One of the things I have found fascinating during the pandemic is the more open acknowledgement of “hustle culture”; it appears that more people have started to have second thoughts about being always-on and always pushing. I’ll admit that my bias within this discussion is likely obvious with the sabbatical that I’ve been on since June of last year, which has had plenty of interesting lessons embedded within it. When I started on this, I certainly knew that I was desperately in need of down time, spiritually, intellectually and physically. What I didn’t fully anticipate is how challenging it can be to go from 100 miles a minute to…well, if I’m honest, it hasn’t been zero. Let’s say 15 miles an hour, like a moderately fast (for me) bike ride.
One of my earliest epiphanies last summer was how much uncompensated work we’re doing in academia on a routine basis. Article reviews, letters of support/ nomination, organizational work, mentoring, scholarly activities- all of these are things that are expectations in the academic world. And while I don’t question their relevance or importance to our professional community, what I realized is that we may not be rewarding them as completely as we should. I also realized that many weeks this year I’ve put in the equivalent of part-time work hours to all of those things; it also reminded me that when I’m in an academic role these are the things that move into nights and weekends and down time.
When we have things bleeding into what should be time for friends, family, hobbies, sleep, LIFE and when we don’t bother to question it, we’re buying into culture that encourages us to be always on. People in high-achieving professions are already predisposed to perfectionism and overachieving (I’m looking deeply at those of us who have been to medical school here, though I know we don’t have the market cornered on this); that mindset of always doing more and being more allows us to succeed and it gives us blinders to the harm we’re doing ourselves and those around us. We’re told we should be grateful for the opportunities, and while that isn’t untrue, too much of a good thing is no longer a good thing. I’ll be the first person to tell you that your body has the wisdom and power to tell you when you’re past time to stop; if you haven’t taken the time to rest, you’ll get the opportunity to be rested. And yes, that’s personal experience speaking.
I’m not here to tell you that achievement is a bad thing. Far from it- it’s how we change the world to make it into a place we really want to be. What I am here to tell you is that just like overtraining is a “thing” in fitness, it’s a “thing” in our daily lives as well. Rest is not how we’re programmed in modern American society, and it doesn’t align with the scarcity mindset messages that inundate us. I’ve recovered joy by having time to rest this year, and I’ve felt joy seeing reminders out there- particularly from members of historically excluded communities- that rest is a revolutionary act. And while it’s not incredibly practical to take months to rest, if we’re intentional about it we can rest and play most every day.
It’s Sunday morning, and to close my mini-sermon on rest I want to remind you of three incredibly important things:
- There is plenty of everything to go around. Scarcity mentality is a lie.
- You are enough.
- You do not have to EARN rest. Go rest. Go do things that connect you to joy. Or do nothing at all, and find joy in simply being. There are no bonus points for exhaustion.
I think of rest a bit like I think of grace- it doesn’t have to be earned, but in order to receive it we have to be open to it. And we get to try, and try, and try again.