I’ve said it before (as recently as a few articles ago), and I’ll continue to say it until it is fully true: I am not a workaholic.
Not because I don’t have a strong work ethic, and not because I don’t work consistently hard, but rather because I don’t think it is healthy to be one. I don’t want to be a workaholic. So even if I err on the side of “Type-A,” and even if I work myself into a straight-up panic attack on occasion, I will never call myself a workaholic, because in my opinion, it is not an aspirational thing to be.
Over the past semester, despite quite literally beginning 2017 with the simple goal of trying to remain emotionally healthy, maintain a strong sense of work/life balance, and enjoy living instead of overdoing it and stressing myself into oblivion, I actually found myself quickly burning out.
I am not sure if it was what I was doing, the volume of what I was doing, or just the scheduling of it all, but I definitely began to break down in early April, and it was certainly noticeable. I was overwhelmed with the combination of finishing my last semester of college, working my part-time nannying jobs, and writing every day for TFD. Something had to give, and luckily, there was somewhere I could slow down without taking a hit in my income or my graduation date.
Have you noticed that I haven’t written for TFD in two weeks? That wasn’t just by chance — it was a calculated decision the team made. I wasn’t doing my best work, and I needed to take a break. I needed to take a break from a lot of things, to be honest, but TFD seemed to be the only thing I realistically could take a break from. (Try telling a university that you’re going to take a week or two off, but still expect to graduate on-time with good grades — they’ll laugh in your face.)
Taking a little breather from one thing in my life gave me time to focus on other things harder, and perhaps more importantly, to focus on a little bit of nothing. I spent the better part of the semester scheduling my days to the brim with work in the early-early morning, TFD work in the mid-morning, school in the afternoon, homework after school, and additional writing/other work deep into the night. This leaves very little time for working on personal goals, and on the worst days, working on personal sanity.
After this time off, I’m feeling much better, more refreshed, and entirely more capable of doing what I have to do every day. Here are the three things that happened when I finally took a break.
1. I was able to grow personally.
People often work hard at the expense of the very things that make them who they are. It is easy to get so lost in your job that you forget about the other, more personal parts of yourself — things like hobbies, general likes and dislikes, and how you’d want to spend your days if you were given the choice. Having a few hours of my day freed up to focus on things that weren’t imminent tasks due to bosses or professors meant that I could focus on personal growth.
I read books I’d been meaning to read, took naps (I consider this a hobby, because I enjoy it just for pleasure, but don’t often have the time or reason to take them), got back into yoga (my lifelong hobby that gets tossed to the side only when my schedule becomes too busy), started a new, challenging workout program, learned how to cook new recipes I’d been meaning to try, and spent more time nurturing friendships and relationships that I had recently found myself too busy to focus on. I feel closer with my best friend than I have in a long time because I actually had time to dedicate to her, and that is more special to me than any work or school related thing could probably ever be.
2. I was able to grow professionally.
The breaks you take in between hard work are every bit as important as the hard work itself. It is like this: if you’re doing a shit ton of learning during the day, then not sleeping, your little brain isn’t getting any time to rest, recover, and retain all you’ve learned. (You’ll also probably die, because humans need sleep — but I guess that’s a different issue, and maybe a metaphor I’ll save for another day.)
If you’re going all the time, but never stopping to process what you’ve worked on and let your mind start thinking about and planning your next move, you’re likely to get stuck somewhere along the line and burn yourself out. You know that feeling when you’ve been working on something for so long that you feel like you couldn’t possiblywork on it more, but then you leave it and come back a few days later with a ton of new ideas for it? That’s how I feel right now. I felt like I’d been doing the same thing for so long that there wasn’t possibly another thing I could do with it before I exploded. Now, I feel more refreshed and renewed — I have more ideas, I feel more creative, and I am more capable of getting it all done.
3. It gave me perspective.
As a writer that really only writes in one place, I sometimes have to wonder if it is the thing I’m meant to be doing, or just a thing I’m doing because I can and found myself doing it. I love what I’m doing with TFD, and consider this to be the greatest thing I’ve done with my life so far, but being deeply involved distracts me from bigger questions, like “Is this really what I’m good at?” and “What’s next?” Learning how to grow and evolve in what I’m doing is something I felt like I barely had time for, and now I am excited to take what I love and make it into something more sustainable for me, instead of just doing the same thing every day.
Taking time away from something definitely helps when you’re trying to figure out what place it has in your life, and realize that not everything you are throwing yourself into has equal value for you — even something you love can become something you just go through the motions of, if you’re not frequently looking at ways to make it better and more adapted to your life as it changes. (On that note, look out for some new kinds of content from me as I will be working to expand the kind of work I do at TFD.)
At the end of the day, it is like that “if you love something, set it free” thing. If you take a break from something, and then find your way back to it and are happier because of it, then maybe you’ve found your answer.