This longish post is dedicated to workaholics like me 😅
Sooooooooo good to be back after a 42 day break from everything old-normal. Pls tell me you didn't miss me all these days 😜
This break was serendipitous. It wasn't planned. Life happened and the break happened. Earlier when life happened, stretch happened from my side. Breaks never happened.
I don't think I have stopped work for the past 21 years even for a day in the name of a break.
Even on a family vacation, I did my journals, I wrote my daily posts, I checked emails, I responded to queries from teams and more.
Even on a maternity break (I had two), I designed something or other as some diffused time gave some creative ideas.
Even on a chemotherapy table (in 2003-2004) I read text books and research papers for grad school.
On an everyday basis, I don't think I have slept more than ~6 hours all these years.
I told myself I am a hard-working, committed and sincere individual who keeps striving for betterment. The ticking clock was my motivation. I told myself it is a short life and let's get everything done. This narrative gave me a strong identity to be intense, motivated and a committed individual.
Everything my teachers, mentors, self-help books asked me to do I did it diligently. Every nugget of wisdom shared in insta or twitter or linkedin proved that I am doing exactly what an individual is asked to do on this planet earth. This identity of mine extended to people around me as well (family, core team, besties and more).
No one could handle my intensity for more than a few years.
Some stopped running with me but encouraged me to keep running.
Some broke and they couldn't take a step further.
Some pleaded me to slow down.
Some took me as an inspiration and pushed themselves to run further and faster.
I kept it on whatsoever.
Even in mid-life when I understood about productive life (not just a productive day), I did slowing down very fast (ironically) 😝 My life coach laughs at me and my ideas. He feels I am specimen like no other.
The first year of covid I stretched myself to a point I broke. For the first time in my life fatigue was setting in. The second year of covid I was just giving up. I was unable to gather any strength and move forward. I still launched many cohorts, taught 500+ students, did 30+ experiments, conducted 11 research studies, launched new products like Guild & Shots and above all kept up on consistency (blogs, social media and more). Phew!
For a change when fiscal year (April 2021) dawned, I seriously wanted to slow down. It took me 4 months to understand what is slowing down. I started with half a day on sunday and then increased it to no work weekends to 4 hours workdays to everyday mini vacation to a 42-day break for this year (It is a policy in Xperian to take 30 days + 22 days festive off every year. Just that I never took it so far).
Here is what I learnt by truly slowing down. Purely my observations and I could be wrong as well:
- We take breaks only we are broken (fracture, surgery, breakup, depression etc). We never take a break when we are happy and peaceful.
- We keep telling ourselves break is bad for a successful life. We convince ourselves we don't deserve a break because the numbers are not enough in bank account, that loan is dangling, I am responsible for my children and their lives, running a home, what will my team do without me and more. This is where the expression comes: "I don't have time to even breathe". Honestly we don't breathe well because we are so busy dealing with other things.
- Except self, everything else (human and material) is of high priority. Somehow we are proud being candles. We want to burn ourselves and give light to others.
- We all know we will die one day but we are in a hurry to kill ourselves with more work, more stress, more activities and more busyness.
I knew all the above even before (April) slowing down.
As a designer I needed evidence and data for everything. Now that I have the evidence from slowing down truly I could see what I missed.
In this little break of 42 days (in 42 years of my life), this is what i saw and felt.
- I spent more time with my mom. Took care of her for 20 days at a stretch (never did this earlier). I didn't know she missed a good time with me all these years. I was thinking, I got her a double door fridge, a 2BHK apartment, a Dyson vaccum cleaner, Amazon firestick, Sony Bravia etc. She hardly used any when I was around. She said all this can wait. I want to chat with you. We made all our meals together. We ate healthy. We walked a little. We laughed together. We cried together. We went for simple shopping. Nothing fancy. All she wanted was that.
I realised her hearing is deteriorating and she was neglecting it. She was feeling more lonely not knowing what sounds are around her. This time, I wanted to fix things with a process and not just a thing (hearing aid). I took it up as a mini project. Made her understand why hearing is important and more. We met the audiologists together. We spent enough time to take decision. It truly felt good. Now I make it a point to have a conscious mom-time every week.
- A 15 year struggle of nasal blockage (gross septum deviation) for my son is fixed with a surgery (finally!) last week. I made it a priority to get the issue addressed this time in just a week. This project needed that focus and strive to get things done. He told me he is finally able to breathe and sleep 🎉 I can't be more happy than seeing him sleeping like a baby and for total 8 hours every night these days.
- I spent more time with my father-in-law who is battling stage 4 lung cancer. We have accepted the reality. But now going one step forward and building amazing memories together is just awesome. We play cards together. We cook together. We chat about old traditions. We talk recipes. I installed Google Pay for him (it is a big deal for them). Taught how to use WhatsApp better. Cleaned up his phone. We paid water taxes and property taxes together. Again nothing fancy but the joy we share in the process was immense. I make it a point to cook everyday with him for breakfast 🥘
- As Xperian team, we built a home studio in the last 8 months. We constantly worried about budgets, time spent, energy and more. We loved doing things designfully but the guilt of missing work while building the studio was killing us. Studio building was less than part time and no wonder we felt that way. For a change, we stopped thinking about other things and started enjoying our studio as a project in itself. We set our workspaces, audio-video rooms, a coffee place and more. We built it with all our hearts. We spent the same time, money and energy but this time with joy. We focused on getting the long term right and worthy. We didn't make a single penny this year because we didn't want to push ourselves too much. We know we are competent. This time we wanted to take time and heal from our decade of workaholism and make it a point to live a wholesome life than just work. Again nothing fancy but knowing that we are there for each other is soothing.
- I fixed a 2-year long fungal infection with just a course of antibiotics and a little more care. Why I kept it that long, I have no clue 🤷🏽♀️
- I started my side-hustle (DesignU) in its stride and truly loving every bit of it. Doing something for joy is a whole new ball game. I did more work and that too effectively by working less hours. I was guilty to focus on my interests when we had too many significant projects looming in our heads at Xperian. Your curiosity is as important as your competency is a lesson I learned in this break.
- I travelled to Chennai (despite Covid) and took up a long pending home sale legalities and sorted it out. It was not easy. The pain was real but I didn't suffer. This time I stayed at my friends (and not in a hotel). Morning was gruelling in government offices. Evenings we had loads of fun by driving around, laughing loudly, trying new foods and more. This project took more than 3 weeks. Never before I have been this focused to get something done outside work.
- For the first time I took a weekend beach vacation with no laptops and no sight seeing. Just eat, sleep, laugh, relax and chit-chat. Nothing fancy again. It was so rejuvenating to just be.
- As a team we gave away all those 1000+ objects lying around from our old office to our immediate circles. I don't know why we held them for 6+ years together?
- After years of abusing my body with stress and no sleep, i finally started sleeping more than 6 hours a day. Today I clocked 8 🥳
- I hardly opened my blog or social accounts during this time. I was so busy living, I didn't have time for other things.
All the above happened to me (and inner circle) in the past 42 days. My world changed because I slowed down. I don't think anything in the world around me changed because I didn't hustle.
As some one who is absolutely passionate about work, I love every bit of it. May be that is why I was able to pull through all along. I have had an expemplary career and it has given me immense meaning & purpose to my life. I am not against hustle. I am not a big fan of balance either (balance will bring in mediocrity when time is not spent on depth). All I am saying is prioritise self care. It just whispers and it is more easy to ignore those soft bells.
We all are human beings. Our bodies and minds do get tired. We all are walking straight to the grave every single day. We live a falling curve in terms of health. Ageing is real. We can't dispute with the phenomenon. But can we live life meaningfully? YES is my answer.
Here is my take away:
Live an intense and purposeful life everyday.
Say no to things that deter you from being you.
Pick and choose things that excites you.
Don't take your inner-circle for granted (we do unfortunately).
Relax and Rest more.
In a nut-shell, care about yourself more than anything else.
Breaks need not be taken because you are broken. Instead take breaks so that you prevent yourself from breaking badly.
This post is a reminder to all of us about self care.
The question is, how many significant and important things in life are we missing because we are not pausing a little?
Action of taking a break >> Thinking about taking a break
🥂 to breaks!