If you're reading this, you probably need to take a break

I was the kind of student who fell over herself to listen to and truly hear absolutely everything the teacher said. In theory, this was great; who doesn’t love a devoted student? Oftentimes, though, the teacher was trying her damnedest to get through to all the students who weren’t listening, who weren’t hearing her.

“You need to study harder.”

“I was disappointed with the majority of what was turned in last week; you need to spend more time on your homework assignments.”

“You need to take more care on the next exam; so many of you lost points for sloppiness.”

Imagine a room of students, one or two of whom are already so exceedingly conscientious as to not need to hear these particular messages day-in and day-out. The others, the ones who probably do need to hear these particular messages day-in and day-out, are folding notebook paper into fortune tellers or coloring the boxes of their graph paper or frantically completing the homework for next period. And the irony, of course, is that the conscientious students are the only students who are paying such close attention to the teacher; they are the ones who are internalizing the teacher’s frustration, taking it to heart, and trying (always trying) to do even better.

At some point in my schooling, my mother saw what was going on and had to tell me, “They’re not talking to you, Helen. Those lectures aren’t aimed at you.” She had to help me learn to tune it all out, that relentless messaging that said WORK HARDER and DO BETTER. Because not only wasn’t it for me, but hearing it wasn’t serving me. It was turning me into someone who believed her very worst fears about herself, because what the teacher said seemed to confirm those fears: I’M NOT ENOUGH; I CAN’T AFFORD TO GIVE MYSELF GRACE; I DON’T DESERVE MARGIN.

I am here to tell you that you already are enough.

Grace is your birthright.

Margin is a crucial ingredient for your success.

And: An important part of becoming someone who realizes her dreams and achieves her ambitions is being someone who knows when and how to take breaks.

(Really, an important part of being human is knowing when and how to take breaks.)

My clients and the people who tend to gravitate to my work (that’s you) aren’t folks who need to be told to work harder and do better. In fact, that’s pretty much their kryptonite—because it underscores their deepest fears that they’re not doing enough and that there isn’t time to pause or rest without falling too far behind.

My folks need to have their hard-working systems* reviewed.

*Your hard-working system is the relentless way you check things off your list; it’s your protocol for being productive and staying on top of things in your life. It might be a combination of day planners, Google calendars, late nights after everyone’s gone to bed, family chore wheels, hired help, spreadsheets, apps, carpools, and grocery delivery. It might also be that nagging voice in the back of your mind that lets you know repeatedly that you’re behind the eight ball and that you need to keep moving or else risk total collapse and chaos.

They need someone who understands how conscientious they already are to come in, assess, and then trim the excess—to say, “Here’s where a break is necessary for you,” and “Let’s try this more efficient approach,” and “Looks like you’ve forgotten to build some margin into your days; let me help you with that.”

My folks need me to remind them: It’s when you most feel you can’t afford to take a break that you most need to take a break.

Again, that’s the irony.

Same as Little Helen in the classroom, taking those diligent notes and studying excessively, as the teacher tried again and again to spark something in the uninterested students (who were too busy being uninterested to process or even care about anything the teacher was saying).

We all hear the messages we believe we need to hear, the messages that confirm some deep insecurity inside of us.

So much of my work with clients involves helping them to become a trusted voice of reason for themselves, so that they can work and play in a balanced, healthy, and human fashion—breaks, margin, and all.

Do you need to have your hard-working system audited—either because you’ve got the nagging feeling (still) that it isn’t enough, or because it simply isn’t sustainable (and you suspect you’ve overlooked the whole breaks/margin thing)? Leave a comment below or shoot me a quick email and tell me about it. I can help.


Recommended reading/listening:

Thanks to her newsletter this week, my dear friend and colleague, Caroline Leon, brought my attention to this post by Jac McNeil, 5 Ways to Bring Minimalism to Your Work, which reminded me of a favorite podcast of mine, Jocelyn K. Glei’s Hurry Slowly, and referred to these two particular episodes on the topic of rest: “This Is Your Brain on Nature” and “Prioritizing Rest and Reflection”.