Day 14: Killing Me Softly

Authors Note:  This is the 14th entry in a 23 part series – my reactions to each item on the post 23 Things Every Woman Should Stop Doing.  Please join the conversation.

Okay – let’s have a contest.  Let’s see who is the busiest of us all.  Let’s see who can “win” at this “extra-effort” game.  Don’t know what that is?  Let me help.

Consider this post first:

19. Not taking advantage of your vacation days. More Americans than ever are forgoing their (already meager) paid vacation days — despite the fact that we know that people who take time off are more likely to be healthy, happy and productive workers. We swear, no one will die if you turn off your cell phone and head to the mountains for a long weekend.

I think you see where I’m about to go.

Why on earth do we get into these spaces where we think if we work longer, harder and more intensely, we’ll be happier and healthier?  Why do we sit around and, in one breath, complain about how exhausted we are, and in the next breath brag about how we put in a string of 15 hour days and were “so productive”.  Why is it – when EVERY SINGLE STUDY done on multitasking shows that it is not effective – do we continue to say we can relax on a beach and write a policy manual all at the same time with maximum efficiency?

Why do we continue to lie to ourselves?

Perhaps it’s the impostor syndrome rearing it’s ugly head, and convincing us that we have to work harder or we’ll be found out as a fraud.  Perhaps it’s a “keeping up with the Jones’” situation in which we believe that, if we don’t work as long or as hard as others, we’ll get left behind.  Or maybe it’s a misguiding belief that if we work super-hard and put in extra-long hours, someone will come (as Sheryl Sandburg says) and “put a crown on our head”, “call us a good girl”, and give us that promotion we’ve been wanting for so long.

Well – and pardon my colorful Texas language – but that’s bullshit.

Look, I’m no stranger to endangering my own health by not taking time for me.  About five years ago, I suffered a series of anxiety attacks over several weeks time.  I had no idea what it was, so when I finally found myself in an emergency room and the doctor asked me, “Do you want a Valium?” it was both terrifying and shocking.  And it was a wake-up call. 

While frightening, this experience made me realize that I needed to fix things and fix them fast.  I had to take time and assess my own wellbeing, and when I did, I quickly realized that burning the candle at both ends was absolutely NOTHING to be proud of.  I held two, full-time job titles, was teaching a masters-level course, and continued to take on additional community and work projects.  I finally realized that I had put everything else ahead of my own health – and I was slowly killing myself – quite literally.

I started by letting things go, eliminating multitasking as much as my activator-brain would let me (it’s gotten better as time has moved on) and made a commitment to put my health first.  I quite literally had to in order to save my own life.  It was one of the hardest, yet most beneficial things I have every done for myself – and for those around me.

I implore you to not let your own health and wellbeing falter.  Start small.  Take a vacation day.  Take one a month if you can.  Plan for a long time away from the office – an actual WEEK or even TWO WEEKS away (I know – don’t pass out – it’s okay).  Trust me – after you get over the sheer panic of turning off your cell phone and divesting from social media (that one’s tough, for sure), you will find that you are able to finally relax.  Once you relax, you can finally begin to reconnect with what is vital and important to you.  True vacations – and I mean real ones, not simply being out of the office at a conference – are good for your soul and your health.