About a month ago, I ended my contract with a client I’d worked with for three years.
It was a tough decision, as it was lucrative for me, and I had invested a lot of time learning the nuances of their business. But the reality was that I was no longer fulfilled by working with them, and it was draining my energy and enthusiasm for life.
In the past year, I have worked incredibly hard to hit some big financial goals and improve my professional skills.
I achieved my targets ahead of schedule, but at a cost: by the end of October, I felt incredibly burned out by my work.
I was forcing myself to keep going, and for the first time in as long as I can remember, I couldn’t keep going. I needed a break.
So, at the end of October, I finished up with my client and took a trip away to visit my family in Australia.
I spent two weeks with them, being as present as possible and doing no work while traveling for the first time in almost twenty years.
This feeling of not waking up to emails, tasks, or meetings was utterly foreign to me. The habit of working has been burned into my identity; without it, I felt lost.
While away, I started thinking about how long it had been since I’d taken more than a few days off from work. The honest answer is I couldn’t remember. Since the age of eighteen years old, I have always had a job, a project, a business, or a goal I’ve been working towards non-stop. Even when I moved countries, I had client calls less than three days after I arrived.
It’s embarrassing to admit, but I wasn’t sure who I was without my work.
I am so used to having a financial goal or a business aspiration as my guiding light that it felt weird to be available for whatever the day offered.
I know my desire to work hard is driven by a need for control. I feel more comfortable with my hands on the steering wheel than being a passenger. But it’s healthy sometimes to let go of control, responsibilities, and (gasp!) even my goals.
In our society, those who work hard are respected, glamorized, and seen as ‘doing good.’ The virtue of industriousness is rarely questioned.
But, when you reach the end of your energy, you might be wise to take time and figure out what matters most. That’s what I had to do.
Since returning from Australia, I have negotiated a new job role for myself back in the field of coaching and training. It is a step away from the entrepreneurial life I’ve lived for the past 5-10 years. But it’s a welcome change and one that I am excited to dive into.
But along with the new role, I also negotiated to take another two weeks to myself before starting. I needed the time to relax, renew, and reimagine this next phase of my life.
Taking time off has always been a challenging experience for me. I’ve always sought out the certainty of work in my life. But letting it go for four weeks has been an insightful experience.
Moving forward in my new role, I plan to take paid holidays several times a year. I plan to have weekends off and relax more at night instead of working late.
This change means less money but also more enjoyment.
For anyone reading this who can relate to the habit of constantly working, I challenge you to ask what is behind that habit. Are you truly driven to achieve? Or is something deeper (and maybe more uncomfortable) driving you?
Nobody can answer these questions for you, but I have learned it’s ok to switch off, unwind, and figure out who you are without your work.
Time off isn’t time wasted. It’s time for me to learn that and embrace a more balanced identity.