches every part of our lives the world over.

In the last decade, the clothing industry has changed dramatically. As late as the 1960s, 95% of our clothing was made in the US. Today 97% is outsourced to developing countries, made by human hands at a fraction of the price it used to be. The price of clothing has dropped significantly, while the cost of producing the clothes has increased. Who pays for the price suppression? The people who make the clothing. The sweatshop workers in Bangladesh, for instance, make just $3 per day in unsafe working conditions. It is appalling.

Why has the clothing industry gotten so fast? And what is fast fashion after all? What used to be an industry based on cycles like Nature itself – with the introduction of winter/fall and spring/summer collections, the fashion industry now produces new styles on a weekly basis. Large brands have identified our insatiable desire for stuff.  In a recent Skype interview, Andrew told me, “We live in a consumer-driven, very fast-paced world. The rate of acceleration is startling. Change at that pace means a lot of things and people fall through the cracks.”

Clothing – made from cheaper and cheaper materials – gets tossed aside or virtually thrown out at such ridiculously low prices that it is impossible for other companies to compete at higher, more realistic prices. The result is a run toward the cheapest labor possible to ensure costs remain in check and profits remain high.

But at what cost? Andrew says his film is meant to address the disconnection that globalization has created in our world today. “I read an article about Rana Plaza (the deadliest garment factory accident in history). I asked myself how is it possible that I am not aware of the origin of my clothes? THE TRUE COST started out as a film that impacts human beings and the environment. It kept expanding as I started to see the interdependencies. It is about understanding the intersection between the psychology, economics and lack of regulation in the fashion industry. There is a profound set of questions about the state of human beings in 2016. What does it mean to live in a world of outsourcing the production of our things?”

Out of sight, out of mind – that is the issue with fast fashion. We don’t see the laborers – often separated from their families as they work endless hours for extremely low wages in buildings that crack, collapse and kill, such as the Rana Plaza tragedy that claimed over 1,000 lives in Dhaka, Bangladesh. And if we hear about it, we quickly experience compassion fatigue. How could we possibly make a difference in those people’s lives? They are so very far away.

But the film raises other issues as well. Most harrowing perhaps is the environmental impact of our greed for something new in our closet every week. The lack of environmental regulation in India, for instance, is allowing poisons to be dumped into the Ganges River. The impact of pesticides on the cotton fields of Northern Texas is another example.

Here are some statistics to put things into perspective:

  • Each year we purchase 80 billion pieces of clothing.
  • That equals 400% more than the amount of clothing we bought just two decades ago.
  • The average American discards 82 pounds of textile waste annually, which translates to 11 million tons of textile waste from the US alone. Most of this waste is non-biodegradable, sitting in landfills for 200 years or more while releasing harmful gases. Where does the disposed clothing go? You guessed it. Oftentimes it lands up back in the developing nations who produced the clothing in the first place.

This topic may seem overwhelming. And it is. But what I learned from Andrew’s film and my conversation with him afterwards is that we can make a difference. It is not about boycotting products made in Bangladesh or other developing nations in which working conditions are less than ideal. It is about shaping our behavior and the story we tell ourselves in a different way. It is about redirecting our consciousness to a different level. Pretty soon, as we begin to examine our choices more closely, we start to shift our perspective. Little things such as using cloth shopping bags instead of accumulating plastic ones in the back of our pantry or utilizing rechargeable batteries instead of buying new ones every time start to impact our world in positive ways.

When we go shopping, we can ask ourselves, “Do I really need this item? Do I love it? Will I take care of it for a really long time? Is it of high quality and will it last? Can I repurpose it if needed?” Sustainable shopping can go a long way in combatting the issues Andrew addresses in his film. Consumers do not have to buy products created under unconscionable conditions. If there is less demand, things will have to change toward a more positive end.

The US economy is based on expansion. But it’s like a balloon. At one point, it will pop because endless expansion is physically not possible (even the Universe will stop expanding one day). The truth is we have grown up in a role as consumers, which is actually very disempowering for the individuals. According to Andrew, it has made it easy to have an apathetic life. Born into so much privilege, we have an enormous amount of influence on how the world is shaped. Tragically, we do not have the sense of responsibility that goes with that influence.

We need to start asking ourselves a simple question, one that informs everything about us. “What are the choices I am making?” As The Power of Slow suggests, your life is a compilation of the choices you make. If you have been living in a story that you are bystander, watching history unfold, it is time to reclaim the field for yourself. For the good of your life. For the good of your children’s.

“I want to inspire people to hope-filled action,” Andrew says. “The greatest lie of all is that you can’t contribute. You can’t separate things. This is not just about clothes. It’s about greed and power and fear. Who is telling the story, to what end and to what end is that story being embraced? How was it ever deemed okay that the prosperity of a few can be built on the suffering of so many others?”

It is a very good question indeed. Andrew wishes to invite us all into a bigger story. A better one in which fashion is not fast, but decelerated to a sustainable pace in which everyone gets what they need.

It is time to stand up to the lies we have been told, that somehow happiness can be purchased – often at a discounted price. Happiness can’t be bought, despite the messages we see every day claiming otherwise. In a recent TedX talk, Harvard professor Robert Waldinger, the head of the longest study on happiness in history, states the secret to happiness, regardless of socioeconomic status, has been found to be connection with other people. Love, not stuff, is the answer.

Love starts with the choices we make for ourselves and – ultimately – for the world we wish to live in. What step can you take today to move toward a better world?

When “Why” is all there is

Having a vision is an incredibly important ingredient to having a great life. It is the “what” that we often pursue: more money, more fame, more of simply everything.

But is the “what” really a driving force that can sustain us?

I think not.

Even if we can define our “what”, our vision, our deep-seated desire to articulate that which our hearts bleed for, we may not be sure how to get there.

So we look to the “how” of things. How can we attain that which we hope for? Yearn for? Want more than anything?

I used to believe that if we knew what we wanted, the how would come.

How wrong I have been.

Simon Sinek, the British author of Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action, says that we should start with the reason why we do things. Two-year-olds know this. They ask “Why” all the time. They embrace what Sinek calls the golden circle. Start from the center and everything else will come. But somewhere along the line, children accept the adults’ answer that it’s because we say so.

The Golden Circle - Start with the Why and the How and What will follow

The Golden Circle – Start with the Why and the How and What will follow

What kind of answer is that?

Why is where the heart is. It goes beyond our rational thinking to a deeper, more innate understanding. Why lives on a completely different plane.

Change can only really happen effectively if we understand why. So if an organization is undergoing change, employees need to get a grasp on the reasons for the change. “Why should I care?” Answer that question and people will follow you anywhere — or lead others down the path you intend to take them.

Have you ever considered why you do things?

Why do I write? Why do you take pictures? Why does she selflessly help other people? Why does he get up again and again after yet another defeat?

The “why” of things is the underlying power that inform our days. It is equivalent to our life’s purpose. It is the very reason we are here.

Understanding the “why” of things not only helps us accept change, it also helps us learn better. My son recently changed schools. For years he struggled with the German school system – an institution that insists students learn the “what” of things. “How” was even harder and it seemed as if no amount of tutoring was going to help him because he never, ever understood why he was supposed to learn the things they told him to learn.

Why do we learn math? Why do I need to know the inner workings of a cell? My son knew he needed to make a change. Why? Because he wanted to learn. Along with his very powerful reasons, a series of circumstances and good fortune brought him to a new school where his teachers actually take the time to tell him why. And magically he has never been as motivated to run out the door to school as he is today.

The same applies to our lives as adults. Why do we want to achieve certain things? What are our motivations?

Have you ever wondered why certain tasks seem effortless? Why you enter a space of flow — and with other tasks it feels like carrying a boulder uphill to the stars?

When we know why we are doing something (love is a really good reason), we just do it. Without question. Without faltering. With an effortlessness that makes us heroes in our every day stories.

Ask yourself why you do what you do. Do you have the answer? Are you satisfied with the answer you tell yourself? If not, put down that boulder and make a change toward who you really are.

Why? Because your life depends on it.

 

The Appreciation of Depreciation

Nothing measures the passage of time more than watching children grow. Or trees that suddenly shoot up to the sky. Or cars that have served you well that suddenly show signs of aging.

My loyal sports car has a few rough edges now. It failed to pass inspection, showing its depreciated value for the first time since I bought it seven years ago.

“It’s time to invest in your lifestyle,” my love said.

He is right.

I naively thought I might be able to replace my car with another one for a reasonable price. The car dealer suppressed a laugh.

“Ma’am. I don’t think so.”

I could almost hear my sports car sighing with relief when I decided it was time to put some money into repairing it back to health.

Car repairs stress me out. It’s beyond my comfort zone (and I’m used to a certain level of uncertainty. It’s the basis of my entire career!) But there is something about motor oil and grease and loud banging noises that throw me off balance. So I asked my love to escort me to the repair shop for a consultation. He nodded, hmmm’ed and made other sounds of affirmation as the mechanic rattled off the things I’d need to make Herman (yes, that’s my car’s name) well again.

It’s amazing what happens when you’re in distress like that. The mechanic agreed to work with me on the price and the timing. He really wanted to help me. I was astounded by his generosity. And grateful for giving my car what it needs.

Whenever things break down, whether it’s a car, device or household gadget, there is always opportunity to look behind the curtain to discover the remarkable people who will come to your aid. Or the experience of not having that thing work and what it feels like when you are without it.

We are so accustomed to everything functioning as we want it to, including ourselves. And when things — and other people – don’t act as we wish them to, it’s a chance to examine our own expectations.

Life is full of mystery. And I have gained a new appreciation for the depreciation of things. How else would we see the magic lurking just beneath the surface of All That Is?

 

 

 

The No Vacation Nation

Our relationship with time is embedded in our culture. It is never so apparent than in the different ways in which people view vacation. For some, vacation is a luxury; for others, it’s a birthright. One glance at this chart reveals how diverse our perspective is about taking time off. It shows the number of mandatory vacation days per year. France wins – hands down – with 30 days. The United States lands on the opposite end of the spectrum with exactly zero.

vacation days 2015

 

After seeing this chart, I got curious.  John Piana, a veteran of Corporate America with over 20 years of experience and a work-life balance proponent, approached me with some of his ideas as to why Americans don’t view vacation as a necessity. He calls the United States the No Vacation Nation. It is so deeply entrenched in people’s minds that anything other than working is considered “time off” (even hospitalization – I swear I can’t tell you how many of my American friends told me to enjoy my time off and to consider it a mini-vacation when I went in for surgery– are you serious??).

Power of Slow: Do you think Corporate America will ever introduce mandatory paid vacation? 

John: If it does happen, it will be awhile.  In order for a fundamental change like this to take place, it needs momentum.  Right now there’s little to none.  And even when momentum begins to build, it will still have to overcome the powerful business lobbyists who will likely keep legislators from getting behind it.  Until the issue gets to the point of a social uprising, mandatory vacation will just be coffee shop talk.  However, I think a potential wildcard is social media.  I’m amazed at how many times social media has shown the power to turn public opinion almost overnight.  A social media firestorm could quickly transform the mandatory vacation landscape.

PoS: What things can leaders do to stay offline and in life while on vacation?

J: Simple.  Make the choice!  Prioritize it.  Set the expectation and precedent beforehand with your manager and with people reporting to you.  Explain you will not be calling or logging in during vacation.  Or if that is an impossibility (which I don’t buy), begin to take back control by severely limiting the contact and explain to others you will be checking in very infrequently, perhaps even defining the specific times of day you will check messages.  When an employee leaves the company, everyone always finds a way to get things done without that person.  It should be no different when an employee goes on vacation.

PoS: How should employees address the lack of vacation issue?

J: Set boundaries and priorities in advance with your manager and co-workers.  Once they know that vacation is a top priority for you, it becomes your holy grail.  Not only should you get fewer interruptions during vacation, but it also can become a motivational/reward tool to be used by your manager.  As far as simply asking for additional vacation, I think that may work in a small business setting only.  Large and mid-size companies will simply give a corporate-speak answer and say their hands are tied due to company policy.

PoS: Is mandatory vacation truly needed?  Does the government need to get involved to correct this?

J: Neither government nor corporations will solve this issue (see my ‘Work-Life Balance Advice That Makes Sense‘ post).  The US government won’t get behind it for reasons I mention above.  Employers long ago abandoned their long-term commitment to employees.  This is no more evident than seeing defined benefit pension plans being phased out.  Also, employees aren’t sharing in the ‘good times’ like they once did, but definitely feel the pain of the ‘bad times.’  If the company had a great year, that 2% raise becomes a 2.5% raise.  However, if the company had a bad year, there’s a good chance you’ll be shown the door.  Definitely not an equal risk-reward trade-off.  However, in general, I think free markets and, more importantly, the will of the worker should be sufficient to address this issue.  Again, I think social media could be a wildcard.

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Social media has toppled empires. It could topple the belief that vacation isn’t important too. I advocate posting as many palm tree pictures this summer as possible, people. Let us rise up to celebrate our lives — both in and out of the office!