Rest is a revolution

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The water laps gently on the rocky shoreline beneath me. The breeze tickles my nose and wraps me from the front, hugging my shoulders like a cool blanket, gently lifting the hairs on my arms as I write. The air smells – fresh – of water and of blossoms from somewhere in the distance. A boat races on the other side of our narrow lake, and I can just make out the deep rumble of the bassline from its stereo above the snarling growl of the motor. The sky is 12 shades of blue, mottled by feathery clouds that stretch – almost like taffy – across the western sky, screening the sun from my eyes. But her power can not be held back; her light still pushes through to touch my face, with rays bursting through tiny pockets in those wispy clouds.

I sit on the dock in one of my bright red Adirondack chairs that can be seen from across the lake. I know this because when I cross the lake by kayak, they always lead me back home – to this place of solitude and contemplation, where my mind can finally slow down. I can stop replaying the memories of the week, stop rewriting the scripts of conversations I wish I’d had. Behind me, I hear the rustle of the wind in the leaves of the birch trees. In front, I hear the rolling waves and the gentle breaths of the wind. And below me, I hear the water splashing on the ancient granite shoreline.

Surrounded by white noise and serenity, I plunged – body and mind – into the revolutionary experience of deliberate rest for the past four weeks.

Vive la revolution!

For women, rest is an act of revolution. Full stop. Not being responsible for everything – even for just a few days – is critical to our ability to dream, scheme, create, and execute actions that make the world (or even just our corner of it) a better place. But if it’s so important, such an essential ingredient to our success, then why is it so hard for us to do?

We have endless demands on our time. The world has been conditioned to rely on women and we have been conditioned to fill those roles. We are the ones who are asked to step in to help a friend or family member, to grocery shop, cook and clean, organize our family life, and deal with our children’s latest need. At work, women leaders are the great gap fillers. We help our colleagues, take on special assignments, organize the retirement parties and baby showers, and execute administrative tasks that need to get done, but which really aren’t anyone’s job. We are the central nervous systems in our families and our workplaces. Yes, others will certainly help. But it’s up to us to delegate, provide deadlines, and exact instructions. We are the ones that carry the mental load of deciding what needs to be done, coaxing someone to do it, coaching them through, and then providing positive feedback to make sure they will be willing to do it again in the future.

It’s easy to point to others and say that they put this on us. But we make the choice every day to take on all of these responsibilities. We were trained as children to help others, put their needs ahead of our own, and contribute to the well-being of the group – rather than prioritizing ourselves. We learned that our value came from acts of support for others, instead of from what we could do for ourselves, or produce because of our unique brilliance. So we demonstrate our worth by taking care of the people around us. But to what end? Are they grateful for our actions? Most of the time, they don’t even notice all of the little things we do. And what’s our response? We usually don’t tell them to piss off. Instead, we do more. We do more to prove how worthy and valuable we are. We run ourselves into the ground, trying to seek approval and validation from our family, friends, colleagues, and bosses. We convince ourselves that we derive joy from seeing them happy – the moment of gratitude that flashes across our kid’s face when they see the cupcakes that we spent all night baking – that’s worth it. 

But the truth is, the joy we take second-hand is not our joy. It’s fleeting. It’s superficial. And it doesn’t fill our cup. I know that it sounds sacrilegious to say that only you can fill your cup, that you deserve to take time out of your life to focus on the things that make you – and only you – happy.

When was the last time you asked yourself what you needed? When was the last time you listened to the answer?

I took the past four weeks off work. It was the first real rest I’ve taken in years. I turned off all email and social media notifications on my phone. I told my family that, unless I said otherwise, they were on their own for meals. I prioritized myself, and gave myself the gift of joy every day.

For the first two weeks, I had no agenda. Every day, I practiced asking myself: What do you need today? Some days, it was physical – a walk, kayak, or bike ride. Other days, I puttered in the garden and learned about the indigenous plants on the lakeshore. I read 5 or 6 books. I looked at the lake. I listened to music and had a solo dance party in the cabin one rainy night. I went strawberry picking. I visited old friends. I went to the cemetery to see my Baba and had a lovely conversation with a 92 year old man who was there missing his wife. I wondered about all the people buried there. What were their lives like? Did they ever take time to give themselves the gift of joy? What gifts didn’t they express because they were so wrapped up in taking care of other people?

After two weeks, I felt something shift. My internal computer booted up, and creativity took over. I had spent the past two weeks absorbing, thinking, integrating, and now it was time to create. For the past six months, I’ve been sketching out a leadership program for women. It’s based on my belief that most leadership programs do not serve women well. They are built by men, for men, to teach men how to lead like women – with empathy and compassion. But they don’t teach women how to use their natural empathy to set boundaries, negotiate terms, manage conflict, and lead high performing teams. As anyone who has ever had a side gig knows, it’s hard to find enough time and momentum to build ideas into tangible results.

Well, two weeks of rest was exactly what I needed to open the floodgates of creativity. I wrote for four days straight. Now, I’m putting the final touches on the first course of the program, which I plan to launch publicly in September. It’s an immersive experience, which teaches women how to stop fearing negotiation and do it effectively by tapping into the strength of our empathy. I can honestly say that it would have taken me another six months to develop the course on my existing schedule. But with two weeks of rest, my thoughts aligned, and the content flowed like water – gentle but powerful – through me and onto the screen.

FYI, I’ll be looking for a small number of beta-testers for the course before it launches. My beta-testers will gain access to all of the content for 1/3 of the cost of the course. If this interests you, be sure to sign up for my weekly newsletter – as that is the only place where I’ll be sharing the registration link. You can click here if you aren’t yet signed up.

As women, we rarely give ourselves the gift of rest. Every day, we take on the emotion of our teams and our families, we lay the weight of our projects and responsibilities on our own shoulders, and we put the needs of anyone and everyone ahead of our own. But when we are rested, we remember the importance of prioritizing ourselves (even just for 10 minutes a day). When we are well-balanced, we are at our best. We lead our teams and raise our families with intention – building the confidence and capacity they need to be leaders in their own right.

Great leaders recognize that rest is revolutionary – and that they need to be part of that change. It returns us to our own rhythm, immerses us in our values, and reminds us of the meaning and power of our lives. Rest reinforces a commitment to ourselves – one that can seem antithetical to being a good leader, but which is the most important thing a leader can do to set a good example and lead with integrity.

I am returning to my job with a renewed sense of purpose and power, an understanding of what makes me excellent at what I do. I will say yes to opportunities that align with my skills and talents, and no to those that aren’t a great fit. I know that my family doesn’t need me to do everything for them, and that my worth is not determined by how great of a mom/wife/housekeeper I am. I remember now who I am – a woman who is unapologetically committed to helping women stand in their values, realize their worth, and step in their strength as leaders.

The clouds are thinning in front of the sun. My shadow is growing darker with every moment that passes. I can feel her heat, gently parting the wind and warming my skin – even as the cool breeze continues to tug at my shoulders. The water has calmed, but it’s still choppy. And dark. Like obsidian. It’s time to dive back in.

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