The Worst That Can Happen

As I write this, it is early morning (7:30 is early morning when you’re on vacation, right?) and I am sitting on the balcony of a hotel in Monterery, California. (Before you get too jealous, it is the second floor of a hotel that apparently lost its affiliation with Quality Inn, it is 65 degrees outside, and, while to the north I can actually see a miniscule piece of Monterey Bay and a little sliver of each wave that comes in, the primary view is the back of a grey clapboard office building that includes one empty room with a single light bulb which burns all night. And the wind is starting to pick up. Then again, go ahead and be a little jealous.) 

So, considering that this is one of the busier times of the year for any internal auditor – a time when the last audits of the year are wrapping up, audit committee reports are coming due, annual planning is coming to a close, and various other “big things” are happening – how is it I am able to leave work for a couple of days without there being profound impacts? (At this point, go ahead and just insert your own snide remarks here. I’ll wait. Although, it does remind me of when I was working at Legend City [Phoenix’s incredibly poor answer to Disneyland], quit my job, and came back two weeks later to learn they hadn’t found a need to replace me.)
 
Rather than explain how I can take a couple of days off, let me instead ask a question. How often do you hear (or do you say) “I can’t take time off now; there’s too much to do” or “I’ll use my vacation time just as soon as I get caught up”, or the even more egomaniacally, “If I go now, how will this get done?” Shoot, let’s just talk about leaving the office at the end of the day. How many 12 hour days are you putting in? How often have you fired up the computer at home “just to check a few e-mails” and wound up working until midnight?
 
Having gotten those questions out of our system, let’s ask the important one. “What is the worst that can happen?” Let’s take that one out and separate it from the herd.
 
What is the worst that can happen?
 
I am deadly serious on this. What, in that litany of repercussions you have built up in your head is so damning that you can’t take an evening, a day, a week, or even longer to get away and enjoy something besides controls, findings, and reports. (Just typing that line makes it all seem even more inconsequential.) Seriously, what is the worst that can happen?
 
Let’s pretend the actual fact is, if you left, THINGS WOULD FALL APART. (The sound you hear in your head as you read this should be the voice of the movie guy – “In a world where one person’s departure causes the fall of a megalithic corporate empire…”)   If your departure for a couple of days would actually cause things to fall apart, then there are two possibilities. You either have very, very, very (did I say very?) bad management skills (assuming you are in a position of some control) or you are working at the wrong place. (If either of these is true, then it is most assuredly time for a serious reassessment of where and/or how you work.)
 
Of course, we all really know that the worst thing that can happen is to get fired. But, if you are so close to the cusp of getting fired that taking vacation days will seal that nasty deal then you have bigger issues than just trying to take a few days of vacation. (See above comments related to reassessing your situation.)
 
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying you don’t need to be smart about when you take time. But you have to find the right balance between what work is requiring of you and what you are requiring of yourself. As I noted, this is not necessarily the best time for me to be gone. How can I afford to take a couple of days off? The answer is, “How can I not afford to?” Twenty-eight years ago, my wife and I got married without the thought of what jobs we might have and how leaving to celebrate an anniversary in early November might conflict with the requirements of those jobs. Yet, it is an important event, and it felt important to carve out a couple of days to celebrate. (Someday, remind me to tell you about my lovely wife – smart, dedicated, and crazy as a soup sandwich.  Wouldn’t she have to be to stay married to me for this long?) You would be amazed how easy it becomes to take time off with relatively few consequences when you become serious about giving yourself that gift. 
 
Yeah, I’m talking about work/life balance. But I hate that phrase. It sounds too much like a set of scales have been developed to measure perfection. (And I’ll bet there’s an auditor out there [because we auditors always like those precise measures we can validate] who has come up with what he thinks is the perfect balance, fills out a spreadsheet every evening, checks it weekly, develops a monthly report, and then, on an annual basis, provides a year-end summary to his wife who, after the tenth annual report, has determined that there will be an increased number of dead bodies before annual report number eleven sees the light of day.)
 
Here’s the ultimate point. I took two days off. Everyone working with me knows what needs to be accomplished, everyone I work for understands that it will be a couple of days before they get a response from me, and if any disasters start to befall us, others can step in and protect. I took two days because the worst that could happen was that I not celebrate this time with my wife. And the worst that can really happen to any of us is that work becomes more important than the things which are truly important.
 
Seriously, what is the worst that could happen?

Posted on Nov 8, 2010 by Mike Jacka

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  1. I like how you think Mike!! Plan to read your articles more often.

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