Myron Medcalf
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I never knew the joy of watching boats careen toward the dock on a windy day, while enjoying a cool drink before my quick jaunt to Clear Lake, Iowa, a few weeks ago. From a balcony at the Lakeside Inn, a small boutique hotel that sits on the edge of the water, I disconnected from everything.

I snacked on trail mix. I read a lot. But I also got hooked on a Netflix show called "Love Is Blind" and ended Season 2 wondering if Shake might be the worst person in the world for the way he treated Deepti.

When I returned from that trip, part of a 10-day break from work, I hung out with my daughters. We grabbed donuts and played video games and just relaxed. Together.

During my time off, I did not work. Not one e-mail. Not one word in a Google Doc. Not one phone call or text message about work. It was a first for me, a real disconnection.

I know why I never felt this free to leave work when I was younger. Like so many of us, I viewed work as my value. I thought vacation time was a weakness, reserved for those who refuse to grind.

Unfortunately, I was in good company ., an online employment resource, says the average American leaves 6.5 days of PTO unused each year.

"It is the American way," said Aaron Hall, a Minneapolis business attorney. "It is somewhat unique about America. But I think a lot of people in America eventually recognize, toward the end of their lives, they put in more time and more sacrifice for work than they should have and they regret it."

There are people who cannot afford to take any time off right now. They are working overtime or they have already made plans to use their PTO later this year.

There are also people who do not have the luxury of enjoying a compensated stretch without work. I write this knowing I am a male with privileges in class that allowed me to enjoy the time I did have to myself. I know mothers who never feel like they get a break, even when they're on vacation.

For the rest of us, however, it is a choice, a choice we do not make as often as we should. Between the folks who can't take time off and those who won't, we have collectively decided, it seems, that this is the norm and we are OK with that.

During the summer after my freshman year of college, I worked 12-hour shifts at a factory. Each morning, I would hear the rumble of motorcycles just before people clocked into work. I understood how their flashy Harley-Davidsons had once convinced my father to get a motorcycle before my mother decided he would not get a motorcycle. Those men and women had been there for years. From 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. — and from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. on the night shift — they worked hard.

In the first few weeks on the job, I underestimated the energy and focus it all demanded and caused a logjam on the assembly line. I shut the plant down. I just remember flashing lights and sirens and a supervisor running up the stairs and yelling, "Medcalf!" Then, he sent me to my father, who was the quality-assurance manager. Overnight, the decision had been made that I would be sent to a part of the factory that felt more like a dungeon. Back there, I wouldn't stop production.

But I admired the drive of those workers. One woman had completed 63 days in a row without a break. She was revered. That job tapped into my own passion for work that would remain as I broke into the journalism business and treated every day as an opportunity to improve and viewed time off as a liability for my career and my dreams.

I will not lie to you all. I am still fighting to separate my identity from my work. I am still learning that I am not what I do but who I am. I am constantly wrestling with the reality that my work ethic does not define, enhance or solidify my humanity. If I lose it all tomorrow, I want to believe that I will still matter. But I'm not sure.

I say all of this as the son of a man who held a retirement party three years ago, but just last week promised he would officially retire sometime in July — a tale I heard last July, too.

I will always work hard. I, like my father, do not know another way. But I will also leave it all behind and take breaks when I need them.

Two months ago, I knew I needed the world to stop spinning for a moment.

I am glad I left and rebooted on vacation.

And I will leave again before the fall for a destination yet unknown. Maybe Puerto Rico. Maybe Duluth. Maybe my couch.

When it is time to reset in the future, I will go.

I hope you will, too.

Myron Medcalf is a local columnist for the Star Tribune and a national writer and radio host for ESPN. His column appears in print on Sundays twice a month and also online.