When my daughter was just a baby, it seemed incredible to me that we needed to teach her basic things — really basic, like, here’s how you breathe! Here’s how you go poop. Here’s how to avoid death during very simple, everyday tasks!
It’s funny, I’m 38 years old and I now realize that most of us could stand for a refresher course in some of that stuff. (I trust you’ve got a handle on the pooping part, though.)
Since I parted ways with VeloNews just before Christmas, I’ve spent a lot of time doing a whole lot of nothing — and it’s been glorious. One day I was sitting in my garage, messing around with my motorcycle while sipping some whiskey, and I realized I could do it all day if I wanted to.
A calm I hadn’t experienced in a very long time came over me, and I found myself paying attention to my breathing. Yeah, like a hippie!
It was fascinating; I am human. I do basic stuff. And I do it every day while I’m stressed, running around, driving to work, worrying about climate change and idiot politicians and Covid.
But when you stop and pay attention to it, breathing becomes purposeful. It becomes a performance of base-level humanity; you’re accomplishing small miracles just by drawing in breath.
Let me step back from my ponytail-and-Birkenstocks persona for a moment. I know that wasn’t revelatory for most of you. What I’m getting at, though, is how important it is to take a break. This has been the first break I’ve had from work since I was in college. That’s 16 years!
While I was over here breathin’ away in the garage with my chakras alignin’ like revolutionary war soldiers, I realized that this head-down approach to work meant I wasn’t producing my best work, and I was angry, tired, and fed up all the time. Burnt out, you might say.
I regret nothing about my time at VeloNews and I loved much of that time dearly. It was stressful and took up too much of my life; but whose fault was that, really?
I have discovered, like so many others, that work in America is pretty damn unhealthy. My personality, my being, was tied to my job. In some situations I imagine that’s a good thing for people; for me, it meant a constant, low-hum pressure that I couldn’t shake. It stressed me out, and made me unhappy. I let that happen. And that stress and unhappiness is contagious.
It also made me unhealthy physically — and I should have known that would happen, because it happened once before, when I was a high school English teacher working too many stressful hours and making a less-than-livable wage doing so.
So the key to all this seems to be rest — which consequently seems to be in short supply in the American workplace. As American workers, we need to draw the lines. No one will do it for us.
But I’m convinced work doesn’t have to be unhealthy. It just always has been for me. My one and only goal for 2021 is to figure out how to maintain my mental and physical health while working a reasonable amount. That one’s a tricky balance. But I intend to discover it. I’ll let you know how it goes on my website.
Whew! Go and re-read all of that and let me know how much immense privilege I enjoy in my life. I have the opportunity to not work, even for a few days? Why yes, I am a white male in America!
Of course I don’t want to diminish my own struggles, nor do I want to make it seem like taking time off from work is even an option for the vast majority of American workers. It isn’t. I’m incredibly privileged.
And I think about the times in my life when I was more productive, and it occurs to me that it should be damn easy for every American worker to get the rest and relaxation he or she needs. That’s how you get good work out of employees: Treat them like humans. Novel concept, yeah?
I think about those times writing novels when I was younger, and I realize it wasn’t about having the time; it was about having the rest. I wasn’t responsible for a lot back then, and since I was young, dumb, single, and childless, if I couldn’t pay my rent, I could just go live in the back of my truck up in the woods somewhere (which I did for a while and it was awesome).
That’s what allowed my mind to wander, to create, to come up with ideas. That was it. That was the magic combo: time and rest.
Give it to yourself if you can. And if you’re in a position to give it to others, why in the world wouldn’t you?
A few cool things to pass the time
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