The Daily Grind offers readers a glimpse into the life of general dentists practicing today. Each post offers a perspective on managing a dental practice or balancing a life outside of the practice. The Daily Grind is written by several general dentist and student members of AGD. All content published on The Daily Grind is property of the Academy of General Dentistry and cannot be reposted or reprinted without permission.

Of Solar Eclipses and Vacations

  • by Larry Stanleigh, BSc, MSc, DDS, FADI, FICD, FACD, FPFA
  • Sep 29, 2017, 08:00 AM

Why are we here? Are we alone in the universe? These questions and more are asked regularly by the likes of the late Carl Sagan, Neil deGrasse Tyson and Bill Nye (aka “the Planetary Guy” as CEO of the Planetary Society, formerly known as “the Science Guy”), in addition to the clergy in our various faiths. These existential questions have no firm answers but are worth asking and the effort to seek the answers are also worthy endeavors.

But there I was on Aug. 21, celebrating my 23rd wedding anniversary, hanging out in a park in Mississauga, Ontario, with thousands of other citizens, using special glasses looking up into the sky to see a partial eclipse (about 80 percent of the sun where we were). It was my second partial solar eclipse and the first for my wife and two daughters. For me, it was a profoundly moving experience.

This all occurred in the middle of a three-week family holiday. Many years ago, I decided to take a three-week (in a row) holiday. I had heard from many sources that revealed that those in high-stress jobs, after only one week away, the stress levels are reduced but not eliminated, that after two weeks you are only starting to “let go,” but it is the third week that true emotional and mental rest starts to be felt. My first three-week holiday proved that concept to me in spades, and I made the conscious decision to do that regularly and have done so every year since then.

Why in North America do we accept that only two weeks of holidays for an entire year is sufficient for our health and well-being? Are we better by working more? Do we live longer, healthier and happier lives with fewer holidays? Do we work harder now so that we can “enjoy” our retirement?

I have seen so many patients over the past 30 years retire, only to experience a sudden decline in health and realize that they are not enjoying their retirement in the manner they imagined. I have seen others, who have moved around so much they are now far from their extended families that they are very much alone. And I know others who have worked well beyond the expected retirement age and are enjoying themselves.

I know that it is costly for us to close our offices and take time off. Many of our expenses don’t take a holiday when we are not working. However, it is only money; I consider it all just “stuff,” and we can’t take it with us anyway. Graveyards are filled with people who cannot be replaced.

I have a colleague who admitted she took her first holiday in years, a single week off. She took her husband and two daughters to a mountain resort. She loved the time away and admitted she didn’t know why it took her so long to do it.

When I was in dental school, one colleague who wanted me to become his associate, realized our 52-week year could be divided into four 13-week segments. He would work 12 weeks and take the 13th week off. This way, he had four weeks of holiday per year. And he did that for his entire career. It provided income stability and expense predictability for him. However, it also limited how far he could travel and for how long, as his time off was never more than one week in length.

Our European cousins take five to six weeks of holiday per year, often all in a row. That kind of extended holiday is healthy for family life, for physical and mental health and well-being, and is a societal standard that is well-accepted.

Conversely, our Asian cousins tend to take very few holidays and the pressure and high levels of work ethic have produced stress levels that have resulted in suicide rates amongst the highest in the world.

I think it is time we all reconsidered our ideas about our own personal health and well-being, about the amount of holidays we take each year, and make balancing our work and our lives outside of work a bigger priority. I now take five to seven weeks off each year: three weeks in the summer, one to two weeks at Christmas, and some long weekends throughout the year. I don’t work hard so that I can enjoy my retirement. The most productive, wealthy and important contributors to society don’t have a fixed retirement age. They continue working and being relevant well into their 70s and beyond. As long as I remain healthy, I don’t plan on retiring. I just plan to work differently.

It all comes back to this question: Why are we here? This is a profound question to ponder as we approach the end of summer and return to our work routines of the autumn season.

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