For the next month, NEXT will focus largely on work and RTO — or "return to office." The month of May and labour rights are linked, especially here in Manitoba: May 15 will mark the 103rd anniversary of the Winnipeg General Strike.
But before we talk about work, I want to talk about rest.
I used to have a terrible relationship with the R-word. I write a lot about productivity and hustle culture in both my columns and this newsletter because I had bought into it big time. I was measuring my self-worth by how much of my (usually unreasonable) to-do list and (arbitrary) thresholds of productivity. I was over-extending myself in all areas. I was ambitious, or at least what I recognized as ambition: always chasing a goal, focused on what’s next. Always doing, never just being.
The problem with never just being, never sitting still for a minute, is that you end up missing out on a lot.
And this, pals, is how the phrase “I never feel productive enough” landed me in therapy for anxiety (this is not a secret, I love talking about it, also mental health coverage should be universal like health care because your brain is part of your body. Thank you for coming to my TED Talk). I learned there are, like, 17 issues with that seemingly innocuous thought, the biggest being that “productive” is not a feeling, and what’s “enough,” anyway? It’s taken a lot of brain work, but I am happy to report that I don’t think this thought nearly as much anymore, which feels like a huge dragon slayed.
My broken relationship to rest, however, is a work in progress (but, I mean, what isn’t?) Before the pandemic, I’d say things to myself like, “I just need a couple days off” or “I just need a few weeks off” or “I just need several years off.”
The pandemic — and, more accurately, the lockdowns and restrictions — created a bit more space in our lives. I started building in routines, such as making time to read at night, or going for a mental-health walk. I’d take an actual lunch break. I’d work, and then recover with a word game or a book. Or I’d watch some TV, and then feel like doing a workout. I recognize that there’s still a lot of “doing” going on, here, but I was choosing things that felt like they were filling my bucket, not emptying it. Doomscrolling, for example, is not resting.
What does rest and recharging look like for you? (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press files)
My pandemic days began to take on a new shape: instead of blazing though an endless to-do list and then collapsing at the end of the day — or bottoming out by the end of the week — I built pockets of rest and recovery throughout the day (“rest snacks” if you will). And, at the risk of sounding all, “wow, have you heard about taking breaks?” but, wow, have you heard about taking breaks? Eventually, I felt more focused and more energized overall, which helps when the world feels like it’s collapsing all around you.
And then it hit me: I had been thinking about rest all wrong. In the Before Times, rest was something to be “earned” by working as hard as I could for as long as I could, which created the “I need a day/week/month/several years off” sensation, rinse, repeat. To me, rest was a destination one could arrive at “recharge,” and then I was always disappointed that I never really felt recharged.
But rest, it turns out, is not a summit to be reached. Rest is actually the base.
It’s like rest days in fitness; your muscles need to repair and recover so that they can grow stronger. That’s just as true in other areas of your life, and yet: rest that isn’t sleep isn’t thought of as productive or foundational. It’s thought of as “lazy” or a “waste of time.” (Some people think of sleep like that too, mind you, which is wild to me, because the ability to be fully unconscious for a stretch of time every night is one of life’s greatest pleasures.) Rest is also seen as indulgent or decadent, especially during a pandemic/war/climate change, take your pick, when it’s vital to our health and survival — mentally and physically.
Rest is something that everyone needs and deserves. It doesn’t need to be “earned.” Rest is an ongoing practice. Sometimes you will need more of it, sometimes less, but you do need it. We all do.
That’s an important thing to remember as we navigate these late-pandemic months when things look more “normal”, but we’re still dealing with the stresses of illness and close-proximity positive tests and figuring out how to be a person in an office again. It’s especially important for those folks for whom the pandemic didn’t create more time, and who are now expected to just “get back to normal.”
Let’s normalize rest.
Jen Zoratti, Columnist