Feeling Guilty And Afraid Of Taking Vacation: How To Overcome

Feeling Guilty And Afraid Of Taking Vacation: How To Overcome

Despite taking 6 weeks off (30 days + weekends) last year, I’m having a difficult time repeating this feat this year.  Taking all my vacations is a new year’s resolution because it’s actually damn hard to do!  The guilt always washes over me like the monthly floods in Venice.  I recently took a two week cruise and now I want to take another week off just a month and a half later.  I can’t seem to pull the trigger.  Perhaps you’ve experienced the same paralysis?

Right about the 5th week of vacation time, colleagues and friends start guilting me.  A female friend who is having her third child in 5 years said, “Wow Sam, you really know how to maximize the system.  I need to do a better job of taking a vacation.”  I’m thinking, come on, did you really just say this after you’ve taken four weeks off already, and are going on a 3-month maternity leave for the third time in 5 years?  I’m all for a 3-month maternity leave, or even 6 months as they do in Europe, as someone has to give birth.  Just don’t make me feel bad for taking my allotted vacation time!

I asked my father whether I should take another week off before the end of the year to go visit him.  He said, “Sam, it sure seems like you are taking a lot of time off, and that you’re never there.”  How does he know if I’m never there since he isn’t there working with me?  That said, it doesn’t matter, because perceptions are important, and one should be careful not to err to far from center especially as we come to year-end.


According to a research survey firm named Ispos, only 57% of Americans take all their vacation days.  Meanwhile, the average US worker only gets 13 days off.  Compare that to Italy, where the average worker gets 42 paid days off, according to the World Tourism Organization!  Next was France with 37 days, Germany with 35, Brazil at 34, the United Kingdom at 28, Canada with 26 and Korea and Japan both with 25.

So what the hell is wrong with Americans?  I have 20 regular vacation days a year and 20 carryover days, yet can’t seem to take more than 18 days off a year on average for the past five years.  Let’s discuss!

* Fear of falling behind and missing out.  Every time I go on vacation, I feel some level of remorse for all the things I’ve missed out at work.  It could be senior colleagues visiting from out of town, education workshop sessions, client outings, or internal activities in general.  If you’re not eating your prime rib sandwich, someone else will!

* Fear of getting fired.  In an uncertain economic environment, everybody should be afraid of getting fired.  Even in good times, bad things happen.  There’s no doubt there will continue to be mass layoffs as long as corporations aren’t willing to spend due to an oppressive regulatory environment.  We might have 30 days off a year, but do we really want to risk being out of site when our manager decide who to lay-off?  I don’t, and neither do you.

* Peer pressure.  There’s always going to be somebody who is the work horse in your group or office.  No matter how hard you try, you can’t compete with his vigor and consistency.  I was that person for the first two years out of college, and I’ve since been surpassed by many others.  The worst is when your senior colleague is that work horse and has a say in your pay and promotion.  Whether directly or indirectly, she will throw jabs at you for taking more time off than her.  The guilt starts to rise.

* Guilt of living well.  I strive to live a balanced lifestyle nowadays and want to live well.  We all should have the right to live well if we feel we’ve worked for it.  Goodness knows I’ve put in my dues.  Yet, because I’m keenly aware that not everybody is as fortunate, I feel guilty for taking a vacation.  How can I spend $2,000 to go to Hawaii for a week when I see poverty all around.  $2,000 could materially improve the quality of a homeless person’s life.  Shouldn’t I just give that $2,000 to her instead?  I feel a tremendous amount of guilt with the inequalities of the world everyday.  At the same time, I realize there will always be suffering until the end of time.


* It’s in your contract.  If your contracts says you get 4 weeks off a year, take the 4 weeks!  You aren’t violating any company protocol taking your allotted days off.  If you get an extra week for every five years you work, then you deserve the reward.  Your company bakes in your vacation time as part of your salary.  Hence, you’re just robbing yourself if you don’t use your vacation days.

* Carry-over days are limited.  It used to be that we could carry over 30 days of vacation in California and my firm.  They’ve since truncated the amount of days to around 12.  If you are about to lose 18 vacations days, that’s equivalent to 18 working days of salary!  Call HR and ask them what the carry over days are and plan accordingly.

* Did your boss or company screw you in some way?  Let’s say your boss said last year that he was going to put you up for promotion this year.  Unfortunately he doesn’t put you up, despite your good reviews.  You got screwed, and your boss basically lied to you.  Are you going to reward your boss for working more?  Probably not.  You’re not even going to cheat your boss for working less if you are an honorable person.  Instead, all you have to do is use that anger to wipe away your guilt of taking all your legally allotted vacation days!  Find something from the year or the previous year which made you unhappy and utilize that anger to overcome your guilt.

* Understand your skills and abilities.  If you haven’t been fired yet, it’s because you are deemed valuable enough to keep.  Simple logic, simple conclusions.  You have skills, abilities, and relationships other firms want.  Write them out on a piece of paper and update your resume.  Don’t sell yourself short as you are a valuable commodity!  If the company dares dock your pay or fires you because you are taking all your alloted vacation time, know that you have a list of three other companies you can potentially work for.  Cultivate those relationships yesterday, and continue cultivating them without any expectations you’ll need them to get you in the door.

* Make sure you have back up and things aren’t super busy.  A way to mitigate your risk of getting docked for taking too much vacation is to simply ensure you have the appropriate back up in place while you are away.  If you decide to take a week off when everybody else is taking a week off, you will be penalized for not thinking like a team player.  Instead, have an open dialogue and ask your manager which days you think he or she feels would be most appropriate to take off.


As Joel Goodson said in the movie Risky Business, “Sometimes you just have to say, “What the f#$k, make your move“”.  Vacation days are ours!  They do expire, just like airline miles.  We’d be fools not to use up at least 80% of them every year.


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Updated for 2021 and beyond.

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