“Each person deserves a day away in which no problems are confronted, no solutions searched for. Each of us needs to withdraw from the cares which will not withdraw from us.”  ~Maya Angelou, Wouldn’t Take Nothing For My Journey Now

Where’s the line between pushing yourself too hard and cutting yourself too much slack?

This is a question I’ve been asking myself on an almost daily basis for as long as I can remember. But if there’s one thing that has brought this inquiry to the forefront of my mind with annoyingly predictable frequency, it’s being self-employed.

Being your own boss is hard. Except on the days when it’s easy.

Because sometimes, I’m a total asshole to myself. And sometimes, I let myself get away with massive amounts of ridiculousness.

And most of the time, I then beat myself up for being either too rigid and rude or too lenient, layering suffering on top of suffering until nobody wins.

Sigh.

But — like everything else in this life — self-employment comes with a built-in learning curve. And it’s not just about business and marketing and financials and all that other logistical stuff. If anything, that’s a very small part of what’s actually challenging about being your own boss.

The most difficult — and ultimately rewarding — lessons inherent in self-employment are all about how to become a more evolved, confident, compassionate (to both self and others), balanced, and joyful human.

And I would argue that those same lessons are the ones we’re really asked to learn in any job or relationship or experience that pushes us to get even slightly uncomfortable for any amount of time.

I was raised in a family of high-achieving, hard-working, incredibly intelligent people who have all gone on to create successful lives and careers and relationships. People of whom I have been in constant awe, watching them work crazy long hours for several years at a time without appearing to lose much steam along the way.

My mom, specifically, is kind of the poster girl for refusing to abandon your dreams in spite of setbacks and heartbreak and the universe giving you about a million reasons to throw in the towel.

And she’s pretty much my hero when it comes to perseverance and believing in yourself no matter what and just generally being a badass in life.

(Hi, mom. I love you.)

Someday, I should interview her and tell her whole story here. I promise you it would inspire you to keep going towards what you want even if eight thousand people a day tell you your dreams are impossible to achieve.

Admittedly, I like to give my mom a hard time these days about working too hard and not taking enough down time to relax and rejuvenate and just stare at the ceiling for an hour.

But here’s the thing:  Even if her down time doesn’t look like mine, my mom is actually great at taking a break and completely disconnecting from work. Much better than I am, in fact.

Which is another thing we can all learn from her. And might actually be the key to answering my original question about how to push yourself hard without burning yourself out or giving yourself too much leeway.

Because my mom knows how to take a vacation, and she does it every single year. Multiple times. Short trips to Portland to spend time with her grandson, a week in Florida with her two oldest friends, several days in her hometown reconnecting with family.

And I would venture to guess that mom doesn’t spend the majority of her time away worrying about work and feeling guilty about taking time off. Which frees her up to enjoy her vacations and have a damn good time, and then return to work and resume being a rockstar in her job.

I think they call that work-life balance. Right?

I will confess that I am terrible at completely disconnecting from work. And that even when I’ve given myself a day off, I typically spend a good portion of that day thinking that I should be doing something work-related, or feeling guilty about taking some down time, or manufacturing anxiety about things that might go wrong in the future.

You guys! This is not helpful.

Also:  I have not taken an actual vacation in so long it’s embarrassing. I’m talking YEARS here. Several of them.

Which is why just a few days ago I bought myself a ticket for October to visit Chicago and Boston, where I will celebrate a dear friend’s 40th birthday (Hi Saren!) and explore a little bit of the east coast with another dear friend who’s moving there from Portland in just a couple of weeks (Hi Aiden!).

I CANNOT WAIT.

We live in a culture that largely rewards workaholism and is impressed by 14-hour work days and 60-hour work weeks, and frowns upon vacations and recreation and just taking some time off for the sake of having some effing time off.

Interestingly, our society also fully endorses work for the sake of work.

The arbitrary nature of the 9 to 5 schedule is a clear reflection of this, in my opinion.

All of this is kind of absurd. And not in the good way.

And I’ve been guilty of trying to wrestle my workload into nonsensical contortions to conform to this standard, often feeling like I’m not doing enough if I’m not filling up a full eight hours (or more) five days a week, or convincing myself that if the hours I’m working fall outside those restrictive 9 to 5 boundaries they somehow don’t count.

Silliness, I say.

Because I’ve seen — and experienced — what the stress associated with overworking and refusing (or being unable) to relax and retreat can do to a human body.

It’s not good.

Which is why we all need to give ourselves permission to be completely unproductive sometimes.

Because, paradoxically, being seemingly unproductive is often the most productive use of our time. Even if all we can realistically afford is a day or two of doing so.

Creativity suffocates under constant pressure.

Actual work benefits from actual play.

And insight requires a little breathing room to expand into something substantial or tangible or magically delicious.

I know summer is almost over, and hopefully most of you have done a far better job than I have of making time and space for recreation over the past three months. But I still encourage you to take an intentional break from work sometime in the next two weeks.

Disconnect to reconnect.

Take a tip from my mom:  Work your butt off, achieve some pretty amazing and inspiring and impressive things, but still make time to go walk on the beach with your friends. Who knows? You might find yourself casually collecting shells in the Florida Keys only to come face-to-face with Steven King.

What? It could happen.

(Sidenote:  It actually did. To my mom. See. You TOTALLY need a vacation.)

 

(P.S. Yes, the photo at the beginning of this post really is of my mother. And she can’t be mad that I used it because it’s currently her Facebook profile pic.)