Even though I know how important it is to pause to recharge, the practice is a constant struggle for me. Left unchecked, I can get absorbed into work for hours and completely lose all track of time.
The energy of the new moon is always a monthly opportunity to pause and find stillness. This month, the combination of the supermoon with a partial solar eclipse created an energetic force that practically mandated a pause.
During the afternoon, I carved out a few hours to gather in virtual circle with one of my womens’ communities to engage in a new moon ritual.
After we finished, I doubled-down on my commitment to pause, booking myself into a restorative yoga class. I had some work to finish — my daily blog post and weekly livestream broadcast — so I booked a late class with the intention of completing those two tasks prior to yoga.
When the time came to leave for yoga, I hadn’t completed either project.
I committed to myself that I would complete both when I returned home, no matter what.
Then I left my work unfinished and race-walked to the East Village.
This was a big moment for me. I find it extremely difficult to walk away from work before I feel complete with it. I’m not talking about perfection here, just complete. Something published. Something broadcast.
A few years ago, I probably would have skipped the yoga class. In fact, I contemplated that for a moment on Saturday. But in the end, I went because that’s the place where I need practice.
I needed to enforce a pause, to allow myself to restore.
The Struggle With Pausing
As I raced to the East Village, I noticed that I was annoyed with myself for not finishing my work first. At other times, I’ve felt guilty for leaving work unfinished to get to a commitment.
Based on my conversations with people, I know I’m not alone in this. I often hear statements like these:
- I shouldn’t really be here right now; I have so much work to do.
- I can’t go out until I finish this project.
- When I finish X, then I can relax.
On the flip side, I have noticed how often I, my friends and colleagues seem to feel the need to “justify” our breaks, vacations, or even sleep by acknowledging how hard we worked.
- I worked hard all week. I earned this class.
- I’ve been working so hard. I deserve this vacation.
Why do we feel the need to justify taking time for ourselves, whether to rest or to engage in playtime?
Our Cultural Conditioning
The mindset that we must work hard to deserve a break is deeply embedded in our culture. It has its origins in the biblical story of the creation of the universe: God worked for six days before taking a day of rest. What parent hasn’t uttered the infamous ultimatum,
You have to finish your homework before you can go out to play.
So here we are, operating with a deeply embedded belief that if we even allow ourselves to engage in rest or play (which is a form of constructive rest), we may do so only after our work is done.
When Are We Finished?
Here’s the problem: The work is never finished.
There is always more to do, more that can be done, another level to push. The only way to stop the expansion of work is to set limits on it.
Those limits used to happen naturally. Before we carried computers in our pockets, we left work in the office. Now we carry it with us. Modern technology is great. But the ability to check email from everywhere means we check all the time. We don’t disconnect. It feeds into the hustle mindset that fuels our stress.
If your work is based on the knowledge and thoughts that flow through you, you’re in an even worse position. The phone at least has an off-switch. The same is not true of our minds.
The studies that show that most employees don’t use all of their vacation days don’t even look at the behavior of people who are self-employed, freelancers, or independent contractors because we don’t get “vacation days.” My anecdotal evidence tells me that many business owners are working even when they are “on vacation.”
We know that rest is crucial and that we don’t get enough of it. And yet it can be so hard to leave something unfinished. That can trap us in a cycle of endless work until some external event forces us to rest.
How do we break the cycle?
To shift my perspective on this, I decided to ask myself a new question:
What if we stopped looking at rest and play as the reward for hard work, and instead view it as part of the creative process?
It’s still difficult for me to leave things unfinished, but it’s helping me reframe my decision to engage in self-care in a more positive way. I invite you to try it out.
Let me know how it works for you by sharing in the comments.