Rest is An Action
“I have no idea what I want to do next.”
I’m having coffee with my friend, Susan. You wouldn’t know from her expressive brown eyes, quick smile and warm nature that she suffers from chronic pain, and takes anti-depressants. For the last three years she has been logging 55 hour weeks at a San Francisco start-up where she was Employee #7. The firm has since grown to 32 employees and she is at the hub of everything.
She (and her CEO) concluded that pace was unsustainable and have made some changes. They hired her replacement whom Susan is in the process of training. In a few weeks she will take a one-month sabbatical. Upon her return she has cart blanche to craft a new job within the organization.
“I am so burned out I can’t begin to imagine wanting another job at this place,” Susan says, her shoulders slumping. “I just need to hang on a few more weeks, then get away.
On the weekends she crashes. She might see friends, and always makes a point to spend time in nature, but after that and running errands, the only other thing she can manage is to sleep.
“I can’t see straight. Some days I think I’m done with this job and need to move on. Other days I think I should completely bust out and find work on a farm somewhere far, far away.”
What would you do?
She asks for my advice. The situation reminded me of the poem “Sweet Darkness” by David Whyte, so I looked it up on my smart phone and read it to her:
When your eyes are tired the world is tired also.
When your vision has gone no part of the world can find you.
Time to go into the dark where the night has eyes
to recognize its own.
There you can be sure you are not beyond love.
The dark will be your womb tonight.
The night will give you a horizon further than you can see.
You must learn one thing: the world was made to be free in.
Give up all the other worlds except the one to which you belong.
Sometimes it takes darkness and the sweet confinement of your aloneness
to learn anything or anyone that does not bring you alive is too small for you.”
– David Whyte, House of Belonging
Susan gets the point. There is no need to force the answers. Now is not the time to make any radical decisions. Given her state of mind, anything she came up with now would not come from a place of strength and well-being.
Back to Basics
Transitions are the time to get back to the basics. I ask her to consider dialing back her hours to an old-fashioned 35-40, thus giving her replacement a void to step into. It’s another step towards letting go and will make the upcoming wave of free time less jarring. Realizing Honorable Closure in a career transition does not include slaying ourselves. She needs to get as much rest as possible, eat well and get moderate exercise, all things she is already doing. “Keep that up,” I say. “More, more, more of less, less, less.”
Then I suggest that her next job is to take that free month and rest. I remind her that rest is an action. She plans to take a one week retreat, then spend the rest of her time at home, walking the dog, preparing home cooked meals, seeing friends, reveling in some alone time.
“I’ve worked with plenty of people in your position who freak out when they find themselves with so much unstructured time. Expect it. It comes with the territory. You may notice yourself worrying: ‘what is next? where will I go? what should I do, how is this all going to work out? Susan nods and rolls her eyes in agreement. “When that happens you can simply notice that thought as it arises, smile at the fear it generates, and say something like: “That is not my concern at the moment. There is time enough to sort that out. Everything always works out for me. Now is the time to rest and relax.” Then she can immediately turn her attention to something in her physical environment that she appreciates.
Breathe through it. Manage the monkey mind and inner critic that pummels us with thoughts of doubt or guilt. Because out of this sweet, tired darkness I am certain Susan will find a path to the work place where she belongs.
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