Three Weeks Off Series, Part 0: Prelude

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Silly human.  You can not hope to jog your way out of the eternal wasteland of office life.

I’m taking three weeks of vacation all at once.

And I’m staying at home during the break.  This isn’t to say that I won’t be leaving the house.  That’d be crazy.  It’s a stay-cation, not solitary confinement.

The plan is for me to simply live my life — running, biking, reading and visiting the library, seeing friends, helping my wife with her commute in the morning, cooking, doing on chores and projects around the house, pursuing hobbies — that sort of thing.

This is all part of my Filling in the Gaps initiative.  I’m doing the best I can to trial-run not working while retaining employment.   Some people might think, hey yeah, I can fill up three weeks too, but what about three years?  Or thirty?  It’s not the same thing, doofus.  

While that’s all true, this is the best I can manage.   I’ll be posting a series of updates to share how it’s going.

In the meantime, I thought it’d be worthwhile to document yet another craptastic aspect of work:  the lead-in to vacation time.


Trying to get more than a week off at a time at work usually results in management balking.  It’s not that they say no, exactly.  If you have the days in the bank, and you’re providing sufficient notice, they’re required by HR to give you the time, and they know it.  Still, they will squirm and waffle.  Three weeks?  What do you need three weeks for?

I lie my way through most procedural activities that don’t directly relate to my engineering function, and saw no need to make an exception here.  I do this because telling the truth is a sure way to make your life more difficult.  It results in questions, misunderstanding, and pain — always pain.

So I had one ready, like a pre-cooked meal.  My mom is getting older and needs a lot of help around the house.  We’re having some contractors over to fix a few things and if I’m not there they’ll take advantage of her.  And she may be selling the property soon so I’m going to be cleaning and painting every room as well.

See, I’m not taking the time off for me.  I’m taking it off to help dear-old-mom.  How can anyone refuse that?  He couldn’t.

Still, it took him two weeks to supply the final approval after my request.  This was back in January, when I initially asked for the time off.  The reason given for the delay?  He needed time to think about it, despite three months of advance warning.

I didn’t doubt that he’d end up green-lighting me.  Because of my approach, there was no other option.  He stalled because it’s his way of letting me know that ultimately I’m a slave and he owns me, a reminder of who’s the boss.

You are, my brother, my captain, my King.

Knowledge Transfer Expectations

Fact:  Your manager will ask you if you could please make an exact copy of the data stored in your brain and transfer it to a co-worker so that they can perform the entirety of your job in your absence.

Fact:  This request is completely absurd.  Companies hire folks for a reason, and that reason is usually their expertise plus the volume of work that needs to be processed.  You may be a cog in the machine, but you’re a cog placed precisely between multiple other cogs, and only you know the specifics of the touchpoints, your required speed of rotation, and the exact size of the rod in you.

Fact:  Even though I know they’re going to struggle, I still respond that I’m confident that coworker A and B can handle my open issues and can take care of whatever when I’m out.

Instead of an outright falsehood, let’s call this response merely a display of optimism and faith in my colleagues.

Go, Team, Go!

Availability Expectations

I told Mr. Boss that I’m not going to be checking my email while I’m away.  His reaction:  complete disappointment.  He even mentioned that many of my co-workers check in periodically when they’re on vacation.  I politely replied that if he needed me, I would be available via cell.

Then I added that if I get called, I expect compensation time.

He visibly jerked backward when I said this, as though I was brandishing a knife in his face.  I might just need an answer to a simple question, he said after a pause.   Would it be OK for me to call, then?

Yes, of course, I told him.  Part of my role is to provide support for issues that impact the business, regardless of what’s going on in my personal life.  I understand and accept this responsibility.  But these are vacation days.  I expect comp time if I get a call.  If I’m painting walls and suddenly have to drop everything to take a call or log in, it’s a big inconvenience for me.   So I’m asking for a full comp day for any call I get.  

After a big sigh, he agreed, and then reminded me to bring my laptop wherever I go.  Just in case.

Isn’t setting expectations fun?

Enjoy Your Time Off

Is what he didn’t say.  Instead he reviewed our list of open projects before launching into a speech about new initiatives that he expects me to own and lead when I get back.

He isn’t the first manager in my life to do this.  Not by a long shot.  Supervisors don’t want you to leave because they feel a loss of control.  The way that they re-establish control is to put themselves back in the driver’s seat.  Reminding you that you are an owned resource that will be slaving away the day you get back does the trick nicely.


It’s day 1 of my vacation and already I feel the familiar dread that accompanies any time off from work.  That dread is born from the knowledge that before I know it, the vacation will be over and I’ll be back in the office.

There’s only one difference.  This time I consider that dread to be a good sign.  It means I’m mentally ready to hand in my notice.  Since that’s what I’m going to do in a year, that frown has just been turned upside-down.

So Dread, welcome to the family.  Come in, take your shoes off, make yourself comfortable, stay a while.

Three full weeks would be just fine.

>> Part 1




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13 Responses to Three Weeks Off Series, Part 0: Prelude

  1. Moooooser says:

    You’ve been a posting machine lately! Nice work!
    I am seriously amazed you got your boss to agree to a full comp day for any call you get. Of course what this really means is you won’t get any calls, but that is even better!
    My experience is that taking 1 week off work is the worst possible amount… up to that and people will keep waiting for you to return, but longer than that they’ll find alternatives. When I returned from three weeks of vacation I was behind by about 1 day, compared to 1 week when I’m out for a week. I know it’s weird, and YMMV, but I really like the longer time out of office.

    • livingafi says:

      Hi Moooser – Yes, I completely agree that taking a single week (or just a couple of days) frequently doesn’t do you any good with regard to workload. People decide that they can wait a week for you, but not three. Three weeks, that work is going to go to your coworker BillyBob or whoever. Even worse is taking two or three single days — in these scenarios, you’re likely not even going to be able to alter project dates at all, which can put a lot of pressure on you when you are in the office to really crank.
      I’ll keep the posts coming — my goal is generally two a week.

  2. Winston says:

    Yeah, I’m enjoying the flurry of posts. Living vicariously through you for the moment, but grinding toward my own final “tour of duty!”

    • livingafi says:

      You’ll get there soon, if you stick to your plan and continue to optimize. I haven’t even been a superstar cost-cutter the way that many other people on MMM forums, etc appear to be, and I was able to get to this point in about 13 years. (Of course I’ve been very lucky to have a relatively high salary, but I’ve also [perhaps stupidly] lived in relatively high COL areas.) Keep at it, it’s a great ride. Having this goal (FI/RE) has made every part of my life more enjoyable, both @work and @play, and I believe it’s the same for everyone who follows this path. You’re gonna be free at last before you know it..

  3. Thegoblinchief says:

    Your blog is one of my favorite ER blogs out there, hope you have a great vacation!

    One thing I’ve learned from my bosses is to NEVER remind them I am leaving on vacation. Every single time I’ve done that (for their convenience!) I get a grieved diatribe. I turn in my request, save a copy, and when they ask where I’ve been, I produce the copy.

    • livingafi says:

      Goblin: Thanks for the kind words. Although I do find post creation to be rewarding in and of itself, it’s even better to see that folks are enjoying some of the content — it’s very motivating.
      BTW, I love your strategy to just not remind the boss you’re leaving. Genuis! Why didn’t I think of that??

  4. Frankie's Girl says:

    I went through almost exactly the same routine when I requested 2 full weeks off last year. It’s a HUGE deal to take longer than 5 days, so the flurry of frowns and disapproving faces was expected, but the fact was, I was heading out of state (many states away) to clean out my father’s house after his death, and they knew that… and still gave me some grief about it.

    Just another thing to remember when it’s time to really leave.

    I like the idea of taking longer vacations as a dry run to retiring. Might have to borrow that!

    • livingafi says:

      That’s disappointing. The correct response for management would be to provide you with unchecked support during that difficult period of your life. But then, management’s behavior isn’t dictated by the appropriateness of response. They simply crave control by nature, and you leaving makes them feel lost — regardless of the specific circumstances and justification.
      These sorts of exchanges are what I will keep in my mind when other people say “You will miss working” or “You will eventually go back to work — you’ll get bored in RE.”
      I highly doubt any of us will grow tired of being free of this sort of thing.

  5. Silvie says:

    Funny, in Europe 3 weeks is normal. In fact, it is in my contract that I should at least take 10 business days off at once, every year. But to be fair, 25 vacation days is normal (but we don’t have personal days or sick days).

  6. Pingback: Three Weeks Off Series, Part 1 |

  7. Pingback: Filling in the Gaps |

  8. Pingback: Three Weeks Off Series, Part 3: Wrap-up |

  9. Team CF says:

    As mentioned by Silvie, leave in Europe is considerably longer (we generally have between 5 and 8 weeks per year). As long as you provide sufficient heads up for a longer leave, there is generally no issue taking leave of up to a month at a time. We have done so many times before and our bosses have done the same!

    To be frank, I don’t think the little time off in the US is doing anyone any good. You need a regular break to be able to function properly (we have seen what 1-2 weeks off per year does to most people and it is not pretty!). That being said, financial independence is a “break” we are much looking forward too. Congrats to you for getting there!

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