A Saturday Frame of Mind

By Hannah Wallace January 31, 2006

It's February and businesspeople are fully engaged in achieving their goals. In January we restarted our engines and developed traction; by now we've hopefully got our strides.

In other words, we're working hard. The holidays are long gone and now it's about total focus and commitment, which is a part of who we are and why we do what we do. This maximum work effort provides the basis for one of the most interesting, seemingly contradictory aspects of human life: the relationship between work and play. I feel we're most complete and content when we have a favorable balance of both. When we earn our weekend by fulfilling work, we're more apt to truly enjoy a Saturday of strolling the beach, playing golf or tennis, yachting or comfortably reading a good book.

Conversely, I'm convinced we're better at work if we've had a respite. That break is vital both for fresh energy and perspective. I've known so-called workaholics whom I've often found to be boring, essentially unhappy and far less effective than they think they are. It's now also been medically researched that vacations are a health necessity. A study of some 12,000 middle-aged men at high risk for coronary heart disease, reported in the 2003 Consumer Reports On Health, concluded that not taking time off might seriously harm one's health. The research showed that, over a nine-year period, those who took frequent vacations were 32 percent less likely to die from coronary disease than those who rarely took time off. While taking appropriate vacation time is important, spending stress-free weekends removed from the urgencies and details of work is even more essential. Hitting Monday with renewed energy and fresh perspectives has to translate to heightened performance and well-being.

I've always relished what I consider a Saturday sensibility: lightness and freedom, the early part of the weekend, with another day to spare and what that all means. Saturday-the day that just begs to be a metaphor for weekends, vacations, rest and play-ought to be the real thing, not just a symbol. (I hope and assume that retailers, realtors and everyone who works on that day have their own Saturday, whatever day of the week it may be.)

This Friday take note of how many people urge you to have a good weekend, or even a great weekend. Also catch the emphatic vigor in their voices, the heightened anticipation of imminent weightlessness, and maybe even celebration and the sense of a shared sensibility. Amazingly, these enthusiastic wishes are directed at only a two-day respite from work. Maybe it's because Americans probably work harder than anyone else in the world, and the end of our week becomes a mini-holiday.

After returning from a vacation in Italy, I remarked to a friend that the Italians seem to savor the simple pleasures of life much more than we do. Paying the Italians a deep compliment, he responded, "They don't feel the need to make it."

Yes, for better or worse, we do feel that need. As a nation we certainly are high-achievers with an incomparable amount of progress to show for it. Now if we can keep that going, and concurrently make an equal commitment to Saturday, we'll have it all.

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