Growing up, I was the daughter of an entrepreneur. There was always a new adventure happening in our lives–a new idea, a new business, a new investment. My mom, being the smart woman she is, got roped into making sure things ran smoothly no matter what venture my dad decided to take on. And he took on a lot. As you can imagine, with my parents living together and being entrepreneurs together, work was always a topic of conversation. As a kid, it drove me crazy and I swore I would never let work take over every waking moment of my life.
The Necessary Hard Work
As an adult, I understand it better now, of course. I don’t know if I was born with a similar drive or if I learned it, but either way, once I found my passion in life, it became a siren’s call. You know the sound. Deep down, it’s a romantic song that says it’s a beautiful journey and a scenic destination. On the surface, though, it sounds a lot like, You’re not doing enough. Other people are doing it better, faster, and bigger than you. If you really want this, you better work harder.
It’s what you love.
But even the things we love can become torture. In fact, they may have the most power to do so. We are so enamored by the possibility of making our dreams a reality that we sacrifice enjoying the here and now. We sacrifice our health, our relationships, and our happiness.
In the pursuit of our goals, we allow the work to seep into the evenings, the quiet times, and the weekends, telling ourselves it’s just for a little while. Just until we get this project done. Then we’ll take a break. We’ll take a whole week off. But then another project comes up–there’s a new book to write, a new social network to master, a new organization technique to try. And these are all good things. We know they’re important and in a world where the competition is fierce, we can’t afford to be anything less than ten steps ahead.
The Reality of Overdoing It
On the worst end of the spectrum, people get sick–chronically so. Years of making poor food choices, not exercising, and lack of sleep will do that to a body no matter how much we think those rules don’t apply to us (speaking from experience). Even a common cold is often an indication that we’re pushing ourselves to the limit.
On the lighter end of the spectrum, we get burnt out, but this can be just as debilitating because it doesn’t infect our bodies, it infects our spirits and our confidence. We start to wonder why the struggle is so hard and if we’re doing it wrong. We doubt whether we really want our goals as much as we think we do. If we did, it wouldn’t be such a battle to get the work done. Would it?
(again…speaking from experience)
Taking those breaks isn’t the problem. When we get sick or burnt out, we should listen to the cues and pull back a bit. The problem is, at this point we do it with a negative state of mind. There’s a resentment to slowing down because we have to, not because we choose to. We get bitter about all the things we planned to accomplish falling to the wayside. And then we don’t even enjoy the time we have off, not only because we don’t feel well, but because the weight of what we feel like we should be doing instead is suffocating.
Choosing Our Slowdowns
Since our bodies will force us to slow down anyway, isn’t it better to do it by choice? I think so, and here’s why: choice is a positive thing. When we schedule breaks, they happen when we want them to, which means we can plan around them, look forward to them, and be ready for them. We can make sure the most important work is done beforehand so there’s no guilt in walking away from the computer. We can make plans with the people we love and enjoy the time spent together instead of having half our focus back at the office. And as taking those breaks becomes a habit, we learn to enjoy them more and more–even cherish them for the peace, health, and happiness they bring to our lives.
It could be an hour at the end of the day, a weekend afternoon, all weekend, a yoga class, or 20 minutes of meditation. Whatever a break looks like to you, schedule it into your calendar as strictly as you do with your work commitments and I think you’ll be surprised at how taking even small amounts of time for yourself transforms your body and mind.
Are you an entrepreneur, artist, or both? Do you feel guilty for taking time away from your work?