Frequent flyer miles nearly always expire on my accounts before I claim the rewards or redemptions. 2008 marks the first year I used accumulated miles to upgrade my ticket to first class. It was great! Along with my soft-seat reward, I felt proud to be in the company of those who know how to find the right fares, navigate security with minimal interruptions, and pack three suitcases of gear into one bag. (Let anyone try to get an extra $25 from my tight fingers.)
My elation at my accomplishment was short-lived. Someone pointed out that every one of my qualifying flights was dental related. Every hop, skip, and jump out of my community was directly tied to a convention, speaking opportunity, or other dental employment obligation. I love to travel, but I seem to lack the ability to take a trip purely for pleasure.
Writing off part of a vacation for tax purposes has its advantages, but, at some point the mind, and body need a dental break. While taking only "vacations" that can be deducted from the yearly obligation to the IRS may seem frugal; in truth, such jaunts may contribute to burnout.
According to Eve Tahmincioglu in the June 10, 2007, issue of msnbc.com, too many of us subscribe to the theory that not taking time off will advance our careers. In fact, keeping our noses continually on the grindstone can lead to burnout, physical and emotional illness, and even jeopardize our careers and lives. Yet, in a 2007 survey, only 39% of American workers planned to take a vacation in the next six months. That is a 28-year low.
Tahmincioglu also quoted an April 2007 survey by the recruiting firm Hudson, in which 56 percent of the workforce did not use all their vacation time. Even more alarming is the fact that 35% of managers and 14% of non-managers check in with the office at least once a day during a vacation. So, even when we do take time off, our minds are not allowed to relax and recover from work obligations.
The United States is one of the few industrialized countries that does not require employers to provide paid vacation and sick days to employees. Add to this equation the fact that many dental hygienists must work two or three part-time jobs to make full time pay, and getting a significant block of time to leave work behind is nearly impossible. We try to cram a week's worth of detoxification into a three-day weekend, and it ends up feeling like a chore.
Unpack the Weight of Working
According to Joe Robinson's book, "Work to Live: The Guide to Getting a Life," a big part of our vacation problem can be found in our need to be continually productive. It's not just the laptop, but the race to see how many sights or relatives we can visit in three days. The idle minute is seen as wasted and "unproductive" time.
Robinson suggests we unpack before we pack for a vacation. Make an "unpacking list" of all the items and things that have no place on a vacation. Stash away your laptop, cell phone, boss, work worries, and career progress until your return to the workplace. Put away the need to do as much as possible in the shortest amount of time, and try very hard to remember how to "do" leisure.
Robinson's guidelines for an appropriate break from work include:
- Wandering — exploring with no other purpose in mind
- Lingering — such as over a long meal with a friend
- Putting on your kid hat — to connect with playing
Our profession lends itself to working vacations. Conventions are held in resort areas where relaxation and learning co-mingle, supposedly. Seminars and continuing education courses are often held in destinations that encourage a family event. Yet most of these family-oriented working vacations are really a labor for us, and vacationing is fit in only if time permits. This type of quasi vacation does not provide needed rebound time or an adequate relaxation period for our brains or our bodies.
There are some in our profession who are actually quite skilled at planning and executing recuperation time from the rigors and joys of our unique career. In fact, almost every dental professional I know plans trips and family journeys around career enhancement opportunities. One dentist I worked with in the 1990s even managed to arrange his 25th wedding anniversary trip around a seminar in Fiji. He was incredibly proud of his tax deductible marriage celebration, but his wife was not amused.
I'm not suggesting all work-related travel/vacation time is harmful. Tying my love for travel in with occasions to improve my health care delivery skills has provided many fun and relaxing moments. Walking from Navy Pier to downtown Chicago at 11 p.m. in July is a memory to cherish. Someday I may forget the humidity, blisters, and heat, but I will forever remember the laughing and sharing among friends. Taking a few hours away during an ADHA annual session to highlight my daughter's hair gave me some of my most treasured photos. Both occasions are moments I would not trade for any tropical island retreat.
A recent event pointed out to me just hard it is for me to take a trip without including dentistry in some form. My oldest son, his fiancé and I were discussing their upcoming wedding plans over Mother's Day dinner. Talk of dresses, best men, and flowers was flowing along quite well until I mentioned that my return trip from Utah would include a stop in another state to participate in a continuing education event, which would allow for at least a portion of the weekend to be itemized for taxes. While my son understands my frugal ways, his beautiful fiancé was less impressed. I realized then it has become a problem.
While a dramatic increase in my travel over the last two years has been a huge help in combating career burnout, career-based vacations are not the only answer. Vacations are not a luxury — such breaks from routine are a necessity. Our mental and physical health depend on regular and substantial leisure activities.
Next month, I am planning a trip to the Northwest coast to visit my oldest daughters. We will go shopping and do all the fun tourist stuff. It will be the first time all three of us have been together since March 2006, and it will be a needed vacation for us all. If anyone knows of a good dental hygiene event in the area during that time, don't tell me. As much as I need this profession, it can never replace what is truly important.
About the Author
Lory Laughter, RDH, BS, divides her full-time clinical practice between general and periodontics practice in Napa and Sonoma, California. She is co-owner of Dental IQ, a continuing education provider responsible for bringing quality courses and speakers to the entire dental team. In her spare time, Lory enjoys writing, speaking, volunteering, and providing shelter to homeless pets. You may contact her at [email protected] or through www.dentaliq.net.