Working My Way to Margaritaville

“Nibbling on sponge cake.” 

Just four words and I’m vacation-ready. You have to give Jimmy Buffett credit: he penned “Margaritaville” almost 40 years ago and with just a few notes, that song still transports the listener to warm sand, cold drinks, and better days. The Buffett brand is built on escapism and an artist who recognized that people often want to be anywhere but where they are. 

It’s no surprise, given our work culture. Americans are taking less and less vacation every year, choosing to toil away in pursuit of a flawed definition of success. Success is often built from the ground up, but the more vertical our surroundings, the harder it is to see the horizon.  

Nobody understands this better than Jimmy. He’s built an empire by lounging in Key West, plucking a six-string, knowing that burnout is doing his promotion for him. 

It’s that much more amazing considering that the man isn’t a lyrical genius. I can enjoy the feeling the music gives me while ignoring the fact that he just said he was a “dreamer of dreams” or that “medium rare with mustard would be nice.” But there is one Buffett lyric that serves as a cautionary tale: “I’m an over-40 victim of fate, arriving too late, arriving too late.” This is crushingly sad and sounds a warning to workaholics everywhere. Fate can be altered. Time cannot. 

With summer heating up, that familiar need to hear a Buffett song and get myself to a beach returns. But it’s bridging that need with planning the time off that is the hardest part. 

I’m in that stage in life where I’m not a kid and I have no kids. I don’t have an association with the institutions that predetermine when to take a vacation (e.g., school). As a result, I’ve neglected to plan one. Like millions of Millennials, I’ve let vacation time mount, using a day here and there for a bachelor party or wedding weekend. These events go down like shots of whisky—highly concentrated fun that leaves you more exhausted than refreshed. 

Turns out, I’m not alone. Millennials are actually some of the worst at taking time off because the economy was terrible when we entered the workforce. When we got jobs, we felt the need to prove our value through long hours, assuming that would be noticed by our employers. But burning the candle at both ends has never proven sustainable or lucrative, two things employers like to see. Worse, saving vacation time is like saving canned goods for a doomsday shelter—crazy and almost surely useless. 

So I’m making it a point to get away this summer for a true vacation. A true vacation should awaken us, give perspective, help us understand who we are and who we want to become. Because achieving professional goals isn’t worth much if you don’t know who you are when you get there. And when I get there, I want pictures of ocean sunsets to put on my desk.

June 21, 2016