In my work with clients, I regularly emphasize the importance of rest, relaxation, and time for oneself to regroup and recharge. I was recently introduced to an article in the Harvard Business Review on the topic of resilience, and the idea that resilience is about how we recharge as human, not how we build ourselves up to endure constantly. It’s a great article, and I encourage you to take a few minutes to read it, it’s well worth the time. The article got me thinking, however, about my own habits and now that I’m on vacation while writing this, I’m forced to reflect on how I rest. I’ve come to a significant conclusion: I suck at it.
Now, before you think about consoling me and telling me, “it’s okay, you don’t suck at it,” let me emphasize to you that no, it’s really true. I suck at resting. I have about a 2 minute limit on not doing something. I’m not sure if this has always been this way, or if I’ve somehow trained myself to be excellent at going all the time, but it is what it is. Whether you buy into the Type-A personality thing or not, many of the characteristics are good descriptions of me, including driven, competitive, ambitious, sensitive, impatient, anxious, and the list goes on. Perhaps, even more, challenging for me is the fact that I’m so results-oriented; that is, if something doesn’t produce results, I’m not interested in it. Admittedly, this is one of my hang-ups with rest – how does it produce results? It certainly doesn’t feel like it at first glance. My natural instinct is to tell myself to get up and do something. What I’ve discovered, however, is that I could not be more wrong about rest. Rest produces results, but it’s also hard work for people like me.
You might be wondering how my emphasizing rest jives with me writing this article while I’m supposed to be on vacation. Well, let me tell you a couple of things I’ve been thinking about and learning as a part of my preparation for and enjoyment of my current hiatus. If you’re at all like me, I hope they help you prepare for rest and resilience.
Rest takes preparation and sometimes ruthless decisions
You know how you sometimes get those auto-responders that say something like, “Thanks for the email. I’m on vacation and won’t be able to respond until I return,” and then you get a response shortly after sending the email? Yup, that was me. I’d set the autoresponder and then monitor my email anyways. Made sense to me at the time, and certainly abated my anxieties about leaving, but it didn’t help much with the rest aspect of being away.
I’ve learned that I am not someone who can read emails and not do anything about them, and not think about them. It’s all or nothing for me. So, for this vacation, I actually reconfigured my email so that all of my work email didn’t get forwarded to one place, but had its’ own separate account that I can turn on and off. You guessed it – it’s off right now. This was a very difficult decision for me to make because it produces a lot of anxiety, but this is part of the hard work of rest – I now have to manage that anxiety – that’s my job.
Rest sometimes requires help from others
One of the complaints I hear from clients when I emphasize the need for disconnection from work in order to rest is that they can’t afford to be gone that long, or leave communications unanswered. You know what? Sometimes they’re right. This is true for me – some of the phone calls and emails that come into our clinic do need to be answered while I’m gone and I’ve had to plan for that as well – with the caveat that not all of them need to be answered while I’m away.
If you call the clinic, or my direct line, or email me you’ll find out that one of our wonderful staff, Juliana Fruhling, has graciously offered to handle calls/emails that can’t wait while I’m away. Let me tell you – with the volume of calls and emails I respond to on a daily basis this is no small task and I am incredibly grateful that she has been willing to do this for me.
This isn’t actually an uncommon thing in our line of work, as just as medical doctors and other professionals, we always need to have someone available clinically if we’re not available. What’s uncommon about it this time is that I’m actually forcing myself to not be available and trust someone else to manage things while I’m gone. This requires letting go and trusting others. I’m fortunate that I have people I can trust and lean on in my absence, I just have to work hard on the letting go part.
The hard work of rest
Even with all of these things in place, I’m still challenged to rest. I’ve come to the conclusion that rest for me, and for others I imagine, is going to involve very little time doing nothing, and much time doing things that recharge me, and that I’ve perhaps let go by the wayside for a while. What this looks like is going to vary for everyone, but for me, the common themes of what I need are: playful activities, creative opportunities, and intellectual stimulation.
I’ve been getting these three things in spades on vacation and guess what? It’s making a difference. I’ve been loving spending time alone with Meg and the kids, enjoying some great restaurants and also spending time cooking for my family, as cooking is one of my favourite creative outlets that I don’t often have time for. Finally, I thrive on intellectual stimulation and reading, so I’m reading a few good books and engaging in intentional conversations, and writing. I love all of these things and don’t always get the opportunity in everyday life as much as I’d like.
I think that one of the most important things we get back to when we rest, is our own sense of self and the narrative that defines us. I am so very fortunate to be able to do what I love, every day, but my work life is only a part of what makes me who I am. As an Executive Director, small business owner, therapist, and consultant, my work life takes up a big chunk of my life and it’s easy for the rest to get pushed out of the picture. Oliver Sacks, in his book The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and Other Clinical Tales, writes, “To be ourselves, we must have ourselves – possess, if need be re-possess, our life-stories. We must ‘recollect’ ourselves, recollect the inner drama, the narrative, of ourselves. A man needs such a narrative, a continuous inner narrative, to maintain his identity, his self” (p. 111, 2006).
For me, this is the purpose of rest, and also the all-important result of rest – a reclamation of our own narrative, our own self. If we can use our times of rest to get back to our core, satisfy our needs, perhaps remind ourselves of what our needs are and plan for how we are going to meet them when we re-enter “real life,” we are going to be more resilient, more effective, and also more balanced. This is what I’m working on now – assessing needs, meeting them, and planning for how this will continue when I return to the office and to real life.
I hope this article has been as helpful for you to read as it has been for me to write. It’s helped me solidify some of my thoughts while resting (remember the activities listed above as part of my rest?). Also, I thank you for your patience as I don’t respond to emails or calls in my absence – this is the hard work of rest, and I’m working hard on it.