There is a palpable sense that people are hitting a wall. 2020 has been exhausting. I think particularly for social change leaders, who have borne the brunt of the tremendous social upheaval this year has brought, there is a sense of looming burnout.
So I beg you — take a vacation. Every summer I work to convince many of my coaching clients to take time off. But I am finding this year it is particularly hard to convince my clients to take a break — to recharge, replenish, rest. And then I realized that I was having a hard time convincing myself to take some time off as well. In a normal year I take several weeks of vacation (a couple weeks at Christmas, a few weeks in the summer…) But in 2020, I have only taken a few days. So I wondered — why is that? And here’s what I discovered.
The world is so uncertain right now, and as an overgiver (just like you, I imagine) I feel compelled to spend every ounce of my energy trying to help — my clients, my kids, my friends, my neighbors. And there is so much need this year, more than most of us have experienced in our lifetimes. So the normal script that runs through my brain (and I’m guessing yours as well) is that when need is so massive there is no time — I have no right — to take care of myself, to take a break, to take time off.
But this is so wrong, for so many reasons. First, as Brene Brown so eloquently wrote in her book Braving the Wilderness, we are completely unable to help others if we haven’t first taken care of ourselves:
Whether you’re a full-time activist or a volunteer at your mosque or local soup kitchen, most of us are showing up to ensure that people’s basic needs are met and their civil rights are upheld. But we’re also working to make sure that everyone gets to experience what brings meaning to life: love, belonging, and joy. These are essential, irreducible needs for all of us. And we can’t give people what we don’t have. We can’t fight for what’s not in our hearts.”
And second, contrary to the ethos of the nonprofit sector, the savior complex is bunk. I don’t believe that any one of us was put on this earth to save another. We may be here to teach, to guide, to counsel, to lead others even, but at the end of the day, we can only ever save ourselves. When we act as if our role is to save someone else we are simultaneously exhausting ourselves and undermining the other person’s own empowerment. So when you deny your own needs in order to devote yourself to someone else’s salvation you are harming both yourself and them.
Finally, as a leader (of your staff, your board, your children — whoever you have influence over) I believe you have a responsibility to lead by example. So when you signal the importance of taking good care of yourself by taking a vacation, you are giving those around you permission to do the same. And what an incredible gift. When you notice that those around you are burning out, as so many are recently, it may be that the best thing you can do for them is to say “I’m taking a vacation. Perhaps you should too.”
And on that note, I’m giving you permission — in case you feel you need someone to give it to you — to take time off before this summer ends. I am taking next week off. I’m not traveling anywhere since it doesn’t make sense for my family this year, but I will be sending my kids to their grandparents who live an hour away, sleeping in late every morning, lingering over my coffee, enjoying a beach read, doing some small projects around the house, making some gourmet dinners with my husband, and playing with my cat. All things that restore me. And I know that I will come back from my time away with more spark, more inspiration, more energy to face whatever else 2020 has in store for us.
So, if you haven’t already, give yourself a break (including a break from media). I have no doubt that you desperately need it. And if you need some extra help overcoming the many excuses you likely have for doing so, read this.
Photo Credit: Angelina Kichukova