Why The Advice “Take Time Off” Seriously Sucks

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Photo by Sadeq Mousavi on Unsplash

What was the best decision of your life? Was it a marriage proposal or acceptance? Was it a career change? Maybe a decision to quit a destructive relationship or habit?

Those are all life-changing decisions. We know that our choice will alter the direction of our lives. Smaller, inconsequential decisions also have far-reaching effects. The difference is that we cannot predict the significance in advance.

A Tiny, Wonderful Decision

On Thursday, I decided to work from home. Accuweather predicted 1–3 inches of snow. Weather.com predicted 5–8 inches of snow. I didn’t know who to believe. At 6:15 AM, I decided to work from home instead of driving to the office. It was one of the best decisions I’ve made in a long time.

Facebook updates of stranded commuters poured in as late as midnight. Some drivers had abandoned their cars after running out of gas. A friend of mine battled through a nine-hour commute to get home. He was lucky enough to have an empty water bottle with him. You know, bathroom emergencies. No doubt, these were terrible inconveniences. At least we live through inconveniences. We start the next day anew.

Not Everyone Was So Fortunate

A man in my town died after his car skid onto the train tracks. A train just happened to be passing through as his car lost control. Complaints about the lack of ready snow plows and hellish commutes ceased after the news spread. I don’t know the person’s name, but I live in a small suburb. I probably ran into him at the grocery store, Starbucks or the diner. I can write with near certainty; he did not wake up expecting to die in a traffic accident. Nobody does.

Do You Need A Break

What does this snowstorm story have to do with the headline? It will make you rethink a common piece of advice. I’ve heard it and given it, but I need to stop. It’s sensible advice and most who give it, mean well. Sometimes it works. It’s worked for me, but I hope writing about prevents me from doing it ever again. The advice often goes something like this:

If you’re struggling with your writing, take a break.

If you’re struggling with your art, take a month off. Give your mind a break.

Your relationship with [fill in the blank] needs a break.

Time heals. Give yourself space.

This advice would make sense were it not for one inconvenient fact.

Our time is limited, and we do not know the expiration date.

Did my neighbor who died to have any goals he’d been putting off? Did he have any relationships he’d meant to mend? I have no idea. Most of us have unfinished business. It’s likely he did too.

What do you think? Should you take time off from your goals to recharge your batteries, reflect on life or do whatever else you think you need? It makes sense, but then there’s that pesky issue with the fragility of life. Your time is running out.

The Three Question Evaluation

What is your unfinished business? How important are these goals and desires on a scale of one to ten?

If you ranked anything an eight or higher, ask yourself one of these questions the next time you consider the taking a break question.

How would you act to that estranged friend or family member if you knew they were going to die in twenty-four hours? Would you insist on taking time away to heal your wounds?

How much time would you take off from pursuing your goal if you knew you had only six months to live? Would you feel comfortable taking a break?

How would you treat others if you knew that your time on earth could end at any time without any warning?

The first two questions are hypothetical. The third one is not. But we have a tendency to think like it’s under our control.

Written by

Experimenter in life, productivity, and creativity. Work in Forge | Elemental | Business Insider | GMP | Contact: barry@barry-davret dot com.

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