Some Days, You Need to Retreat

For a long time in my career, I struggled to take vacation and to truly unplug if I did.  I thrive on productivity and it always felt impossible to really step away.  I remember the first time I read about unplugging being pro-productivity.  And, pro lots of other things, including well-being.  It was such a powerful perspective shift. 

With that shift, I’ve gotten much better about taking time away and disconnecting.  Not just vacation.  I’ve made the deliberate commitment to strategic renewal a regular part of my life, using my free time to ensure I keep my tank full so I’m at my best.  This includes professional development, spiritual renewal and time with my family and loved ones, all of which create a virtuous cycle optimizing how I show up each day.

This also includes time for myself.  Time to rest, reflect and recharge.  R Cubed.  Sometimes it’s a hot bath, others it might be a hike.  Meditation.  Quiet time for creativity and writing.  Yoga.  Getting out of town to explore.  Journaling.  Reading by the fire.  This is the piece I suspect even the most conscientious among us miss sometimes.  For a long time, I certainly did.

Do you take time for yourself?  How much?  And, how often?  When you do, do you enjoy it unencumbered?  Or do you feel guilty about all of the other things you could or should be doing? 

I believe it’s imperative that we prioritize this easy to overlook aspect of self-care.

I keep reading (and witnessing) that people are taking fewer and fewer vacation days and sick days.  That the freedom to work from home through the pandemic has bred another pandemic of sorts, one of overwork.  Overstress.  Overavailability.  Not to mention all of the unseen and unpaid labor of caretaking, especially during these unprecedented times.  The commute people once filled with calls to family and friends, podcasts, music, silence, room to breathe and reflect, has been replaced with more work.  Tethered to their space at home, many people feel bad stepping away from work (particularly in work cultures that foster this).  So, they don’t.

Before the pandemic forced us to collectively rethink how we live and work, many managers feared that if we let people work from home, they would spend their days sipping umbrella-adorned cocktails on the beach somewhere (or some other version of this productivity apocalypse).  But, what we’ve found is the opposite.  If we let people work from home, they will live at the office and work all the time.  Too much, in fact.  Who would have thought there could be such a thing, right?  But, turns out, there is.  Enter:  Burnout. 

Burnout is a danger, not only to the quest for performance that often underpins it (at the individual and the organizational level), but also for our well-being and mental health (which, of course, impacts performance, individually and collectively, in either a virtuous or vicious cycle).  It can be a slow burn or it can be swift as a match.  I have talked to so many people recently, friends, clients, etc., who are either burned out already or flirting dangerously with becoming so.  It makes me wonder how a different relationship with time unplugged could combat this growing problem. 

I also have friends and clients longing to pursue big dreams.  Some of those are of the nature of creative and/or professional pursuits, and some are of the nature of wholehearted living.  Theirs is less a burnout concern.  Rather, more one of fulfillment.  Answering what is calling.

All of these people are longing for space.  For our best ideas and our holistic realization, we need space to think and dream.  We need space for the unknown because the unknown is where inspiration lies.  It’s like stepping off the treadmill and onto the hiking path – there’s a big, wild, wonderful world out there.  Yet, most will profess they couldn’t possibly take the time.  Or make the space.

Enter:  The Me Retreat (or, “Me-Treat,” for short).  Time alone to hear and do whatever is calling to you.  Time for R Cubed.

I am a big proponent of making time for family and friends (see above).  But, a Me-Treat is different.  It is time alone.  Time to think, uninterrupted.  Time to dream, untethered.  A unique spaciousness is found in solitude.

To reap the benefits of the Me-Treat, you must also release shame and guilt. 

It is very easy to believe we cannot find the time.  Or, perhaps, we should not.  We have all of our other responsibilities.  Our jobs!  Our families!  Our friends!  We don’t get enough time for any of them as it is!  Isn’t it audacious to carve out time for your solitary self? Isn’t it selfish?

No.   

It is like when you are flying and the flight attendant instructs you to put your oxygen mask on first.  They know we can’t help anyone else if we have not taken care of ourselves, and this is vital knowledge with much broader (albeit, not universal or literal) application.  This does not mean you don’t make time or care for others.  It just means you need to be sure not to do so at the expense of your own holistic needs and well-being.  Otherwise, the time and care you are giving to others will not be sustainable and may even be counterproductive (e.g., if resentment creeps in).   

It is worth noting that a Me-Treat doesn’t have to be an enormous commitment of time.  Of course, it can be and that is fabulous.  But it can also be 30 minutes, an hour, a day.  The duration is not as important as the intention and the commitment. 

And, it needn’t be you alone who gets them.  I 100% endorse Me-Treats for everyone.  In fact, taking yours will put you in the best possible position to authentically support others in taking theirs. 

So often, we find ourselves moving through life at lightning speed.  We are juggling and balancing so much that things can often feel off-kilter and grow increasingly more so as we add to the mix.  The paradox is that, in the case of a Me-Treat, adding this one more thing can provide so much stability and nourishment.  It can be the roots that give a foundation to everything else.  Think of it as necessary groundwork.

It can be the answer when you have heavy things weighing on your mind.  It can also be the answer when you have light things dancing in your mind.  And every combination in between.  Solitude is a great gateway to mindfulness and the spaciousness of your Me-Treat allows you to be present for whatever it is you are sitting with.

So, I challenge you to create your own Me-Treat.  Think about what is calling to you most.  Or, if you haven’t heard the call, get very quiet and listen.  What have you not made space for that you are yearning for?

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