London last week was dead.
Traffic was, on some streets, non-existent.
At dinner at a popular private club, we shared the restaurant with only two other tables, the night before it was closing for a couple of weeks. At a late night spot typically overrun with party-goers, we took prime position in the lounge.
It was a stark reminder that, in Europe, people, actually, do take vacation.
It made me think of a book I read many years ago that had a deep impact on me at the time, Work To Live, by Joe Robinson.
The founder of the Work to Live campaign, Robinson had dedicated himself to lobbying for a minimum of three weeks vacation for all Americans.
As Robinson pointed out, relative to those in Europe who were getting 4-5 weeks vacation a year, many in America were barely getting 1-2 weeks, and of those who were, many were unable to even take them.
Back when I read his book, some five years into my career at Goldman Sachs, I scarcely remembered even taking a weekend off, let alone a week. To get 4-5 weeks off would have required open heart surgery.
At the time I accepted that was my trade. I had given up the reasonable rights of an employee to charge like a racehorse in a profession that didn’t slow down for weekends or vacations.
Truthfully, that was all good with me, but Robinson’s book helped me see some of my underlying drivers that “forced me” to keep charging, and the fact that many people who have far less choice in their careers were working harder and longer than ever before.
Over the years this notion drove an interesting dichotomy for me.
On the one hand, I am mission-driven. “Working” has never been a sacrifice to me, but what I like to do, a pursuit of meaning, driving what matters to me. Yet, on the other hand, to be truly effective, you must be taking time to reset.
Beyond that, it’s crucial to keep stepping back and getting clear on why you are working so hard, what you want to get from it, and how you weigh your time today relative to the time you hope to have in the future.
I don’t think of these topics as work-life balance, nor the false binary choice to either work to live or live to work, but about getting clear on what matters to you, and making deliberate choices about how you use the dwindling days of your life.
Time waits for no man, but she does let you choose how you date.