You need a vacation, even when you’re the boss

There are definite downsides to working for yourself, and one of them is that you don’t get the same kind of benefits as a salaried employee—no sick days, no co-funded health insurance and no paid vacation time.

For a long (long long long) time I brought my work with me whenever we traveled for any reason. Christmas break? I worked. Spring break? I worked. Summer break? I worked while the beach beckoned.

When you work 12 hours a day, 365 days of the year (remind me to tell you about the time I took an edit test on Christmas Day), you start to look like this:


I finally broke this habit when my kids and I went to Walt Disney World with my mother in 2011. I was forewarned that getting a good signal on my smartphone at the park would be impossible and that I’d be way too tired after spending the day playing in the various parks to work in the evenings.

I thought long and hard about it, and I left my laptop at home. I told all my clients I would be unreachable. And then, I proceeded to have the time of my life with my two children, who so often get the short end of the stick when I’m working. Let’s just say I should have the words, “In a second,” tattooed on my forehead.

It’s true that when I don’t work, I don’t get paid. My clients don’t take kindly to paying me when I’m off hanging out with Mickey or at the beach in July. But for my own mental health and that of my family, I absolutely had to start taking the time for some r-and-r.

Now, I look at my calendar at the start of each year and plan for time off. I take off two weeks at the holidays, two weeks in the summer and one week at spring break—that’s five weeks off, which is roughly the same amount of vacation time I had when I was working full-time on-site for a large corporation.

I figure those breaks into my hourly rate, look at the client list I’m dealing with for that year and make any adjustments necessary (tighten the household budget during those months, take extra work beforehand to make up for it and bank those payments, increase the rate for certain projects).

Then I take the darn time off—without stressing about it.

Sometimes you can’t plan for days you need to take off. Maybe the kids are sick, or maybe the polar vortex decides to act like a big bully and you end up with six snow days in January. The great thing about working at home on your own time is that your clients don’t usually care when you work, as long as you show up for meetings and hit your deadlines. There were a few days this year when I spent the afternoon making cupcakes and drinking hot chocolate and made up my work time in the evenings.

It seems scary to give yourself time off. When you ask your boss for a vacation, it feels easier because someone else is giving you permission. I’m here to tell you—if you want a healthy, thriving career, you need to be a healthy, thriving you. And that means taking a vacation now and then.

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