The Only Black Guy in the Office

Why I Stopped Feeling Guilty About Taking Time Off

I traded my ‘no days off’ mentality for PTO and peace of mind

The Only Black Guy In the Office
LEVEL
Published in
5 min readJul 27, 2020

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Illustration: Richard A. Chance

Update 6/7/22: Level has a new home. You can read this article and other new articles by visiting LEVELMAN.com.

Being a Black man in corporate America has taught me many things — from the value of privacy to how to dodge lunch break guilt — but one of the most potent lessons was just how dangerous it is to convince yourself that you’re invincible.

Every now and then, my mind floats back to my last marketing gig, when I’d regularly put up a front. I’d rip and run from the crack of dawn ’til sundown, juggling projects like it was nothing. Then I’d do it again the next day. And the next. It didn’t matter whether I was as tired as a cliché. “No Days Off” was the mantra I lived by — not necessarily because I wanted to, but because I thought I had to.

To this day, I’m not sure why I was so hung up on being a Black superman, the guy who could “handle it,” the team player who would never inconvenience his co-workers by actually taking advantage of the company’s generous paid-time-off policy. Foolish, I know. As I sit here on my fifth day off since the start of the summer, bare feet kicked up on the couch next to my closed work laptop, I’m happy to say I’ve finally outgrown that urge. Taking a break (or two, or three) is fucking great.

It’s crazy to think back on how I’d bulldoze through consecutive months on a project, while my non-Black project managers would randomly take a day or two off in a random week — just because they could. They knew, and everyone else automatically presumed, that all of their to-dos would get taken care of one way or another. The times I’ve floated the idea of taking a personal day in the past, it was met with the same loaded questions: “Who’s covering you?” “How will this affect the timeline?” Not coincidentally, these are the same things parents typically rattle off to teach their kid prescriptive lessons about “responsibility” and “consequences.” And last time I checked, I don’t work for my parents.

I get it — one PTO don’t stop the show — but in those cases it felt like the onus was put on me, rather than…

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The Only Black Guy In the Office
LEVEL
Writer for

Do you know him? Is it you? The trials and tribulations of a Black man navigating corporate life.