“Somewhere along the way we've gotten the message that the more we struggle and the more we suffer, the more valuable we will become and the more successful we'll eventually be. And so, we overwork ourselves, overschedule ourselves, and become "busier than thou" because we think there's some sort of prize on the other side of the pain we cause ourselves. And you know what? There's no prize. All you get from suffering is more suffering.” Kate Northrup, Money, A Love Story
I’d like to take this opportunity to talk about something our culture does not encourage us to discuss. This subject is the opposite of the work, and overwork, that is pushed so hard by our culture these days. It is the concept of “rest”, which is very foreign to many of us. Rest is essential to recharge to have the energy to get through our busy work days, or the healing that needs to happen after the diagnosis of an illness or after experiencing a major trauma. Rest is also an important part of the restful sleep we need each night to keep our body and immune system running well.
If I was to ask how life is going for you, I am guessing that many of you would answer with a response like “busy!” or “crazy!” or “non-stop!” After all, our western society is very focused on staying busy and productive; the message we receive is that we are our job. Our culture values achievement, progress, and promotions. It tells us that our self-worth is inexorably tied to how hard we work, our job title, and salary.
We start getting the lessons early in our life when it is made clear what we are expected to do for the family, whether it is helping out with a meal, raking leaves in the yard, or getting good grades. However, the pressure to overwork is not just from our bosses, parents, and schools, but also from ourselves. This is often because the cultural expectations have been communicated so well that we often don’t realize we are the ones doing the pushing, which can create an endless cycle of overworking.
Technology was promoted as the mechanism to do more work with less manpower, and it was supposed to simplify our lives and save us time. Yet our technology seems to have created an entirely new set of problems. We all have experienced the 24/7 expectations that email, cell phones, and our social media demand. Even though technology is promoted as saving us time and increasing efficiency, the demands can take a significant toll on the quality of our lives. Ultimately, we never truly feel like we are “off” from work because work is just a call or a click away. Work always has a way of finding us if we let it.
What does all this overworking give us? Stress. We are stressed physically, mentally, and spiritually. And that has many ramifications. Every aspect of our lives can be affected negatively by stress, from our relationships, to our work, and to our health. As I mentioned earlier, one of the biggest health consequences from being overworked and stressed is that our sleep is affected. Sleep is one of the most important elements for our health; when we don’t get enough or if it is poor quality, our minds and our bodies suffer. Poor sleep can compromise our immune system, which makes us more prone to illness.
When is it acceptable in our culture to take a rest? The messages we get are very mixed, so it is no wonder that we are confused and we generally err on the side of doing too much work. However, if we are often the ones responsible for pushing ourselves, with increased awareness we can realize that we have the power to make decisions to change the balance in favor of more rest.
To take this a step further, what happens when we recognize that we must rest, due to situations beyond our control, such as an illness or an automobile accident? I currently find myself in that situation; I know rest is imperative to heal physically, mentally, and spiritually. As a “go getter” and a solo entrepreneur, I initially resisted cutting back on my schedule and resting because of my cultural upbringing.
Not too far into this new journey I found myself at a bookstore when one of the thousands of books nearly leapt off the bookshelf to get my attention. It was called The Way of Rest, Finding the Courage to Hold Everything in Love, by Jeff Foster. I opened it and was spellbound. This inspiring and eye-opening book has been a big part of transforming my thinking to accept where I am and find the good in it. Here are a couple examples of Jeff’s wisdom:
"Stop pushing for answers right now. Allow everything to rest right now. Take a sacred pause. Allow questions to remain unanswered, for now. Allow space for yourself to breathe today."
“Don’t skip to the next step. There may be gifts in this present step.”
In my work with Seeking Serenity Coaching, my clients tend to be women who come to me stressed out, overworked, and overwhelmed. They have this sinking feeling that the life they thought they’d have has passed them by, and they have forgotten what’s important to them, and what having fun is. In moments of quiet desperation, they find themselves saying “There must be more to life”.
I support and inspire my clients to reconnect to lost parts of themselves so they can get the rest they need, have fun, and feel whole again. I encourage them to become more aware of when they are pushing too hard and where their lives are out of balance. I help them develop and embrace their resiliency and inner peace so they can feel calm inside no matter what chaos is happening outside. By taking “turtle” steps toward healthy self-care habits and by using mindfulness tools their stress begins to recede. In this process, they move closer to spending more time doing what makes them happy and fulfilled, which allows them to achieve the life they have envisioned and dreamt of. As a result of our time together, they feel healthier, more resilient, and peaceful. They soon see that life has much more meaning, and they are excited to get out of bed to see what the new day will bring. As their life coach, I find watching their transformation incredibly heart-warming, inspiring, and meaningful. I love what I do!
Tune in next month when I will share some of my favorite stress relief advice and tips—just in time for the incredible months of summer! In the meantime, I encourage you to let go of the compulsion to overwork and overdo. Stop focusing on “doing” and move your focus to “being.” Rest. Take a nap. As you spend more time relaxing, open yourself to creativity and fun. The sky is the limit. This is your time.