If you’re an American, chances are you haven’t taken a real vacation in a while. Even those who can afford a nice vacation based on their salary alone wouldn’t have the time to get away due to work commitments. Unlike in Europe, where weeks of vacation are required, Americans get somewhere between 0 to 3 weeks of vacation, and are the first to be laid off if they think of actually taking their vacation and leaving town without a cellphone and wifi-enabled laptop. That’s just the price of being American.
Every day that I leave work well into the evening after the sun has set, that old adage whether you should live to work or work to live plays in my head. Seeing my father, who is turning 60 and dying of cancer, trying to squeeze all of his “vacation” into his last few years of life, with a body riddled with illness and unable to support the trips, also makes me think — what on earth is the value of life if you can’t actually live it?
There is a trap of American culture where you’re trained from a very young age that you should want stuff (and told you suck if you don’t have lots of stuff) and then you work and work to acquire said stuff until you realize you’ve spent your entire life acquiring stuff and not living it.
At least working for startups, I have an expectation of myself that I will dedicate my life to one project for anywhere from 2 to 4 years. Generally speaking, after this time either there will be some form of success or failure of the project, and I’ll be able to take time off before moving on to the next challenge. It at least guarantees me extended vacation (albeit likely while I’m on unemployment and worried about my next steps,) but that’s better than being stuck in a large corporation where your entire life is about retaining your position by proving you are the hardest worker and most dedicated to the company (ie your life doesn’t matter, you live for the company.)
Beyond vacation, I’m starting to question my values regarding money. Right now, if I never have kids I’d be completely satisfied living in a small apartment for the rest of my life. I’d be happy driving older used cars. I don’t even need to buy a ton of new clothes. I just am tired of accumulating stuff. If I have kids, I’m sure all that will change. I’ll want a “good life” for my kids, and thus I’d be stuck seeking out jobs with long term stability (ie no breaks until I’m more than half way to dead.)
So lately I’ve been thinking maybe I shouldn’t have kids. Not having kids gives me the freedom I need to take time off every once in a while, and to perhaps not make the highest possible salary in exchange for an enjoyable life. Selfish, yes, but having kids is selfish too. At least without kids, I have a shot at retiring early, and enjoying life (by traveling, not by buying stuff) before it’s gone.