I’ve noticed I can’t stop feeling guilty for taking a break from my work.
I quit my job four years ago because I wanted the freedom to work for myself, and design a life I love.
But even if I want half a day to myself, to veg out on the sofa and watch trashy TV and paint my nails, or spend some quality time with my partner; the guilt is always there.
It’s not just business owners who wrestle with this guilt, but employees too.
You feel guilty for clocking off at five and going home to your kids.
You feel guilty when you’re genuinely sick, so you drag yourself into work even though you should be resting in bed.
And when you’re on one of the few weeks of vacation time that you get, you worry how many emails are going to be waiting for you when you return. How many meetings you will have missed. And you feel guilty for ever going on vacation in the first place.
Why can we not stop feeling guilty for taking a break?
I think our guilt is mostly rooted in fear.
The fear of falling behind, the fear of feeling like you’re not as good as someone else, the fear of not being successful. The fear of not being enough – in other people’s eyes, and your own, too.
And when I started running my own business, those fears expanded. Because everything was down to me now. There was no one else to lean on, or to blame if things didn’t get done. The success of my business rested entirely on me – my choices, and my actions. Which was what I wanted.
But I didn’t realise how much pressure and responsibility I’d be placing on myself. And I never imagined the guilt I would feel every moment I wasn’t working.
Hustle culture has messed with our heads
The word hustle has left us thinking we need to forgo things like eating, exercising, sleeping, and playing, if we truly want to make it.
If we indulge in things like resting and having fun, we obviously don’t want to be successful.
And I bought into this for a while. I believed it, and I lived it.
It’s funny, because the whole reason I quit my job in the first place was because I wasn’t happy. I knew I wanted something else, something more for my life.
So I switched careers, started my own business, and hopped on a plane to Bali where I lived for a year. I was making my own money, designing my own schedule, and living the kind of life out there I had only ever dreamed of.
But the pressure I put on myself to “succeed” was suffocating. A year later, it dawned on me that I rarely did anything but work, and when I took time off I felt guilt, and shame. Like I didn’t care enough about my business.
How did I end up here?
Our minds are brilliant. They allow us to think, and reason, and speak; to learn and do and to grow. But somehow, we’ve ended up as a world that values the mind, and doing, and logic, above all else.
We are taught as children to value doing, over being.
We’re taught to study hard at school, so you can go get a job; and work long hours so you can get a promotion and a raise and buy a big house. Then work even harder so you can save enough money, so you can retire one day and finally start living your life.
Then we wonder why we’re suffering from overwhelm, burnout, and anxiety, when we’re devoting the majority of our time and energy each day to our work.
And we wonder why we’re not happy. Because we’ve got the great job, or the thriving business, or the perfect family, and more money than we need, but something feels wrong.
Because we don’t give ourselves permission to enjoy it.
Because we can’t stop feeling guilty for taking a break.
And because we don’t believe we deserve one.
But you do.
Taking a break from your work will actually make your work better
I’m still learning to find harmony in all areas of my life, and not allow my business to take over. But what I’ve learned so far is this:
Taking a break from your work or business isn’t just good for you, your health and happiness. It’s good for your work, too.
When you take time out to relax, play, spend time with loved ones, enjoy your hobbies, and do new things, you nourish your well. You fill yourself with inspiration, creativity, and love. And this flows into everything you do – including your work.
I know I need to devote my energy to my business if I want it to grow. But I no longer believe I need to be working all the time to be successful. Because I’ve seen what that looks like, and it’s no fun, and it’s totally unsustainable.
I write my best articles when I’m feeling inspired and nourished. When I’m energised and excited. Not when I’m tired or miserable, or over-worked. And I’m sure it’s the same for you.
So I’m learning to block out my free time, the same way I would block out time to write, or have a meeting with a colleague.
I usually rise early (by 6am), and by the time I get to around 3pm, I find myself flagging. So I’ve set a switch off time for myself of 4.30pm. I’ll shutdown my laptop, take a shower or bath to wash away the day, and relax. If you need help with ways to relax, check out this post here.
My evenings are now mine to spend however I like – connecting with my partner, cooking dinner, watching a movie, or reading a book. Restoring my well. And it feels like I can breathe again.
Always remember, life is short
It’s all too easy to get caught up in work or running your business. And before you know it, life passes you by.
Your kids will grow up. People you love will pass away. Your health and energy will begin to deteriorate. And eventually, you’ll run out of time to do all the things you really want to do.
I’m not saying that to make you sad, or to scare you. I’m saying that in the hopes it will wake you up to the realisation that a lifetime is short and fleeting. And none of us know how much time we have left.
So please, don’t fritter away your precious days working, then feeling guilty on the rare occasions when you’re not.
Stop feeling guilty for taking a break from your work.
Give yourself permission to relax, and enjoy all the other wonderful things your soul wants to experience in this life.
Because you deserve to play and have adventures and laugh until your belly hurts and sprinkle your days with magic.
We all do.