The Other Side Of Rest: Taking Time Off In An Age Of Anxiety

Mohit Satyanand turned to his wife on his honeymoon and asked: “do we need to go back?”

They decided to take a leap and live in a small stone cottage spending their time:

in our garden in the forest, watching the peaches grow, and our son toddle, rocking him to sleep with Dave Matthews or vintage Stones, serenading the moonlight with candles and home-made peach wine.

When their family returned to the city to send their son to school, Mohit knew he didn’t want to return to full-time employment. Although his friends pushed him to get a “real job” his taste of a different life and the person he had become convinced him to take a different path.

He got by on part-time assignments that “paid a fraction of a full-time wage for someone of my age and training” but it was enough. His years living among nature cured him of a constant yearning for more.

Mohit’s story seems radical, but it shouldn’t be. When people take a break to rest their mind and body, they awaken a different side of themselves.

A side that had been dying a slow and steady death.

Stepping off the hustle train

What happens when you step off the daily grind?

You find a life filled with leisure and the energy to write a book about what you experienced. Or at least thats what happened to Alex Pang.

After 15 years in silicon valley, Pang found himself completely burned out and ended up taking a sabbatical. During his “time-off” he found a curious mix of action and leisure:

But when I was on sabbatical at Microsoft Research in Cambridge, I found that in three months I got an enormous amount of stuff done and did an awful lot of really serious thinking, which was a great luxury, but I also had what felt like an amazingly leisurely life.

While this might not match our current conception of leisure, for most of history it did. “Leisure” was seen as something that was both active and passive, a mix of contemplation, mindfulness and active creation or engagement with the world. 

The modern worker exists in a state devoid of this type of leisure. Instead of active engagement with the world, people find themselves “hustling” to meet the next deadline. Instead of pausing for contemplation, people opt instead for a one-week pleasure filled vacation that serves the purpose of re-charging for a return to the workplace.

Pang’s mindset shift led him to write Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less, which helped him explore why his beliefs had flipped. 

Pang feels we need to take rest much more seriously than we do:

If you want rest, you have to take it. You have to resist the lure of busyness, make time for rest, take it seriously, and protect it from a world that is intent on stealing it.

Mindset shift from a planned sabbatical

Jacqueline Jensen embraced the hustle mindset. She had founded a tech company and earned a number of accolades, but still felt something was off.

She decided to take bold action and planned her own “structured sabbatical” to teach herself to code, write a book and focus on her mental and physical health.

She framed the sabbatical around a tough question that challenged her own identity,

What if I took work…working for a paycheck, what if I took that out of the center of my life, what would my life look like?

As someone that had defined herself by work and her accomplishments, this was no easy task. In fact, she said it took about two and a half months to realize a shift to where work was not the center of her life. 

Much like Pang, she found a renewed and different type of energy in that time off that helped her focus on projects that mattered to her. However, it took almost three months before she was even able to move past the anxiety of waking up and not having work be the central aspect of her life.

It was hard. It was not a four-month vacation. It was a lot of work to untangle myself from all the things I get from work – the validation, the excitement.

As she emerged into a new version of herself, she found energy to write a book and plan a path back into the working world in a more sustainable way, including joining a small startup intense on being a “calm company” a new kind of startup not build around the mindset that work has to be a never-ending hustle.

While people are taking more vacation days from work, it is likely not enough. If it took Jacqueline almost three months to re-imagine her relationship with work, how long will it take for you?

Leaving a path that makes sense

Photo by Nina Strehl on Unsplash

I first connected with Taryn when she was at a near breaking point, contemplating quitting her job. She had been very successful by traditional standards with a resume filled with prestigious companies, global work experience and elite undergraduate and graduate degrees.

Finding herself completely burned out and dealing with a hostile work environment, she decided to quit without a plan. While the corporate world she left demands a narrative around one’s path and what’s next, she didn’t have one. She just needed to heal or as she told me “take time and space for self-care and introspection.”

She took the first few weeks to rest and eventually found herself drawn to different activities. She filled her time reading, training for a marathon, volunteering with local organizations, meeting people she “wouldn’t otherwise meet” and prioritizing her mental health.

She has also found herself drawn to her local community in a way that she wasn’t when she was just trying to keep herself sane while working:

this period has been great in giving me the push to re-establish myself here. I’m finding great activities in my neighborhood and meeting lots of people, which has been the balance I need while I’m reflecting on what to do next

Our communities are not as strong as they once were, yet many people wish they could engage with them in a deeper way, much like Taryn.

Yet people are struck with fear. I’ve worked with many people over the past few years who are taking leaps. The questions are always the same. What will people say? What if I can’t get another job?

Shouldn’t the question be “What will be left of me if I continue down this path?

Start Your “Eff You Fund”

Although people pushed Mohit to rejoin the workforce and “occupy a desk,” he resisted. Part of his reluctance came from his secret weapon, his “fu** you fund,” which he religiously filled early in his career when he realized he was never meant to be a company man. 

Although he never used it to fund his now frugal day-to-day life, it was literal and figurative “eff you” to the business world that would have been so easy to run back to.

Early in my career, I knew I wasn’t a company man, yet I played the part for more than a decade. Many of the people I talk to share that same indifference and an inner pull to do something else.

Even after Mohit returned to city life, he found himself doing the things that mattered to him:

I ran in the park, lounged in my couch, hugged my son as he told me of his day at school, and drove him to birthday parties in a car bashed into dis-reputability by years of mountain driving.

We all have this inner yearning for a more simple life — a call to rest. As Emerson said, “The incommunicable trees begin to persuade us to live with them, and quit our life of solemn trifles.”

No matter what you do to ignore it, its always going to be there. Perhaps its time we start to listen.

About Paul Millerd

Paul is a writer, creator, and curious human that is passionate about how people can reimagine their relationship with work to do things that matter. He published The Pathless Path in 2022.

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