Why is it so hard to take a break?



Let’s talk about a very taboo subject in the workplace. Rest. Self-care. Avoiding hustling culture. One of my clients was busy putting out fires that were on her plate, but nervous because she already felt burnt out heading into her busiest season. Concerned, I asked how she was making herself a priority and taking care of herself. She dropped her head, “Nothing. I am doing nothing to take care of myself!” I wish this conversation was uncommon, however, in my leadership coaching practice, it’s more common than I’d like it to be.


It challenged me to reflect on a culture that we buy into – a belief that feeling overworked and riding the edge of burnout means we are doing great work. I just recently left corporate America and started my own business, unraveling my own mindset about what a successful day’s work means. Even when my husband and I were recently on vacation in Florida, I worked.


I’m tired of tolerating this belief that if I’m not suffering then I’m not working hard enough. When I think back to my twenties, when I really embodied that belief, it reminded me of when I was working a full-time career and I was also teaching night classes at a local university. I had two careers – working all day long, teaching one night per week, grading papers, and caring for a toddler.  


Although I was too busy to notice, I didn’t love who I was when I was hustling in that way. I was self-critical. I was really tired. I wasn’t eating all that healthy. Throughout my career, the counterintuitive reality was the harder I worked, the more creativity, compassion and energy became elusive. This spurred me to take some of my own advice and recently took a two-week break. Here are three lessons learned, and a tool to help you carve out the break you deserve.


Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

The first thing I learned was that I really needed to adopt the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) slogan for breaks and on the daily: reduce, reuse and recycle. In this break, I didn’t quit everything, but I greatly reduced it.


I kept a handful of previously scheduled client appointments, but didn’t add to them. I didn’t go to the gym, but I did take a few outdoor walks. Because my business has a social media component, I reused old material and posted on a lighter schedule. I challenged myself to get lazy-creative by recycling past projects I had set aside, just waiting to be tried again.  I learned that creative energy doesn’t always come from producing the new, but from recycling ideas we’ve completed in the past that we just didn’t use.


Turn Up The Volume on Your “Compassionator”

The second thing that I learned was that it’s NOT the physical rest that’s hard. It is the mental rest. During an enjoyable Stranger Things binge with my husband, laying on the couch was easy! But, my mental chatter was harsh, “Why are you taking a break? You’re just lazy. If you don’t keep up on all of your work, then your business is going to fail. If you aren’t hustling like others appear to be, then you’re going to fall behind in your career.”


I really needed to change the inner voice that was going on in my head and quiet my inner persecutor. I decided to turn up the volume on what I call my inner compassionator. (Yes, I made up that word, but it’s perfect, right?) This is the peaceful, loving voice that reminds us we deserve to rest. Rest is holy. Our compassionator reassures us it’s okay to take a break, because rest and self-care boost creativity and prepares us for the long term so that we can show up for big moments in work and life.




Reworking Beliefs

I am learning to turn this belief around, “If I’m not suffering (striving, overworking, ignoring painful body signals, etc), then I’m not working hard enough.” A new belief that settled my heart and mind emerged, “I produce great work when I’m not suffering.” Because when I’m not scurrying, cramming, over-striving, and exhausted, it opens up this whole world that allows for creativity. I remain open to learning from experiences and people right in front of me. That all feels like creativity, peace, flow. I don’t know about you, but the times that I’ve been happiest in my career are those times where I haven’t been hustling. Instead, happiness felt like I was totally in flow, balanced and taking in healthy energy.


How To Carve Out Your Time

How do you find the magical, healthy pace that feels challenging yet incorporates intentional self-care? Find your three D’s.

  1. What can I dump? What habit or what meeting are you going to that no longer serves you? It just doesn’t require your presence or your decision. You have permission to dump it without guilt.

  2. What can I delegate? For those of you who lead teams, this is also an awesome employee development opportunity. What project or meeting do you need to delegate to somebody on your team that would actually get more benefit of being than I would? If I’m sitting in the meeting with this person, how could my presence actually be preventing their development because people defer to me instead of talking to my employee who has good answers?

  3. If it can’t be dumped or delegated, what can I do to develop it? Ask yourself: How can I make this the funnest project I never wanted to do? How can I collaborate with some really fun and creative people to bring in this positive energy? How can I purposefully and intentionally infuse in some self-care breaks into this project?

It’s time to stop feeling so guilty about taking a break because in my experience, it’s in the breaks and the rest is where we find our genuine creativity. You can dig into this more by visiting a free training I did earlier this year to help you say no to achieve more, reconnect with your values and advance with clarity: www.kelliraethompson.com/freetraining.


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Article first published on Thrive Global.

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© 2020 by Kelli Thompson