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Melissa Beaty

August 15, 2017

When Did “Vacation” Become Such a Bad Word?

Unsurprisingly, President Trump’s 17-day vacation in Bedminster, New Jersey has been marked with criticism in the United States. As accusations of laziness, hypocrisy, and incompetence swirl around his trip, Trump has been quick to characterize it as a “working vacation,” – repeatedly tweeting about the many “meetings and calls” he will focus on during his time away from the White House. This insistence on avoiding relaxation at all costs is a very American notion – in 2016, 54 percent of American employees ended the year with unused time off, according to a study by the US Travel Association’s Project Time Off.

For years, researchers have been touting the value of getting out of the office. Data shows that taking more vacation results in greater success at work as well as heightened overall well-being. And it makes sense – in order to excel in life, we must have the opportunity to pause and reflect on our decisions, and contemplate how to improve in the future. As everyone from John Boehner to Arianna Huffington eventually learned – one of the biggest mistakes people can make is thinking they’re invincible, and burnout is not the key to success.

For someone occupying the most powerful office in the world, shouldn’t avoiding burnout be a top priority? The decisions made from the Oval Office can change the world. Lives can be shed, wars can be started, and life as we know it can be forever changed by the man in that chair. The importance of sound judgement cannot be overstated – yet, for some reason, every summer we condemn our country’s leader for doing what’s needed to refocus. And we’re paying the price.

Known for his frequent jabs at President Obama’s extended vacays, President Trump is clearly conscious of the accusations of hypocrisy – insisting his vacation was forced as a result of the new heating system being installed in the West Wing. Unfortunately, Trump has seemingly tried to compensate for his time off by, well, going off.

From doubling down on his threats to North Korea to thanking Vladimir Putin for ousting US personnel from Moscow, Trump continues to buy into the idea that silence is weakness. Instead of using this vacation as an opportunity to think strategically about his presidency and what he wants to accomplish, he has decided to use it as another opportunity to remind everyone that he will not be tied to the conventions of the office.

To be fair, in this modern age, a president can never be truly checked out. He is constantly surrounded by staff who deliver him daily briefings and updates, and is never more than a phone call (or tweet) away. Yet however short the moments of relaxation and reflection are, they are crucial to ensuring the president does not lose sight of who he is working for: the American people. Amid the chaos of the office and pressure to make dozens of decisions a day, it is important the president does not become numb to his position and the weight of his choices. Perspective is an easy thing to lose at the top, and we should be consistently encouraging our leader to find ways to get it back.

As a culture that shames idleness, how do we begin to transition into a country that celebrates the opportunity to recharge, refocus, and come back stronger than ever?

It starts with our leadership.

Trump’s hostility toward checking out has real-life consequences on the world. It’s time for the president to acknowledge and own the fact that he needs to unplug, and stop cringing at the notion that he is not invincible. Similarly, it’s time for politicians to stop using time off as political ammunition, and start embracing the reality that they’re only human.

In 2017, we can no longer cling to the idea that time off is time wasted. It simply isn’t true anymore. As Americans, we have a right to demand a lot from our leaders: thoughtfulness, compassion, veracity, justice.

However, for the sake of our futures, forgoing their vacation should not be on that list.

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Posted by: Melissa Beaty

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