3 Reasons Why Crazy-Driven, Ambitious-Type Leaders Need to Relax

How good are you at relaxing?  As in take a day off every week, and take a vacation once or twice a year and put feet up kind of relaxing?

I was terrible at it for years.

Many driven leaders find themselves in the same boat.

To my mind, rest was for people who just couldn’t handle a real workload.  If you went home at 4 p.m. or needed three weeks off, it was because you really weren’t committed to the cause.

There was a strange justification that happened in the back of my mind that told me the harder I worked, the more pleased God would be with me.  After all – I was doing his work. And if you were working for God, why wouldn’t you give it everything you had plus an extra 30%?

People would tell me all the time: your pace is unsustainable.  You’re going to burn out.

I just ignored them. Honestly, I thought I was stronger than that, and the strange thing is, for the most part, I was. I could sense burn out and pull back from the edge just in time.

And for years I just ran in overdrive.

Until of course, I burned out. That was twelve years ago.

It’s amazing how you re-evaluate everything when your body and mind come to a screeching halt.

In the last decade, I’ve begun to see overworking through a new light.

And if you’re tempted to blow off the summer and keep your head down working, ignoring your spouse and kids and the beach and some rest….here are a few things to consider.

1. Just because you don’t burn out, doesn’t mean you don’t miss out

One of the frequent questions I get from leaders is “Is burnout inevitable?”

Even though burnout is a virtual epidemic these days, the answer is, thankfully, no. You can over-work for years and not burn out.

But—and don’t miss this—just because you don’t burn out doesn’t mean you don’t miss out.

Consider this, for example. If you’re a parent, you’ll never get your kids’ formative years back. Your constant absence from their lives now won’t be compensated for by early retirement or your sudden realization you’re working too many hours later. By that point, your kids won’t be eight-years-old anymore. They’ll be eighteen or twenty-eight.  And it will be too late.

Sure…God redeems time, but he doesn’t give you the hours you squandered back.

2. Rest is a gift.  It’s also great strategy.

If there’s one lesson I learned since I burned out, it’s that rest is a gift.

We all know that God rested on the seventh day.  He also designed life with regular pauses scripted in.  There was to be no work to be done once every seven days.

And if you’ve ever read the Old Testament, you might realize God loves a party.  There were regular holidays, festivals, and even mandated celebration in Old Testament life.

For us A types, remember – God wants us to enjoy life.

As the creators of our bodies and souls, he also realized that we function best when we’re rested and full of good things.

We may think we’re being heroes working 12 hour days six or seven days a week, but the truth is you’re not equally efficient or effective in all those hours. I’m not. You’re not. Most of us have 3-5 super productive hours a day.

So for sure, rest is a gift. It’s also a strategy.

Brain research abounds these days, and findings increasingly show that chaining yourself to a desk or laptop is the best way to deaden your brain. Sleep, rest, exercise and replenishment actually makes you more productive when you’re working. That’s why you get your best ideas when you’re in the shower, or when you’re mowing your lawn.

I get my best ideas when I’m cycling, on my days off or doing work other than work. Literally, the sequences in your brain fire differently when you’re resting. God designed it that way. Creatives…pay attention.

Your best ideas will often come when you’re resting or not trying to work. Eliminate rest, and you eliminate your best ideas.

Follow the bread crumbs? Rest is a strategy.  You’re so much better at work when you’re rested.

3. You’ll actually get the rest you’re ignoring one way or another 

Here’s a final motivator for those of us who refuse to slow down…like the old me.

Even though God mandated regular rest, there’s little evidence the Israelites took him up on his advice.  The Sabbath was probably broken more than it was observed. And most people believe that the Sabbath of Sabbaths – (the year of Jubilee, where work was shut down for a full year every 50th year) was never actually celebrated.

In other words, driven people were too afraid to take time off, so like us, they ignored God’s design.

So after generations of Israelite’s ignoring God’s command, their nation fell. And after it fell, this poignant verse in scripture makes a haunting claim.

So the message of the Lord spoken through Jeremiah was fulfilled. The land finally enjoyed its Sabbath rest, lying desolate until the seventy years were fulfilled, just as the prophet had said. (2 Chronicles 36:21)

Did you catch that?  I mean, seriously… Did you actually see what God is saying there?  He’s pointing out that if you don’t take the Sabbath, the Sabbath will take you.

That’s what happened to me. It’s what happens to so many other leaders.

Israel never celebrated the Jubilee, so God said “I’ll make you take it – you’ll be invaded, and against your will, you’ll be in exile for seventy years. There’s your Sabbath.  There’s your Jubilee.”

I wonder if burn out and stress leave are the modern equivalents of exile.

Doing God’s work your way ultimately makes you lose your way.

How Will You Relax This Summer?

So here’s my question: how will you unplug this summer?

My deep-seated fear for years was that if I slowed down, I’d give into laziness. Honestly, I still fear that sometimes, even though it’s totally irrational. I’m not that lazy, but I fear I might be.

What I’m sharing with you in this post is not a blank cheque for laziness. This isn’t about counting your 37.58 hours down the minute to make sure you’ve got what’s coming to you. Not at all.

But it is about realizing that ministry happens deepest and most profoundly when you pursue God’s work using God’s ways and not your own.  You end up accomplishing more in every sphere of your life.

When I started, I wanted to run this marathon like it was a sprint.  I still sprint in seasons, but I’ve come squarely to terms with the truth that this is a marathon.  A marathon God actually even intends us to enjoy.

Looking For More?

Ever ask yourself…what are the biggest threats to your leadership?

In my new book, Didn’t See It Coming, I outline the biggest threats to the life you really want to live that most leaders miss.

Didn’t See It Coming reveals the seven core issues that take leaders out:







the emptiness of success.

In the book, I outline how to reverse all seven challenges, closing the gap between who you are and who you’ve always longed to be.

Here’s what top leaders are saying about Didn’t See It Coming:

“Seriously, this may be the most important book you read this year.” Jud Wilhite, Lead Pastor, Central Church

“Powerful, personal, and highly readable. ” Brian Houston, Global Senior Pastor, Hillsong

“Whatever challenge you’re facing, whatever obstacle you’re hoping to overcome, whatever future you dream or imagine, there is something powerful for you here.” Andy Stanley, Founder, North Point Ministries

“Uncommonly perceptive and generous…You have to read this book.” Ann Voskamp, NYT bestselling author

“Masterful.” Reggie Joiner, CEO Orange

“Deep biblical insight, straightforward truth, and practical wisdom to help you grow.” Craig Groeschel, Pastor and NYT bestselling author

“This book is sure to help you.” Daniel H. Pink, NYT bestselling author

Over the years, one of the things I’ve enjoyed most about being a public speaker is having opportunities to hang out with Carey…It’s not a matter of if you’ll run into these challenges; it’s a matter of when. Be prepared by spending a little time with a leader who has already been there.” Jon Acuff, NYT best-selling author

“Nieuwhof’s book provides expert guidance…with an accuracy that pierces the heart.” Nancy Duarte, CEO Duarte Inc.

“A refreshingly transparent guide for all leaders in a wide variety of industries.” Bryan Miles, Co-Founder and CEO, BELAY

You can learn more and get your copy of Didn’t See It Coming here.

How About You?

In what ways are you tempted to cheat rest?  What keeps you from relaxing?

And finally, what rhythm of rest and refuel works best for you?


  1. Jessica on July 11, 2018 at 2:36 am

    I love what you said about Rest as a gift and a strategy. While going out of town seems like an obvious way to relax to some, I find myself getting more stressed out and tensed on unfamiliar grounds. I think it’s because I’m not much of an outdoor person. Turning on some relaxing sounds and turning off my gadgets even for just an hour works wonders.

  2. Greg Crome on July 2, 2018 at 7:05 pm

    A big challenge for volunteers in churches who work a 50 hour plus job plus family time plus church volunteering plus wider community involvement. I heard one pastor in from a large chyrch say they expect more than a dozen hours per week from volunteers. Incredible! It is tough for these people’s who’s time is less flexible.

  3. theartist on July 2, 2018 at 11:05 am


  4. theartist on July 2, 2018 at 11:05 am

    Thanks Carey. I am a layleader. In my administrative position-and running the seemingly never-ending readmill of ministry-I ended up on my back, suffering from utter exhaustion. The last period I suffered last year was for THREE WEEKS. I didn’t take the Sabbath, so the Lord took it for me. After my last bout, I finally listened to my Lord, and I was able to create BALANCE.
    I even know how to say NO!

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.