“Every person needs to take one day away. A day in which one consciously separates the past from the future. Jobs, family, employers, and friends can exist one day without any one of us, and if our egos permit us to confess, they could exist eternally in our absence. Each person deserves a day away in which no problems are confronted, no solutions searched for. Each of us needs to withdraw from the cares which will not withdraw from us.” ~Maya Angelou
I currently wear a lot of hats. I’m an entrepreneur focused on building my business and over-delivering to my clients. I’m the mother of a very energetic and joyous two-year old boy. I’m the wife to an equally entrepreneurial husband, who values my opinions in business and beyond. I’m a sister, daughter, and aunt in a close family. I’m a workout fiend who makes time for activities like tennis, pilates, and circuit training. I’m a pretty active blogger who likes to put my thoughts out into the ether, hoping that they’ll help others. And, I’m a bleeding heart who tends to say “yes” to different pleas for assistance ranging from reviewing resumes, to speaking to students, to devising a marketing strategy for a talented teenage artist.
Confucius said, “Choose a job you love, and you’ll never have to work a day in your life.” Right now, I’m in the fortunate position of having that statement apply to me. Still, if you’re doing the math, there’s only so much time in the day. As a result, I sometimes feel like I’m doing an awful lot of “doing” and not enough “being.”
So, for the past few months, I’ve been reflecting a lot on the idea of taking breaks.
Historically, I haven’t been so great at them. Instead, I’ve been a nose to the grindstone kind of person who could delay gratification with the best of them to get stuff done. Plus, I’m ultra-curious, so I truly enjoy intellectual stimulation. As a result, I could manage my time like a pro, reading non-fiction and journal articles while on a cardio machine, cranking out high quality material at warp speed, and coming up with creative ideas in my car that I immediately wanted to start implementing once I got home. I could be fully present with my son, then grind something else out the minute he went to sleep. Even when I would go for a massage, instead of lying peacefully, I would find myself chatting with the massage therapist, eager to learn more about the workings of the human body and what I could do to get rid of muscle imbalances.
It sounds dizzying even as I type it, but honestly, it usually feels fine. After all, when you’re passionate about something, like Confucius said, it doesn’t feel like work. And, I make time to do things like exercise, so I’m doing everything I was supposed to do, right?
It would seem so, except for the fact that it wouldn’t be until outwardly imposed breaks hit that all of this activity would catch up with me, usually in the form of getting sick during holidays. Or sometimes, I would feel completely and utterly tired despite full nights of sleep (I am not one to skimp on sleep).
And, I’m not the only one. Earlier this week, I was talking to a friend (the mother of an infant), who mentioned she had gotten sick over the weekend as a result of firing on all cylinders in her life. I have another friend who constantly updates her Facebook page with status updates about how busy she is, while also feeling that there’s nothing she can do about it except be as productive as possible to keep up.
Lately, however, I’ve been actively questioning this approach. And what I have found is that while the outcomes of taking a break aren’t as tangible as checking an item off of a to-do list, they can be just as rewarding.
For example, last month, I took a few hours to go to the Monastery of the Holy Spirit in Conyers, Georgia, to recharge. I had heard about how peaceful it was there, and so I decided I was going to take a break with the goal of simply relaxing in solitude. And, it was wonderful.
Although I’m someone who meditates pretty regularly, sitting in the silence of a cavernous empty church, designed with clean, simple lines juxtaposed against beautiful stained glass, was particularly tranquil. Walking along the paths, taking in the loving craftsmanship of the statues and the natural beauty of the flowers was humbling. Sitting by the still lake on a bench, writing in my journal while being serenaded by a group of ducks was a nourishing experience.
And, though I was initially a tad irritated when a friendly stranger sat beside me on the bench and engaged me in conversation (after all, I had come for solitude), I quickly went with the moment, and ended up enjoying an interesting dialogue on metaphysics, including an opportunity to practice my French (which I hadn’t done in years).
It was only a few hours, but the experience truly refreshed me and left me with a sense of peace I haven’t felt in a long time, because I gave myself total and absolute permission to just be.
Since then, I’ve been being intentional about taking time for breaks such as these more often. I take bubble baths. I take power naps when I need them. This morning, when I felt too tired to go to the gym, I listened to my body instead of forcing myself to go. I resumed attending my gentle yoga class after a one-year hiatus. I also plan to carve out time on my calendar to spend a few hours at the monastery again in the future.
And the funny thing is, everything still gets done, just as it did before. Clothes get folded. Projects get completed. Blog posts and reports get written. The world keeps turning.
About a year ago, I asked my (amazing) parents for words of advice they would share for younger people based on their own life experiences. Both of them said something similar, “I would stop and smell the roses more.”
So, I plan to do just that. I hope you will too!