There is one thing that consistently undermines my ability to obtain the elusive “work/life balance.” This one thing consistently keeps me from carving out “me-time” and making sure that my work doesn’t get too hectic.

I feel guilty for taking time off.

And I’m sure that I’m not the only one who feels this way. I have always felt this way, and many societies encourage it.

On some level, many of us believe that we have to work 49 or 50 weeks in order to “earn” our 2-3 weeks vacation. We have to work five days in order to “earn” the weekend. We have to work 8-12 (or more) hours a day to earn our evening off. What if we all just acknowledged that these numbers are completely arbitrary? And whatever thought went into deciding these “terms of engagement” has been based primarily on consideration for what works best for large companies, and everyone else has simply adapted to this schedule.

What if we throw out the notion that we have to earn our rest? What is we believe that all humans have a right to rest and take care of themselves as much as they need? Maybe some people love their work and will happily work 70+ hour weeks, but I bet everyone would prefer a schedule that differs in some way from the Monday-Friday, 9-5 baseline.

And really, who are we benefiting when we buy into the “earning our rest” paradigm? Surely it’s not ourselves. Maybe it’s our company, or maybe it’s society at large, but I think that few individuals directly benefit from these cultural norms.

Now that I have my own business, every second of every day can potentially be filled with work. There is always another potential client to research and pitch, and especially since I’m in the early days of my business I feel like I should always be doing more.

But really, why did I become a minimalist if not to take back control of my life and my time?

It turns out that my job wasn’t the only thing that controls my time. My habits and my internalized beliefs about the nature of work absolutely dominate my life.

Maybe you have the same problem. How can we overcome these limiting beliefs and habits?

1. Acknowledge them
The first and most important step is naming the limiting belief, and calling ourselves out on it.

For example, you might find yourself wasting time in the office in the late afternoon or evening, simply because you “feel bad” leaving at a certain time. Ask yourself if the optics are really the problem or if leaving early just “makes you feel lazy.” Then remind yourself that you don’t have to earn your night off!

2. Stop perpetuating the belief
When a friend or colleague tells us that she is going on vacation, how often do we respond with “good for you, you deserve it”? I know that I have said this many times, and had it said to me. Even though we’re trying to be nice, we’re validating the belief that a vacation or time off needs to be earned.

How about we say instead: “That sounds awesome, do what you need to do for yourself.”

3. Do what you need to do for yourself
Let’s set a new standard for rest based on our needs.

Whenever I call home looking for validation of my decisions, my Mom says to me: “Do what you need to do for yourself.” (One more reason that my Mom is awesome.)

This is a great line, not only because it prioritizes self-care, but also because it forces me to ask the question: “what do I need to do for myself?”

When you are feeling burnt out, try asking yourself this question.
What do I need to do for myself?
And be brave in the face of the answer. If you feel like you need a day off, don’t immediately dismiss this with “I couldn’t possibly take a day off! It’s Tuesday!”

We all have to learn to trust ourselves, and to understand our own needs. The first step in this process is to ask ourselves often: “what do I need to do for myself?”

4. Just do it
I have always had a fear of calling in sick for work. For me, it feels like admitting that I’m not strong enough to do my job. I’ve taken approximately two sick days in my entire life, and I never used to schedule time for “resting” or relaxation.

Now if I’m sick or burnt out I take a day off. I feel extremely uncomfortable doing this, but I force myself to do it. I have to remind myself that no one else is going to make me their top priority, so self-care is up to me.

And I have to trust myself enough to know that needing time off does NOT make me lazy. I remind myself that I love myself, and that I shouldn’t work someone that I love into the ground. It’s not effective, it’s not kind, and (fortunately) it’s just unnecessary.

There are still times when I have to work when I don’t feel like it – I’m (mostly) self-employed and I have to pay the bills. But there are also many times when I work out of guilt rather than necessity. I’ve managed to cut down on this.

Knowing your needs and feeling entitled and able to meet them is incredibly empowering. You may not be able to meet them today – external pressures and limitations exist for everyone – but you’ll never be able to meet your needs if you don’t acknowledge them, and address the psychological barriers that keep you working out of guilt rather than necessity.

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