Taking Vacation? Its Career Value Is In Your Sound Bite

Nothing is more glorious than time off. When we get hired, our burning question after salary is usually about vacation days. 

That said, it’s been written that Americans often don’t take all their vacation time. In some cases it’s because we: 

  • Don’t want to fall behind
  • Worry that things will go wrong in our absence
  • Are reluctant to delegate
  • Lack confidence in our job security
  • Haven’t developed motivating interests outside of work 

Truth is: We need to take time off. Most of us are exhausted. We need downtime to build ourselves up. 

Vacations as differentiators 

Too often we fail to see how vacations enhance our personal brands at work. If we’re smart, we can use time off to build our image while refreshing ourselves. 

There are all kinds of vacations: 

  • Fun family trips that tighten our bonds with people we love
  • Stay-cations to catch up on domestic chores or launch new projects
  • Tours to historical, cultural, and scenic places here and abroad
  • Adventures to explore new places and challenge ourselves
  • Learning experiences—academic immersion programs, reading vacations, and skill building (gourmet cooking, painting, writing)
  • Hobby pursuits like antiquing, music, and sports
  • Volunteering in the community, for specific causes, and for global impact 

What you say about what you do on vacation contributes to the way your boss and colleagues see you. 

Be selective 

Today’s reality is that our boss and coworkers form opinions about us on the fly based on what we say and do and what others say about us. These bits and pieces of perception impact our brand. 

When it comes to vacations, it’s pretty standard that we’ll be asked these questions: 

  • Where are you going on vacation? (Before)
  • How was your vacation? (After) 

Your best answer is a sound bite. That’s what your coworkers want—a nugget that sums up your time off—something they’ll remember and/or pass along to their colleagues as a “did you know.” 

Each vacation highlight you share builds perceptions about what drives you.

Your vacation “reports” are cumulative. The more they are the same, the less interest and value they command. The more diverse they are, the more fascinating you become. 

Here’s the trick: You don’t have to take amazing, over-the-top vacations to create the buzz you want. You just need to do one thing that’s unique each time that sparks interest, even if it only takes a day or an hour. 

  1. I once worked with a VP who diligently took vacation every year with his young family which was a positive, for sure. However, for 14 consecutive years he took them to Disney World. When asked, “Where are you going on vacation?” he’d always answer, “To see Mickey.” He had an “I resist change” brand which his vacation pattern reinforced. Ulitmately, his career flat-lined. 
  2. I was a commercial horse breeder while I was a corporate manager. I used some of my company vacation time to buy or sell young thoroughbreds or broodmares. When asked about my vacations, I would mention the sales auctions and/or tracks I was going to and how I made out. The fact that I was involved in the horse industry added to my brand as a businesswoman willing to put myself out there. 
  3. A former colleague, deeply committed to animal rescue, spends part of her yearly vacation at the Best Friends Animal Society sanctuary in Utah as a volunteer. Her career continues to rise as someone with great talent willing to give back. 

Parlay your fun 

Vacations are opportunities to enrich ourselves, so we need to extract from them the experiences that fill us out. That’s the part of vacation that becomes the snippets we share at work. 

Vacations give us experiences that broaden our perspectives, make us happy, and remind us what really matters in life. When it’s your time, please take it. 

Photo from jonycunha via Flickr

11 thoughts on “Taking Vacation? Its Career Value Is In Your Sound Bite

  1. Awesome topic, Dawn. I had a really tough taking vacation time until recently – out of fear of falling behind. My siblings (all living out of state, all rarely in town for anything but a funeral) came into town for a family reunion and a baby shower for my niece. I forced myself to take 3 days off and boy did I just love it. I did, in fact, fall WAY behind and paid for it in long days the week after but it was worth it. I shared some fun experiences with the family with co-workers and they were all a bit surprised at how close I am with my huge family. I came to find out that because I am young, single, and don’t have much family here – they assumed I wasn’t much a family person. I find it really interesting how vacation stories can have such an impact!

    • Thanks, Megan. Yes, this “taking vacation thing” can be a struggle for some and a non-issue for others. Like you, I get very engrossed in my work, particularly when I know that others are counting on me for my contributions. Like you I hate falling behind, thinking about how much more energy it will take to catch up than to just keep going. Your insights from your 3 days off are really significant, both personally and professionally. There’s huge value in being a “person” at work as well as being a colleague. We just have to be mindful about what we share and how. In these times of social media, it’s even more important to be selective, managing our brand before others manage it for us. Great to hear from you, Megan. This was great! ~Dawn

  2. I never thought about what our vacations say about us. I’d be concerned about extrapolating too much information from it – there are so many variables beyond our personal decision that goes into it. Cherry

    • What we say about our vacations help to focus others on what we consider the most significant experience as it pertains to our persona at work. We leave one impression when we talk about how much wine we drank or how many amusement park rides we went on and quite another when we talk about something interesting we learned.

  3. Hey – awesome post! I have to say, when I worked in NYC, people were always traveling all over. Many were European, so they traveled extensively. I did ascribe character traits (interesting, etc) to people based on where they traveled….I traveled widely as I felt it was exotic and I just wanted to see the world. And I remember feeling so different after my first trip to Europe. And I was able to talk to alot of people on a different level. So, I noticed how vacations can change a person. But I can see now how one can apply this to a person to sort of “figure” them out!
    You know, people who have alot of anxiety usually cannot travel, and the anxiety controls them and creates a “cage” around them.
    thanks for the insights!

    • Kathy, you example is fabulous! Thanks for sharing these insights that really drive home the point from our own experiences. I’m particularly taken by your comment: “You know, people who have alot of anxiety usually cannot travel, and the anxiety controls them and creates a “cage” around them.” That’s a powerful insight and one that truly carries over into one’s career and life. A terrific comment that will help a lot of readers.~Dawn

  4. Hi Dawn–what an interesting tie-in to the workplace. I never would have considered vacations as strengthening brands, but your example as a horse breeder does just that.

    I couldn’t help but think that the serial Disneyland-er VP may have been trying to recapture some of his childhood…:(.

    Yes–we Americans are by and large, awful vacationers. That said, we’re going to San Francisco next week and I can’t wait to tell my coworkers about the cultural things we do and see.
    Thanks for the insightful read!

    • Linda, I don’t know if that VP was trying to recapture his youth or if he was just escaping from a rather dull life. Your point is well taken! I hope you have a wonderful vacay in San Fran. I suspect you’ll get a lot out of it…and only share the “right stuff” with your colleagues :-) The rest you can save for a backyard picnic! Thanks a bunch for your great comment. ~Dawn

  5. I was never afraid to take vacation days when it came to schedule them. I earned it, boy did I earn them. I never felt bad about taking them or even cared what my coworkers were thinking when I took my time off. My work was always completed by the time my vacation time rolled around, so I didn’t have to worry about rushing back to work after vacation was over to finish it.

    Bottom line: We all need vacation days. Like the article said. It helps us refresh our psyche, makes us more productive at work and gives us a sense of renewability. Plus, we get to have so much fun! I have vacation time at the end of this week and even if it’s for a couple of days, I’m reveling in it. I’ll be done my final year of university on Thursday, so I deserve this!

    • I wish everyone were as organized about preparing to take vacation as you are! That’s terrific. I think it’s very sad, though, when we do get our work in order to take vacation and then our bosses come up with last minute requests or feel like they have to have access to us when we’re away. Clearly they don’t appreciate how a good vacation can refresh us and bring us back to work ready to hit the ground running. Thanks for your terrific comment and all the best finishing up your schooling. This is an exciting time for you. ~Dawn

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