Right now I’m sitting here in Panama City, Panama on the 28th floor of our family’s condo, contemplating what just happened. Earlier, my Dad had asked the building’s technician to come by and take care of some things that needed fixing ASAP, and he was told that the technician might not be showing up because he was taking a “contra-tiempo.” Literally, this term is translated into English as, “against time.” Both my father and I had no clue what this meant other than its literal definition. When it was explained to him over the phone, he couldn’t help but laugh. I, of course, was eager to learn why the technician was giving such an odd-sounding reason for being unable to fix some things around the house after he had already promised to be there and was paid monthly for his services.
My dad then proceeded to explain to me that when a Panamanian takes a “contra-tiempo,” it simply means that he or she did not feel like coming in to work that day for whatever reason, and no one knew when they would be in, if at all. This is certainly one of the most bizarre things I’ve ever heard of, and I couldn’t understand not only that this was a real thing, but also that most of the time employees would not get fired for such behavior. Talk about a culture shock on my end!
I then began to imagine, as I watched the tide come back in toward the city from outside my window, what it would mean if in the U.S. we were allowed such “contra-tiempos.”
Ever since I was young, growing up in the school system where I experienced both private and public schools, even leaving class to go to the restroom required some sort of pass or legitimately documented excuse. In high school, I wasn’t even allowed to leave campus even if I had three hours of free periods.
In the workplace, it is almost always unacceptable to simply not show up, and even more so to tell a client that your employee would not be able to assist you because that day they simply just didn’t feel like it. I mean…what?!
Although I don’t believe adopting this kind of practice in the workplace would be beneficial overall, in all cultures, I do think there is something to take away from this. Especially as entrepreneurs, we rarely give ourselves a “contra-tiempo” because our work isn’t even 9-5, but rather, 24/7 in a sense. This can lead to severe burnout and other emotional roadblocks, as I’ve written about here. It can also stifle our creative abilities if our minds are overworked.
Do you think there is a version of a “contra-tiempo” that would be beneficial to entrepreneurs? How about to creatives in particular? Have you found ways to manage the demands of your job and what is expected of you, but still learned healthy methods that require taking those breaks to restore your mind, body, and soul? Comment below and let us know!