Most leaders I know really struggle with taking vacation of any kind. Curious if you do.
It’s been an epic battle for me over years.
Too many leaders never take a real break. And as a result, they end up breaking.
Instead, we cheat. You cheat yourself (and your family) by popping on email for an hour every morning. Or by checking in with staff to see ‘what’s on fire?”.
Or maybe you’ve done a “working vacation” (oxymoron) to work on a big project or write a book.
I’ve done all those things, but lately I’ve been doing far more real vacations and real breaks.
As you read this, I’m on a full month off.
If you ever decide to try it, or have tried it and given up, here’s what to expect. The more driven you are, the more true what follows will be.
These are some things I’ve observed as I increasingly decelerate and unplug over the last few years.
When you’re constantly busy, you get used to a fast pace and the hum of always having something next or something that needs your attention.
When you take a real break, the quiet outside you reveals the disquiet within you.
Pay attention to the discomfort but don’t give into it. Don’t race to fill the stillness with activity. Embrace it.
Inside the silence you’ll discover a wealth of things:
- Issues you need to work through.
- Fears you need to confront.
- Possibilities you never dreamed of before.
- You..undistracted, uninterrupted and fully present.
If you don’t give in to the discomfort and linger in the silence and quiet long enough, you’ll find peace.
As John Calvin said, without knowledge of God there is no knowledge of self, and where there is no knowledge of self there is no knowledge of God. This is how you’ll really begin to know yourself, and also, God.
2. A sense of being lost
If you’re used to running at a fast pace, you won’t know exactly what to do with yourself.
You’ll feel lost.
That’s okay, because if you do this well, you’ll eventually find a deeper and more mature you.
In addition to lingering in the stillness, resist the urge to fill the void with a surge of activity.
Allowing yourself to feel lost will help you find a healthier you.
If you worry that you’re heading into a dark night of the soul, don’t worry. It was coming anyway. It just got here sooner and under better conditions (you didn’t crash).
The inner battle is where all the powerful growth comes from anyway.
3. Productivity shame
Productivity shame is what you feel when your life goes from 60 to zero overnight.
So what is productivity shame exactly?
According to the leaders at Rescue Time, first, it’s the feeling that you’ve never done enough. No matter how many hours you work or how many tasks you cross off your to-do list, you always feel a sense of shame around your work. You keep thinking you could have done more.
Second, productivity shame is the feeling that you aren’t allowed to do things that are “unproductive”. You feel a sense of guilt when you spend time on hobbies, watch a movie, or simply sit back and relax.
Yes, tears. As in why on earth am I crying when I’m supposed to be on vacation??? tears.
If this is your first foray into being completely off work or if you haven’t done it very often, then all three factors above will at some point likely lead to tears.
Surprisingly, ending up in tears means you’re doing it right.
The quiet and the discomfort and your failure to give in to productivity shame means you’re giving the silence space to do its work.
I know the first few times I really unplugged I learned things about myself (my anger, my addiction to adrenaline, the performance addict I’d become) that I really didn’t like. And yes, it led to tears. And then therapy and coaching and eventually, to freedom.
The worst thing you can do if you find yourself getting emotional when you’re resting is to shake it off or bury the pain even further. Let it surface. Surrender it. Grow.
5. A fully rested you (and your new baseline)
Who are you when you’re fully rested?
My guess is you have no idea how to answer it because the last time you were fully rested you were three years old.
Over the years I’ve been experimenting with finding what I call my ‘baseline’, which is essentially how I feel, behave and approach life when I’m fully relaxed, which I at first only got to when I was on an extended break (one week or longer).
Finding your baseline is a little like calibrating a speedometer. The reason a speedometer is accurate is that it’s calibrated to accurately tell you whether you’re going 35 or 75. If the calibration is off, so is your reading.
A lot of driven leaders lead like their baselines are calibrated to 50 mph. They live at 70-90 mph most of the time. On the weekend they might come down to 60 or 50 and think “there, I’m rested.”
But they have no idea that there’s even a 20 mph, or 10, or zero. They have no idea who they are deeply rested.
So how do you find your baseline?
Take enough time off that you sleep and rest until you’re no longer tired. Eat well and exercise some and nap as often as you need to until you’re ‘caught up’. Relax, unwind and get fully rested. Note: this might take a few weeks.
Then see who you are.
How do you feel?
How are you treating other people?
What do you enjoy?
Who are you now?
That’s your baseline.
Then, over the next season back at work, the rhythm of your workday and time off so you can get back to baseline at least once a month, and not stray far from it most weeks.
The way to do that is to live in a way today that helps you thrive tomorrow. I can show you how to do that here.
Find your baseline and get back to it regularly, and the next vacation won’t be nearly as hard.
In fact, you’ll eventually start going into vacations fully rested. Yes, it is possible. 🙂
What’s Been Your Experience?
My deepest hope for leaders is that they take care of themselves, because if you don’t declare a finish line to your work, your body will. It’s called burnout.
Having burned out, I wouldn’t wish that on anyone.
Living in a way today that will help you thrive tomorrow is a much better alternative.
As you head into deep rest, what are you learning about yourself? What are the pitfalls, and what are the benefits?
Scroll down and leave a comment.