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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Work-Life Balance

What Your Reaction to Going on Vacation Says About Your Career Path

Whenever I take time off from work, whether it’s just a day or a week, I always have varying reactions to leaving. Not just an emotion toward the reason for leaving—happy because I get to spend two weeks in Asia, or fear because I have to go to the dentist (who isn’t afraid of the dentist)—but also a gut feeling about parting from my job. Sometimes I worry that I’ll miss something important while I’m gone, sometimes I don’t think about my work at all, and sometimes I worry that no one will even notice I’m gone.

What I’ve learned is that how you feel going into vacation says a lot about you—not just how prepared you are to take off for a few days, but also how you feel about your current career path.

Let’s take a look at a few of the signs:

If You’re Way Too Excited to Leave…

You’ve been checking the clock every 10 minutes, and when the time comes you leap out of your chair, practically throwing your laptop across the room. When you leave the office, you log out of email and don’t even think about checking it once while you’re gone.

Maybe you just can’t wait to meet your friends in Florida or are finally taking that trip to Europe you’ve planned for a year. Or maybe…

You Don’t Take Enough Time for Yourself

If you’re leaping to the occasion, it’s possible this is the first time you’ve taken a break in a very long while.

But vacation days aren’t meant to be your only outlet for some R&R. And a lot of people only get allotted a set amount of days each year—meaning two weeks off has to satisfy someone for about 351 days’ worth of work.

So don’t wait until that one long holiday weekend to wind down. Make sure to give yourself little breaks throughout the day and the week, whether it’s an hour each day for lunch or an email answering curfew after 6 PM on Thursdays. If you’re constantly taking time away from your daily office routine, vacation won’t feel like a necessity—but an added bonus.

It’s Not the Right Job for You

The less obvious, more complicated alternative is that you really don’t like your job. Now, getting excited for one vacation doesn’t mean you should immediately quit and try again. But if every time you go on vacation you’re practically begging to get out, and every time it ends you’re devastated to return to work, that’s a pretty clear sign that you’re not happy with what you’re doing.

Vacations are great, don’t get me wrong. But they’re temporary, and a life that consists of you only looking forward to days off isn’t a life worth living. It’s unlikely that your job will consistently bring you as much joy as a trip you’ve planned for months, but it’s way more permanent—so make it something you can look forward to each day.

If Work Is All You Think About When You Leave…

You’re texting your boss in the cab on the way to the airport, or you missed your train out because you had to submit just one more report. Chances are:

You Didn’t Prepare Beforehand

Many people plan out their vacations weeks in advance—your time away from work should be planned just the same. Make a list for yourself of what needs to get done before you leave and actually do everything on that list. Be aware of what you’ll be missing and who you need to contact to let them know you won’t be in the office. Create an email away message. The more you prepare, the easier it’ll be to drop everything and go.

You’re Working Too Hard

But, let’s say you did all of that. Everything’s taken care of and all you have to do is relax, but you can’t.

You’re likely working yourself too hard—you have done such a good job at your job that you don’t know how to not do it. In this case, you probably really need the break, so take it! Log out and tune out, and I promise you, nothing will implode while you’re gone.

If You’re Excited to Leave, But Still Miss the Work…

For those of you who have been looking forward to your vacation all week but are sad to go when the time comes, you probably feel one, or both, of two things:

You Like Consistency

It’s possible it’s not the job you miss, but the stability of going into work every day that’s making you a bit weary. You’re probably overly organized and addicted to calendars—which means a vacation away from all that terrifies you.

So, think of your vacation as an experiment: Now that you’re not on anyone’s schedule but your own, what do you want to do with your time? This is your chance to figure out how you see your life outside of your job.

You Love Your Job

Simple as that: Missing work could just mean you love the project you’re creating, the people in your office, or the company you work for. You like going away, but you truly care about your job just as much. Overall, this means you’re doing alright (OK, more than alright)—but even happy employees need some time off, so make sure you’re not thinking about work the whole time.

While most of us probably like to take vacations, we all react differently to leaving work for them. So, take note of how you’re feeling going into your next day (or days) off and try to figure out what that means for your current position and what you want to do next. Even if next is a long ways off.

Photo of person going on vacation courtesy of Tetra Images/Getty Images.