Article main image
Mar 6, 2014

Vacation time in America has practically become a cultural oxymoron.

Sharpening both sides of this double-edged sword, Cadillac ran a remarkably tongue-in-cheek commercial during this year’s Super Bowl that continues to run during expensive ad slots like Sunday night’s Academy Awards.

Rather than summarize it, just give it a quick watch, and ask yourself: is Cadillac right? Is our seeming workaholic American mentality really the path to great success and happiness? Or are we legitimately mocked by our non-American friends’ proclamations that we foolishly “live to work” instead of “work to live?”

Click past the break to watch the video and read more.

Vacation in America: Almost taboo

According to Forbes (and Wikipedia, and numerous other sources) America is indeed the only “advanced economy” in the world that does not have a statutorily-required paid vacation period per year.

Indeed, the very notion of vacation time in America is almost taboo. If somebody even mentions increasing the vacation time in America, they get dirty looks all around.

Just check out this fascinating infographic put together by Employment Law HQ (left):countries-that-require-vacation-infographic

Compounding this perception is Silicon Valley’s 80- and 100-hour work week that’s practically become a status icon of dedication and determination. Countless articles heap reams of praise upon college dropouts and determined 30-somethings who still sleep on couches, eat sodium-laden ramen soup, and rely upon an intravenous feed of Red Bull to keep going 14 plus hours day after day after day forgetting to eat, sleep, to forsake the gym, and all but forget about sex entirely.

Not a pleasant life then, especially considering the abysmally low success rates of startups which, depending on whom you ask, range from below 1 percent to maybe a few per cent at best.

(Statistically speaking then, one could argue that the entrepreneurial mindset is tantamount to that of a habitual gambler, one inexorably drawn to the risks, thrills, and perils of gambling in Vegas. A good topic for another article, perhaps?)

Does the workaholic style create failure?

Thing is though, there seems to be little published on the causal direction of such workaholic lifestyle and, for instance, startups’ success — or lack thereof. The general attitude can best be summarized with the following IF-THEN statement:

IF successful startup, THEN worked 14 plus hours a day for two (2) years straight;

IF NOT worked 14 plus hours a day for  two (2) years straight, THEN NOT successful startup.

But what if this is all wrong? What if it is precisely because of this grossly imbalanced lifestyle that most startups fail?

What if it’s rather like a science fiction movie where the good guys desperately fire more and stronger weapons at the evil creature which, rather than being weakened by the onslaught, is in fact strengthened?

OK, weird analogy. The point is, what if it is these extreme, unsustainable lifestyles that cause startups to fail in the first place? Put another way, what if a more balanced life actually produced more successful startups?

More balance may mean more productivity

Blasphemy! I can hear it now. Legions of dedicated entrepreneurs screaming it now, I’m sure. Outrageous! cry yet others, no doubt.

I’m not saying this is an accurate statement. I’m not saying this is necessarily true. I’m simply saying nobody’s even willing to consider the possibility that this may be true.

Nobody is even willing to ask whether an increase in the vacation time in America — or at least the notion that we, as a populace, should value a better work/life balance — could in fact increase worker productivity, and startup successes.

So let’s make it official. Let me ask the question:

Is it possible that productivity, at least within startups, could be improved — and thus startups’ failure rates reduced — by improving the work/life balance of the entrepreneurs building such startups? What about increasing the vacation time in America for larger, more established companies?

In short: what do you think about the “live to work” or “work to live” philosophies?

This was originally published on the venturocket blog.