Mentoring Letter 404: Taking Time Out
“Sometimes it’s important to work for that pot of gold. But other times it’s essential to take time off and to make sure that your most important decision in the day simply consists of choosing which colour to slide down on the rainbow.” Douglas Pagels
I am writing this week from under the shadow of Table Mountain. I look out my window and see the Atlantic Ocean. I am not doing any dressing up; in fact I am wearing shorts and sandals most of the time. I can get up whenever I feel like it. I can stay up as late as I like. I don’t have any appointments to go to and no deadlines. What am I doing? You guessed it – taking time out. It is our annual getaway time and Angelique, Lyndsay and I will be playing tourist and holiday maker for about 10 days. This is a time I look forward too and a time that too often feels too short. After a pretty upside down, unusual year with its fair share of pressures, I know I need this. I could identify with Jennifer Yane’s sentiments when she said,
“I try to take one day at a time, but sometimes several days attack me at once.”
In this modern age life has taken on a very hectic pace. At every turn and every waking moment we are bombarded with 101 things trying to get our attention. From the moment we get up in the morning to the moment we sleep our senses are hit with so much information it is hard to keep up. Even taking time out can be overwhelming. Steven Halpern wrote that
“When Mozart was composing at the end of the eighteenth century; the city of Vienna was so quiet that fire alarms could be given verbally, by a shouting watchman mounted on top of St. Stefan‘s Cathedral. In twenty first century society, the noise level is such that it keeps knocking our bodies out of tune and out of their natural rhythms. This ever-increasing assault of sound upon our ears, minds, and bodies adds to the stress load of civilized beings trying to live in a highly complex environment.”
Yet far too many people still say ‘we are too busy’ to take time out. ‘We can’t afford it’. ‘Things will fall apart if I am not there.’ ‘I don’t need this, I am fine.’ Well for a society that is experiencing more stress related illness than any time in history, these are pretty stupid arguments don’t you think?
According to a Greek legend, in ancient Athens a man noticed the great storyteller Aesop playing childish games with some little boys. He laughed and jeered at Aesop, asking him why he wasted his time in such frivolous activity. Aesop responded by picking up a bow, loosening its string, and placing it on the ground. Then he said to the critical Athenian, “Now, answer the riddle, if you can. Tell us what the unstrung bows implies.” The man looked at it for several moments but had no idea what point Aesop was trying to make. Aesop explained, “If you keep a bow always bent, it will break eventually; but if you let it go slack, it will be more fit for use when you want it.” Look around you and you will clearly spot the tightly strung individuals, never allowing themselves unstrung time. They are ratty, caustic, unhealthily driven individuals, and they are not nearly as productive as they think they are. They are not fun to be around and they expect others to be like them.
J. Lubbock said:
“Rest is not idleness, and to lie sometimes on the grass under trees on a summer’s day, listening to the murmur of the water, or watching the clouds float across the sky, is by no means a waste of time.”
J.A Hadfield attributed greatness to the ability to rest in saying:
“This art of resting the mind and the power of dismissing from it all care and worry is probably one of the secrets of energy in our great men (and women).”
Architect Frank Lloyd Wright once told of an incident that may have seemed insignificant at the time, but had a profound influence on the rest of his life. The winter he was 9, he went walking across a snow-covered field with his reserved, no-nonsense uncle. As the two of them reached the far end of the field, his uncle stopped him. He pointed out his own tracks in the snow, straight and true as an arrow’s flight, and then young Frank’s tracks meandering all over the field. “Notice how your tracks wander aimlessly from the fence to the cattle to the woods and back again,” his uncle said. “And see how my tracks aim directly to my goal. There is an important lesson in that.” Years later the world-famous architect liked to tell how this experience had greatly contributed to his philosophy in life. “I determined right then,” he’d say with a twinkle in his eye, “not to miss most things in life, as my uncle had.” Margaret Fuller said, “Men for the sake of getting a living forget to live.” Too many of us think like the uncle – so focussed on the end result that we miss the pleasure of the journey. I made a decision some years ago that my holiday starts the moment I pull out of the driveway, not just when I reach the holiday destination. It takes the pressure out of getting somewhere and adds pleasure to the travels. I apply the same principle to my work days. I want to encounter new experiences, try new things and be willing to take a few meanderings in the field along the way. The final destination isn’t everything – the journey is just as important.
Another reason I look forward to my time out is that it becomes time to focus on where I am at and to prepare myself for what the New Year or next season of my life will hold. The story goes of a man who challenged another to an all-day wood chopping contest. The challenger worked very hard, stopping only for a brief lunch break. The other man had a leisurely lunch and took several breaks during the day. At the end of the day, the challenger was surprised and annoyed to find that the other fellow had chopped substantially more wood than he had. “I don’t get it,” he said. “Every time I checked, you were taking a rest, yet you chopped more wood than I did.” “But you didn’t notice,” said the winning woodsman, “that I was sharpening my axe when I sat down to rest.“
“Every now and then go away, have a little relaxation, for when you come back to your work your judgment will be surer, since to remain constantly at work will cause you to lose power of judgment… Go some distance away because then the work appears smaller, and more of it can be taken in at a glance, and lack of harmony or proportion is more readily seen.” These are the words of Leonardo da Vinci, and no idler he; he excelled as a painter, sculptor, poet, architect, engineer, city planner, scientist, inventor, anatomist, military genius, and philosopher.
I have realised that I am not the Duracell bunny that can go on for ever. I need these time outs. I know I am not alone in this. My encouragement to you this week would be to value yourself highly enough to make time to get away and unstring the bow. Next week we will talk a bit around how to do that for maximum benefit.
Have a wonderful week!
If you have any questions or feedback about “Taking Time Out” please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, I would love to hear from you.
Antony Jennings is an international trainer, consultant and motivational speaker based in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. Antony writes this free weekly mentoring letter to support and encourage those who are serious about taking charge of their lives. You will find an archive of his letters at www.antonyjennings.com or www.zifundise.com