America’s REAL Divide Is $$$$

Posted on: Monday, October 12th, 2020
Posted in: HR FYI, Rants & Roadkill, Spendology | One comment

GUEST POST: Today’s thoughts come from our old mentor and friend, The Armchair Economist. It’s been a while, so we’re honored he’s back. His resume and accolades would not fit on our pages—nor even the internet. So we again welcome his incomparable expertise and vital voice for this treatise on the challenges of BreakAways in current economic conditions.

  • America’s Haves Vs. Have-Nots Is Now in Stark Black-and-White

As Submitted by The Armchair Economist

My friends! I cannot sit back in silence on my luxurious llama leather recliner sipping Louis XIII Cognac while brushing up on my John Locke any longer. Please pay attention. Or a revolution like we’ve never seen since the 1770s may be an inevitable consequence.

Consider our record unemployment. Government aid in the trillions. Lavish bailouts for corporations, airlines, and most any big-ish business that knows how to play the game and liquor up lobbyists. A few honest syndicates sheepishly returned their mega millions. But most kept the cash despite often churning profits, perhaps chuckling between griping about government over-reach and lazy laborers accepting handouts rather than “gittin’ back to work,” even if it also might mean gittin’ sick.

Generalizations? Perhaps. But maybe not. And with those dispiriting variables as our backdrop, the Armchair Economist is displeased to announce that…

  • The wealth gap is bigger than ever before

According to my friends at the Fed (WE can’t make this stuff up), the pandemic-downturn has actually helped the haves—because they are unable to spend lavishly in their beloved parlors, country clubs, restaurants, and opera houses. Sadly, their diminished patronage equates to lost livelihoods for millions of waiters, chamber maids, and pedicurists.

(Oh, and many investments like the stock market and real estate are doing swimmingly, thank you very much.)

  • Need proof of the disparity?

The top 1% now holds a record high 40% of US assets

The bottom 50% now shares a record low 2% of the nation’s wealth

Inequality will likely worsen as more workers lose jobs while the affluent keep raking it in yet cannot resume their conspicuous-consumption, jet-set ways

  • So how does that hit home?

1 in 3 Americans are having a tough time paying basic living expenses

~10 million are behind or at risk of making their mortgage or rent

1 in 4 adults expect someone in their household to have less $ over the next month

So my friends, please don’t underestimate the dire consequences of these inequities. This holiday season may make Mr. Scrooge’s bleak fable look lush. Homeless villages may come to resemble India’s slums, not just tents in parks. Beggars on corners may battle over worthy intersections.

  • Who cares?

But who cares? That’s an intellectually, if immorally, puzzling question. And that’s what troubles this scholar and embarrassingly successful capitalist…who DOES care. And will vote. And will donate bazillions to the kindly causes that try to fight back against SuperTanker FilthyRich. But we need more than that—more resources, more action, more…fair and balanced humanity.

After all, for example, my very close personal friend Kirk, your Curator and Host here at BreakAway, simply wants everyone to get healthful, meaningful, time off. To take care of their loved ones. To get out of town—or tent. And to see the world (or a slice of it), whatever that may mean to the individualist, as allowed and affordable and safe. Everyone wins—even the proverbial property owners whose profits may depend on those of lower class (caste?) having coinage with which to splurge on simple pleasures.

Any alternative could get ugly. And who wants to experience unrest (what an understatement!) and stupid plundering if the working class can’t afford proper anger management courses while the rich and classless keep getting richer?

  • In conclusion…

Here’s the hardest part: There’s enough for everyone. At least in this land (is your land, is my land). Unless the greedy build even bigger walls than that one Mexico kindly built for us. And refuse to share their many toys, like so many spoilt brats.

That sounds like no fun, for anyone. Let’s hope we’re BIGGER…than that. All of us. And that the 1% with 40% realizes the slimy slope between lucky success and greedy narcissism. Otherwise, well, the tea may get dumped in the harbor. And frankly, it’s already dirty.

The economy—and possibly CIVILization as we know it—are in the imbalance.

As Mr. Horsted would say, and I try to repeat as my mantra, “Keep the faith.”

“Those least able to shoulder the burden have been the hardest hit.”

— Jerome Powell, Federal Reserve Chairman


The Fed

Census Bureau Weekly Pulse Survey

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FOTOFRIDAY: Vacations & Odd Ducks

Posted on: Monday, August 3rd, 2020
Posted in: HR FYI, Unplugging, FOTOFRIDAY | Leave a comment

FF is late this week. Because the Crew has been on vacation. Nothing exotic, not long enough, but…away. Most people dream about getting away and things, but the sad fact remains that more than half of US workers’ vakay days go unused. It’s the Odd Duck who actually takes care, takes advantage, and takes off for some frolic and fun.

In this picture, you can see what happens to that Odd Duck. Co-workers attack and ostracize. They splash water on your visions of work/life balance. They quack behind your back and peck at your beak because they are jealous you might find bliss and pissed that your absence may increase their work load.

You, meanwhile, may be a closet territorialist—afraid that ditching the job may result in lost opportunity, a back-breaking backlog, or the realization that you really aren’t essential anyway. Yes, it’s complicated. All the more reason to step away for some fresh perspective. (Just don’t think too much. Watch waves and ducks.)

We’ve been carping about this since at least 2009. And yes, the pandemic complicates time off, as it does everything. But maybe the unprecedented stress and uncertainty of these times makes getting AWAY and UNPLUGGING more important than ever! Because hanging with that white duck and the other curious and revitalizing experiences of this BreakAway did much to calm my turbulent waters. For now, anyhow.

Keep the faith.

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Kimmel & O’Connor Commend BreakAways; Wilderness Swamped

Posted on: Thursday, July 9th, 2020
Posted in: HR FYI, Sabbatical Shuffle, BITN | Leave a comment

Have you been tuning in to the late night comedy-talk shows? I hope so. Because even though Kimmel, Colbert & comrades have been recording in their home offices (and rec rooms and garages) they’ve been creating some of their best work. Absent the cheesy crowd noise and adulation, the hosts work harder and end up showing more star power.

More comedic relief, too. The summer we all want to forget (and survive) gets punched in the gut-laughs nightly, with crisp and daring monologues and occasional skits—often including family. Speaking of, Jimmy’s daughters are darling; they join him for a feature on Fridays. Their girly giggle-attacks are more contagious than the Coronavirus!

But Jimmy needs a break. According to the BoGlobe, he’s taking his longest break (a few months) after 18 years and 3,130 episodes. We’ll miss him. And hope that when he returns, he has a crowd to cheer him on. But now we know: If not, well, he’ll still provide essential laughter therapy.

  • Justice O’Connor’s 5-year break transformed her future

Sandra Day O’Connor’s career is legendary, with top-tier positions in all 3 branches of government and, ultimately, a long stint on the U.S. Supreme Court. Yet she speaks of the 5-year break to raise her 3 sons as perhaps the most game-changing chapter of all.

A babysitter quit; could happen to anyone. But this was the early 1960s, and daycare options were virtually non-existent. So O’Connor became a homemaking mom, and eventually had to volunteer, scheme, and fight her way back to employment. Boy, did she!

Her story gets sterling telling thanks to Carol Fishman Cohen, founder of iRelaunch, an admirable advocacy of career breaks and workplace re-entry. Her TED talk offers a touchstone for our vital cause, with millions of views to prove it!

Justice O’Connor’s trail-blazing example proved what was possible: that a career break is not a permanent roadblock, but rather a life-changing, character-shaping step along the way.

Our thanks to both of these innovators for their great work and, especially, for their BreakAway leadership!

  • MN wilderness is swamped

The COVID-19 pandemic has destroyed most travel dreams, and likely countless simple summer vacation plans. Here in MN, however, the camping and outdoor getaway business is booming. State parks report a 62% increase in day traffic over a year ago. And popular places like Lake Superior’s North Shore have become so busy that ill-mannered neophytes are a problem

Knowing that people are finding a way to escape their 4 walls and 55 worries to absorb the great outdoors offers a ray of sunshine in gloomy times. But really, people? Cutting down pines to increase your view? Throwing trash in Boundary Waters latrines? Emptying an RV septic tank by the side of the road? Hmmm. Maybe these morons should stay in lock-down!

As one outfitter theorizes, “The world is in a disruptive mode, maybe people are caring less…the world is coming to an end so we’ll do whatever the hell we want to do.”

Sad. Because these attditudes can become self-fulfilling destinies. And don’t we have enough to lament and fret about without engaging in reckless, recreational destruction?

Yes, we do. So go. BreakAway. Get your yayas out. But please, people: Clean up after yourself. And be kind.

Keep the faith.

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BITN: Quit? Vacation? Or Sneak a Sabbatical?

Posted on: Wednesday, April 10th, 2019
Posted in: HR FYI | Leave a comment

Covering BreakAways in the News remains a relatively quiet beat compared to, say, Trump. Yet the working world keeps predicting more potential for the idea, like covert prophets forecasting work/life balance atop balance-sheet profits. Here are a few recent stories that hit the Interns’ inboxes.

  • Everybody loves a quitter

Who knew? There really is an International Quit Your Crappy Job Day. None other than LinkedIn pays homage annually. And maybe you know a few people who impersonated Johnny Paycheck and sang “Take this job and shove it” on March 31. That’s the date, BTW. Oh, you didn’t know? Just as well. You need the money.

Anyway, this year’s blogger, Ozlem Brooke Erol, makes a decent case for jumping ship if you are miserable or the stress is eating you alive—and insists that “new doors will open up for you” if you “leave now and come out of a place of love and abundance, not fear.” Delusional? Sure. But such wild words could change your life.

  • Next PTO trend: FTO (Forced Time Off)

Well+Good recently published a post bringing fresh thoughts and stats about the dreadful trend of people working during vacation time. Like, 54% don’t disconnect when away. 50%+ don’t even use all their vacation time. Most people who work at “unlimited vacation” employers take even less time off than normal folks. And of course, the majority of people polled say work causes anxiety and keeps them awake at night. Hey, you need a BreakAway!

Bummer for us. Yet Big Pharma is probably okay with the surge in anxiety, depression, and insomnia. There’s a pill for all that.

Author Amy Semigran offers some solutions, like unplugging—including from SM—while away. The most intriguing, though, is a new-ish movement to institute “mandatory vacation” days. Makes sense—if The Management really cares about employee mental health, recruiting, and retention.

Forced time off. Brilliant. But…will the Boss will have to hire bouncers?

  • Bloomberg sells sabbaticals

Over at Bloomberg, meanwhile, a sponsored post pumps the sabbatical goal—including a mention of the concept’s origin from biblical times. (We did not invent this!)

Assuming these stats are True News, here’s the latest on employer participation: 6% of overall employers offer sabbaticals; 28% of “small businesses” do; and 19% of the Fortune 100 Best Companies to Work For are on board.

One can’t help notice that the story sponsor is an investment company. (One also often finds that behind the vacation-promotion initiatives hide various airlines, credit cards, and tourism bureaus.)

Yet it’s true: Your sabbatical won’t pay off without due diligence to money management. So if you follow some of the article’s common-sense tips and think big, you, too, may BreakAway. Someday.

  • It’s not all about the money, honey

Most Americans work 90,000 hours over a lifetime. So we do have time—a whole lifetime!—but what shall we do with it? While $ matters and remains the #1 reason people work so hard, one of BreakAway’s Five Five-Word Mantras insists: “It’s not a financial decision.”

It that sounds silly to you, consider: You’ve probably applied that logic to your love life, family planning, education decisions, and that fancy martini you had last Saturday. (Never mind the golf clubs or the botox treatment.) So hey, why not try that philosophy for getting away?

You may be more free than you thought. Just a thought.

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Family Leave Becoming the Hot BreakAway

Posted on: Tuesday, September 4th, 2018
Posted in: HR FYI | Leave a comment

Seems like literally every day lately when I pick up a newspaper, a bold-face headline announces major increases in corporate family leave policy. MYBA’s primary mission may be advocating career breaks and sabbaticals. But coming in a close second is taking time for other what-matters-most opportunities. And frankly, does anything matter more than welcoming a new Earthling into the family? No.

Yet government statistics reveal that only 16% of US workers are granted paid leave for a new baby. Talk about mis-spent priorities amid an allegedly booming economy. Insert tantrum here, and please aim thrown baby food at your elected, crusty upper-crusters.

By their own accounting, five generations work at General Mills. So individual needs can vary dramatically, yet every employee is likely to need time to tend to a sick or aging family member—if not a new baby. Thus GM has made leave policy expansions that include bereavement, disability, and more, while new parents will get 12 weeks paid time off. New birth mothers will receive 6-8 additional weeks.

That generous, yes! But it’s also just plain smart; GM admits they’d fallen behind other large food companies. And when you employ 40,000 people (and must please countless shareholders), talent recruiting and retention are the best path to profits.

  • Microsoft to require contractors to offer paid parental leave

Tech firms may be the most lavish (and well-heeled) when it comes to leave benefits. But MSFT is about to set a new standard—and not just for tech freelancers, but everyone who contracts with the firm, including cafeteria workers and janitors. MSFT already mandates that contractors provide vacation and paid sick days.

The state of Washington and a small number of states have created an employer- and employee-funded tax that allows new parents to dip into those piggy banks for family time off. The other Washington—as in DC—remains pathetically hands-off about baby care and many other perks real people need. (Drain the swamp, indeed.)

  • Sweden and Scandinavia: Nurturing off the charts

The progress gradually happening in corporate America warrants a standing (or resting) ovation. But lest we get carried away, a travel article about Stockholm I read today featured a Swede casually mentioning that new parents there get up to 480 days of paid leave—plus a monthly child allowance paid by the government.

Will the US of A ever get there? Of course not—let’s not get piggish! But meantime, we’ll be grateful for (dare I say) baby steps.

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Top Workplaces Serve Suds But Not Sabbaticals

Posted on: Monday, June 27th, 2016
Posted in: HR FYI | Leave a comment

Yesterday’s Star Tribune included a hefty supplement about Minnesota’s best employers, as determined by the Strib and Pennsylvania’s Workplace Dynamics. The Twin Cities remain a top metro to work and live in according to umpteen surveys. And there’s plenty to love about how employers are creating innovative perks for employees—everything from Flannel Fridays to free beer.

Sadly missing, however, are sabbaticals. After perusing all 40 pages (including dozens of self-congrats ads from companies), I honestly don’t think the word or any like it appeared. Oh sure, some are upgrading their PTO and flex-work policies. But earning, say, a three-month BreakAway for seven years of service? Nary a mention, hint, or clue.

  • Whatever the numbers, they’re low

It’s possible we don’t really know how many companies offer—and deliver—paid extended breaks. But we do know this much: Few do. According to the Society for Human Resource Management, about 5% offer paid sabbaticals and about 18% offer unpaid. According to Fortune, meanwhile, 25% of the 100 Best Companies to Work for have a program.

But as noted here in MYBA all too often, many companies—even well-intentioned ones—say they provide the perk. But few staffers dare to take their time. It reminds me of the clever neon hanging in a favorite bar: “Free drinks tomorrow.”

Here’s the thing: The USA now boasts an unemployment rate below 5%; it’s below 4% in Minnesota—and iterations of “Help Wanted” signs are omnipresent and getting detailed and creative. Many of these jobs are low-paying positions that may never be sabbatical material. But what about those who have worked their way up the ladder for years into management or dedicated careers?

They will probably burn out, grow resentful, and depend on a work ethic that is based more on short-term fear than on long-term, inspirational incentives.

Let’s hope for change; goodness knows employers must fight to attract and retain great talent. And most are certainly not doing it with pay; according to one article in the report, employee compensation peaked in 1970 and is nearing 60-year lows. Meantime, corporate profits are approaching 60-year highs. Executive pay is doing pretty okay, too.

For the rest of us—the salaried millions and minions—here are some perks that better employers have brewed up that seem to be creating a buzz for now. Decide for yourself whether you’d rather have Flannel Fridays or three months off.

  • Free beer
  • Intrapreneurial programs
  • A prom
  • “Thought leadership” blog posts for all
  • Telecommuting options
  • Student loan repayment assistance
  • Emergency loans
  • “Employee empowerment”
  • Flex time
  • 15-minute massages every other week
  • Fitness centers
  • Recreation areas
  • Kitchens
  • Community gardens
  • Pizza parties
  • Flannel Fridays
  • Casual Fridays
  • Food truck Fridays
  • Dogs allowed (no mention of cats)
  • Wellness classes
  • Bowling teams
  • Sharing financials
  • ESOPs
  • Boat rides
  • Golf outings
  • Yoga
  • Happiness
  • Donuts


P.S. No mention of vacations or family/parent/health leaves either…

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All Hail the Vacation Revolution!

Posted on: Thursday, January 8th, 2015
Posted in: HR FYI, Blog | Leave a comment
The fat cat is out of the bag: Americans’ vacation rates have hit sick, historic lows, and the topic has gone viral like the flu at the office. Dozens of sites have picked up on the story, and screen-starers have are taking notice. Could this—finally—suggest a tipping point in our mass, stubborn refusal to take time off?

The new study, by Skift (of course), found that nearly 42% of our workers took not one day off last year. Trending on the low end: Women and younger workers. Looking a bit better: Men, suburbanites, Westerners, and those with higher incomes.

Contrarian thinking has gotten lots of people rich; just ask Mr. Buffett. So this vakay maven wonders if we’ve hit bottom. Oil’s <$50 per barrel right now. You think it will stay there forever? You think Americans will refuse to take time off forever—especially while the economy has improved and unemployment is low?

Call me an optimist. (!) And never mind that just last March this site proclaimed “Vacations Are A Waste of Time!”  Things change. Workers are giving $52 billion of “free” work back to their employers—while suffering from countless syndromes that a vacation might heal.

5 reasons the vacation revolution has begun

  • We need the exercise and movement that a getaway can provide. 

Both will help us fight epidemics like diabetes, obesity, bad backs, and lack of sand on the buttocks.


  • Mother Nature calls. 

These days, work means mostly sitting at a computer. Some still toil on assembly lines. Others flip burgers or change sheets (and often get no PTO). Prescription: Find several days to get outside of that discomfort zone!


  • Folks are sick of (and at) work. 

Another disturbing trend: Presenteeism. People are going to work sick (which we’ve commented on before)— sometimes even doing daring, dangerous jobs. Got the bug? Stay away. We’ll all feel better. (NOTE: If this dude is feeling dizzy, he should def lay low.)


  • We’ve got Euro-envy (for a change)

Say what you want about the chronic Euro economic meltdowns and high unemployment rates. But 30 days off is the norm there. Here, only 15% take more than 20 days. Take 20 days in France, and they’d send you to recovery! We still have things to learn from other lands. Like, R&R (and how to party on the back of a truck).


  • Vacation makes you unplug.

Another alarming trend: people working on vacation (and all the time everywhere). Still, odds at least improve that when you’re on the road, you’ll go on the wagon from digital addiction. Maybe you’ll even, like, dress in period costume and do interpretive dance!


Turn off, tune in, and BreakAway!

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Unlimited Vacation? Give Me A Break!

Posted on: Thursday, November 13th, 2014
Posted in: HR FYI, Blog | Leave a comment
DSC_0371The NYT recently published a story about companies offering “unlimited time off.” Publicity mogul Richard Branson had announced that his UK and US companies would adopt such a practice. As usual, the media went gaga. And then the HR pundits weighed in. Now it’s my turn.

Take your time…when you’re “100% sure”

Such implausible policies usually come with not-so-fine print. In this case, according to Mr. Branson’s blog, employees should feel free to embrace the policy when they:

“feel a hundred per cent comfortable that they and their team are up to date on every project and that their absence will not in any way damage the business—or, for that matter, their careers!”

Sounds like a typical Boss Man. I remember taking my first “real” job out of college at a small ad agency. When I asked the owner about his sick-day policy, he said, “Sick days? We don’t need that. When you’re sick, you’re sick.” The policy never was clear to me, though I remember colleagues frequently working while ill. Ish!

Mr. Branson: Is anyone every 100% sure of anything? “Their team?” “Every project?” “The business?” “Their careers?” If perfection were the goal, we’d never stop working. And still never reach 100%. Mr. Branson: Your policy is, at best, a fuzzy discourtesy to the priceless professionals who’ve made you a billionaire.

Some vacation policy tips we can LIVE with

Having hung around countless hard-working (and sometimes burned-out) pros for years, here are some ideas I’ve gathered that seems to work for all parties…

  • 2-4 weeks of paid vacation. Yes, it should be more. But this is ‘Merrka. But if you start young and the company gives you 4 weeks in 5-10 years: Sweet.
  • Use it or lose it vacation time. No, you can’t work your harried ass off and hoard those days as an exit strategy (or whatever). You MUST take time off. Or you lose the ability to keep adding more. You’ll be a better employee (and person).
  • Sabbaticals. Since this site is dedicated to that proposition, how about something so simple as one month off every five years, or three months off every seven years.
  • Paid leave for family matters. That includes dads, who often suffer a reverse-discrimination (that nobody talks about). There are laws supporting this now, yet many folks and employers don’t go there. Life is short. Family comes first.
  • Sick leave or PTO. “When you’re sick, you’re sick,” and you need to get better—and not sicken the staffers that surround you. PTO is for when you just need a day off. Mental health? Personal problem? Dog ate your laptop? Deal with it. No questions asked.
  • 40-hour work weeks. Let’s work hard and smart and then focus on The Big Picture and wellbeing. Anyway, ever check Facebook? Most folks are posting and commenting from work. No wonder they’re working long hours!

What do you think of Branson’s policy?  What’s yours?

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Mid-lifers Crave Work-Life Balance

Posted on: Tuesday, July 1st, 2014
Posted in: HR FYI, Blog | Leave a comment
DSC_0149USA Today (today) offers a story/survey about workers in their 40s and 50s. And—guess what!—what they want most in their careers is better work-life balance and less stress. The only thing regarded as more important is—guess what!—money.

Survey sez:

Among the changes that midlife adults want to make in the next five to 10 years:

  • 82% want to give back more;
  • 80% want to pursue one or more of their passions;
  • 75% want to make their lives more meaningful;
  • 74% want to travel more;
  • 53% want to pursue a new hobby;
  • 48% want to make a change to their personal life;
  • 46% want to make a change to their professional life.
  • One piece of cool news: 91% are very or somewhat satisfied with their lives.

There’s discussion of changing careers, meaning, purpose, giving back, “a desire to do something different,” and more. We get quotes from HR mavens, career coaches and authors, and the folks behind Life Reimagined—a recent AARP offshoot endeavoring to move beyond the old and retired stigma. Good idea.

Funny thing is, though, there’s not one word career breaks. Or what this site dubs Temporary Retirement. Not even vacation gets a mention.

Ever notice how WORK-life balance seems to all about work? I mean, take yourself for a week (or a year) to the lake, to the mountains, to that faraway destination of your dreams: That’s when you realize there’s so much more to life than work!

Our Career Break Movement isn’t dead. It’s just gone to the bathroom. Keep the faith…

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Give the Boss a Break!

Posted on: Sunday, August 4th, 2013
Posted in: HR FYI, Blog | Leave a comment
DSC_0902Financial Times recently posted a story extolling the virtues of extended time off, paid sabbaticals, completely unplugging, and taking strategic distance from your work to help you get better focus and perspective. The article offers many role models who are richer (in all ways) because of their commitment to balance.

Much credit goes to the founder of the Strategic Coach program, Dan Sullivan, who helps entrepreneurs grow their businesses and leverage the benefits of free time—while taking off 155 days each year himself. As he sagely states,

Taking time off refreshes the brain but it also simplifies your brain.”

It’s a great read, so go there! Meantime, here are a few quotes that stack up like persuasive testimonials from entrepreneurs who have learned to accomplish more by working less…

  • “The fewer days I work, the greater my measurable economic results.”
  • “The person should completely disconnect during the sabbatical…No checking email. No calls. Total sabbatical.”
  • The sabbatical “was great for me, and great for the company to run without me for six weeks.”
  • “I delegated more and I told the people in the office that if I called on a free day they were to hang up the phone on me.”
  • “I now have a fairly full life. I do a lot of community work, I travel and I have a great family life. I wouldn’t have that if I hadn’t found the ability to take free days.”

There’s much more to say and consider from this article. But alas, this writer is on vacation, and is about to exceed the 55-minute-per-day limit on screen time. So why not join me? Peruse the story, put your screen to sleep, and go outside and refresh your viewpoint and outlook!

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