Rest & Rejuvenation- How Stepping Away Can Improve Perspective and Performance

Rest & Rejuvenation: How Stepping Away Can Improve Perspective and Performance

Now that the 30-Day Micro Leadership Course is complete I’m going to keep my word and step away for a bit. As I prepare to shut things down for a while I’ve been thinking about rest, rejuvenation, revival, recreation, and all the various things we can do to help ourselves improve. Last week I was talking with a couple of people about the things they do to catch their breath. We’re all pretty driven people and all of us are experienced, mature leaders (that means we’re all in our late 50s or early 60s). 😉 “What’s the longest you’ve ever stepped away?” I asked. There was a lot of mental calculating going on as we all tried to remember our various vacations and time away from the daily workload. Nobody answered so I asked, “Have either of you taken off 2 weeks straight…or more?” The answer to that came almost instantly. From both of them. “No, never!” “Me neither,” I answered. 

Then for the next few minutes, the conversation was solely about why taking extended time away is a bad idea. I pushed back, even though I had no clue what I was really talking about because I’ve never taken more than one week off. Even so, I wasn’t sold on their logic that the cost of coming back was so high. I questioned if they had mental blocks about being gone, fearful they might not be missed. Or worse, fearful things might go even better in their absence. They chuckled and claimed that would be wonderful if that were the case. 

Well, that was too much of a lob pitch for me. I had to swing for the fences and asked us to all talk about what it might take in order to make sure our absences improved things while we were gone. I don’t manage a team these days, but I’ve spent my career doing it so we constructed scenarios of what we might need to do to prepare for such a reality. 

What about you?

What do you do for rest and rejuvenation? 

Do you find yourself not wanting to step away for fear of “fill-in-the-blank?”

It’s worth wrestling to the ground so you can figure it out. But today, think about how stepping away can improve things for you. And your leadership. 

Sometimes it’s not about doing nothing. It’s not necessarily about playing either. It could just be about a change of scenery. 

This past Sunday afternoon I was watching Dallas’ own Matthew Stafford soundly defeat Tom Brady’s Tampa Bay team. While the skill surrounding Stafford is substantially different, the change of leaving a basement-dwelling NFL team like Detroit for the sunny outlook of a talented Los Angeles Chargers’ team has clearly given Stafford new life. The TV crew commented how Stafford, in spite of years of NFL experience, has never been in a game of such magnitude as playing against the defending Super Bowl champions and Tom Brady.

It may be that your career is stuck because you’re struggling with a losing culture, or teammates who lack the competence to excel. I’m optimistic, but I’m not crazy. Not everybody can be or do anything they put their mind to. I know their moms all told them that was true, but moms can be too nice! 😉

Henry is a supervisor for a small manufacturing company. He’s been there almost 5 years and confesses he’s hated almost every moment of it. When I ask why he stays, he says because he’s long thought he could influence the outcome, but now he’s pretty convinced it’s a losing effort. The details are heartbreaking. Here’s a highly motivated manager who described years of building a team he has supreme faith in. They’ve proven their effectiveness and efficiency in spite of upper management’s ineptness. I ask, “Is your team the reason you stay?” “Absolutely,” he admits. These people are doing great work and Henry used to be convinced the culture of his team would be contagious. It never happened. Henry now seems convinced it’s a lost cause. 

I don’t know what he’ll do, but it’s evident something needs to change so Henry can remedy being stuck. He’s anxious for growth and improvement. And in this economy, he realizes the opportunities may be at the highest of his short career. I challenge him to avoid being jaded and urge him to figure it out sooner than later by accepting responsibility for his own outcomes. The last thing I want to see is a young leader lose heart before he turns 30. Henry may decide a change will do him good. Such dilemmas have nothing to do with vacations or time away. Even a 2-week vacation won’t remedy Henry’s problems. 

But a vacation might help Henry figure out what his next steps should be. Rest and rejuvenation are largely internal, self-induced awareness benefits. 

Exactly 3 years ago, in October 2018, my wife and I stepped away for a few days. It wasn’t even a week. Our family experienced a crisis that required a change of scenery so we could figure some things out. Mostly, we just needed to process some things because there weren’t really actions to take. Could we have done it staying home? Maybe, but it was hard and we felt like that old Southwest Airlines commercial punch line, “Wanna get away?” Yes, we did. 

We went away where we could be out in the woods, walk trails and get away from the hustle of the city. It didn’t remedy our pain, but it gave us improved coping skills. Things didn’t magically improve, but our mental strength and our spiritual resolve grew. Had we not made that trip I know our struggle would have been even more severe. 

Even if life is just ordinary – whatever that means – and the pressures aren’t abnormally great, stepping away can give us a new viewpoint because our mind shifts focus. It’s the same power as those morning shower moments when some folks claim their best ideas happen. It’s the power of getting unstuck! Getting our minds off their current, or ordinary course can help us see and think differently. Better. 

Catching our breath is required whenever we’re winded. However, when it comes to our careers we don’t often know we’re winded. Some of us – my generation is especially guilty – think there’s some medal given for battling through adversity without giving up. Or quitting. Even if it’s just quitting for a week or two to take time off. 

Spending more time at work versus spending more time with family and loved ones. I’m not debating those issues. I happen to think the people we love – and our obligations to them – matter more than our careers. But truth is, they both matter. And it’s not a contest. We’re mostly greedy. We want both to be great. We’d rather not sacrifice either one. But if we look at it merely from the perspective of how our lives are improved, there’s no arguing how getting away, looking at someplace new, experiencing something out of the ordinary, and shaking up our daily routine helps clear our vision and strengthen our resilience. 

“Getting our minds off” a thing can help us become more creative in figuring out that thing. It’s counterintuitive, but we’ve all experienced it. A family gathers for a meal after a funeral. There’s crying, but there’s also laughter. People reminisce. They joke. Collectively they deal with the tension in their own individual and collective ways. It’s grief management by not sitting alone quietly falling to pieces. And there are likely some of those moments, too. 

It’s all a process. Grief. Handling situations. Figuring things out. But I’ll tell you the benefit I’ve discovered in stepping away. Having no point. Which is completely the opposite of my coaching focus with clients – the pursuit of the ideal outcome. Stepping away, for me, is the pursuit of no outcome. I just want to be. In the moment. And see what happens. Removing the pressure to figure things out has the magical effect of helping me figure things out. The lower I can get my expectations, the better. Which is ridiculously hard for (another benefit of getting away). 

As I enter a short, but hopefully productive fallow period, I’m working hard to reduce or eliminate my expectations. I know if I can do that, even for a few days, it’ll pay off. It always does. Besides, life will still be here when I get back – and no, I won’t be dreading that. If I did, I’d figure out a way to do something else that I wouldn’t dread. So there’s that! 

Be well. Do good. Grow great!

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Grow Great a public sector leadership podcastAbout the hosts: Randy Cantrell brings over 4 decades of experience as a business leader and organization builder. Lisa Norris brings almost 3 decades of experience in HR and all things "people." Their shared passion for leadership and developing high-performing cultures provoked them to focus the Grow Great podcast on city government leadership.

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