Slowing Down to Move Forward
[Listen to an audio version of my blog here.]
"How fun you get to travel for work," said my friend, whose job does not require travel. I don’t imagine that she’s imagining the crowded airport, the layovers, the time changes, the meetings. I imagine that the people who never travel for work imagine that traveling for work comes with a host of benefits, and it does, sort of. Airline miles, hotel points, paid diners, an occasional fun, team-bonding event, maybe a ticket to an event I may or may not want to go to. But when you spend most of your time on the move, you sometimes want to rest.
My business travel is only a small part of what keeps me on the move—I’m halfway through a big freelance project. I train a lot. I write a lot. I travel to run, and to perform, and to maintain a semblance of presence in the communities I care about. I like to keep busy, because if I’m busy I’m not bored, and if I’m not bored then I’m not uncomfortable. Distraction is a good anecdote to a lot of things, and a pretty good avoidance mechanism. But you don’t have to be “on the go” physically to distract yourself or stay busy. All you really need is an internet connection and some sort of device and the chasm of “business” or more likely, distraction, can swallow you whole.
I’m on a plane as I’m writing this, and I’ve somehow managed to get an entire row to myself. There is somebody near me who keeps farting, and for that reason alone, I’m grateful for the lingering mask-on-plane mandate. The man in front of me is watching one of the Fast and Furious films, of which there are so many I’ve lost count. And I’ve acquired two more bags of Delta’s complimentary almonds, which are so small that they contain only 80 calories per bag, which is only half a serving and which is a fact I know only because I have been bored on many planes.
But here I am, distracted again by my mundane surroundings. When I was in therapy, I worked on slowing down (a lot). Getting enough sleep. Taking deep breaths. Setting boundaries so I wouldn’t burn out. I don’t like to sit still, and never have. The only time I really want to sit still is after I’ve run so far and so hard that my body aches and my mind calms down. But here’s what I learned from years of therapizing: staying busy is a convenient distraction, especially in a world that values productivity. If you’re like me, you might tie a good chunk of your worth to what you can do, and therefore, think that the more productive you are the smarter you are, the more worthy you are of whatever thing you might feel unworthy of.
It’s a fat problem, because we live in the rise-and-grind world, the keep-pushing-never-quit world, the you-could-always-be-1%-better world. And sometimes, all of that is true. Sometimes you do need to grind. Sometimes you do need to push past resistance and just do the damn thing. And sometimes you need to push yourself to be better, maybe by 1%, maybe by 10%. But there’s a difference between pushing yourself to the point of burn out and pushing yourself to grow. We can’t grow if we’re depleted. That’s a lesson I’m still learning. And we can’t expect to do our best work if we’re not taking care of us.
I’ve been watching the flight tracker for hours now, all the way from Detroit to where I currently am, somewhere over Arizona. It’s incredible that I woke up today in Virginia, and I’ll go to sleep tonight in Laguna Beach, were the air smells like salt water and white lights wrap around trees and where dirt trails cut z’s through the canyons. I miss the smell of sage in the morning, the heavy dew, the cold canyon air. I miss the way the sun burns pink in the evenings and I miss waking up next to someone I love. Most of all, I miss feeling calm and rested and unstressed. So I’m going to rest with intention for a few days, because I’ve been on the brink of burnout enough times to know that the only way back is to stop. And the only way forward is to rest.