I recently returned from a business trip to San Francisco where I attended a few business meetings, got some writing done, and hung out with my brother and his girlfriend. I was looking forward to the trip, but there was a catch. I’ve spent the last 30 out of 40 days traveling, and I’m in the process of starting a 2nd business. Feeling like I’ve been pulled in a few directions, I debated cancelling the trip several weeks ago. I decided against it, though, because I didn’t want to disappoint anyone (or spend the extra money cancelling the airline ticket).
I attended my meetings, accomplished several writing goals, and had a lot of fun, but I knew something was off. Having burned out once at the end of my law career, I recognized that my body was telling me I needed to cut my trip short to take a break. Rather than be up front with my brother about this, I took the easy way out and used my husband’s cousin’s motorcycle accident as an excuse to leave early (he really was in a serious accident, but he’s OK).
So what held me back from being honest, not only with my brother, but also with myself? These five factors made it hard for me to take a break:
1) Feeling guilty
I basically oozed guilt for the past several weeks. I felt guilty for thinking about cancelling the trip (and the business meetings I planned). I felt guilty for wanting to leave early. I felt guilty for using a semi-plausible excuse instead of being honest with my brother about how I was feeling. The resilience training I do focuses, in part, on helping people discover patterns between their thoughts and resulting emotions and reactions. I quickly discovered that the source of my guilt was the thoughts I had about letting my brother down, and this interfering with my ability to be completely honest.
2) Taking health for granted
My body was telling me I needed to slow down, but I powered ahead anyway. Many people ignore the warning signs until a health scare forces them to pay attention. Taking regular breaks prevents you from burning out and gives you the staying power to function at high levels regularly.
3) Other people’s expectations
Given all that I had planned, I knew that other people were counting on me. My guess is that nobody would have cared had I postponed the meetings until November when I’ll be back in San Francisco, but I jumped to a lot of conclusions (see also number five below!). Your perception of other people’s expectations can cloud your ability to see things accurately.
4) Faulty assumptions
You have a set of rules or beliefs about the way you feel the world should operate. These beliefs are shaped by life experiences, the way you were raised, your values, your friends, and popular culture to name a few. For many busy people, their deeply held beliefs about how they should live and work produce faulty assumptions or “crooked thinking” that underlie stress patterns. Do you feel like you have to handle everything on your own? Maybe you think you can’t relax until you finish everything you have to do. Take a long look at how these statements might be harming you by undercutting your ability to take a break.
5) Failing to speak up
Had I verbalized my feelings several weeks ago, I’m sure my brother would have supported any decision I made about this trip. How often do you hold things in rather than discuss how you’re feeling? Other people can help craft solutions and point out things you’re missing.
I talked to my brother this morning and explained to him that the true reason I left early was that I needed to take a break. His response? “Understood. Makes sense.” Then I realized I had spent so much time and energy worried about nothing. Lesson learned.
I’d love to hear from you. What prevents you from giving yourself a break?
Paula Davis-Laack, JD, MAPP, is a lawyer turned stress and resilience expert who works with women attorneys to help them manage their high-achieving ways to build stress resilience and avoid burnout. Connect with Paula via:
Her website: www.marieelizbethcompany.com