Today in America we’re heading into a holiday weekend, Labor Day.
Monday will be a holiday for many folks, providing a 3-day weekend. This is typically considered the last holiday of the summer or the first holiday of autumn. After this weekend we’ll hit a dry spell until THE holiday season with Thanksgiving in late November.
But a holiday can be a single day or even part of a day – a time spent away from the daily grind. Usually with family. Or maybe in solitude. Whatever suits you.
Hustle and grind are common battle cries in entrepreneurship and leadership. I’m the son of what Tom Brokaw called, “the greatest generation.” World War II veterans. Old school guys who knew a thing or three about working hard, doing whatever it took and grinding it out. So my generation – baby boomers – largely learned from our parents and grandparents (who were survivors of the Great Depression). Work ethic was a given for my generation.
It wasn’t a badge of honor so much as it was an expectation. It’s just what you did. I know because the first decade of my marriage I stayed in hot water for putting in 80 hour work weeks. I didn’t do it because I loved it. I did it because it’s what had been instilled in me. It’s just what you did if you cared at all about your career, your family and achievement. And I cared deeply about all of those.
Admittedly, I was (and still am, though less so) a stress junkie. I thrived on the chaos and pace of business. Yes, it was addictive. Yes, I loved it. Still do, although now I prefer to control it a bit more.
Personally, I don’t find anything honorable about neglecting yourself or your family. I don’t find anything worthy of glorification in the current hustle and grind evangelism. Those aren’t equal to “work ethic” in my book. But today, it’s less about those things and more about what we do with our time away from work.
Three R’s leap to my mind when I think about stepping away – whether it’s for a full vacation, a 3-day weekend, a day off or half a day off.
Rest. Recovery. Rejuvenation.
This week two superstar NFL players have been in the news. Both are 29 years old. Both have retired from the sport. And both cited pain and a loss of joy in playing the game they loved. Both have mentioned the word “recovery,” too. In short, both Andrew Luck and Rob Gronkowski say they need to take care of themselves now.
You and I aren’t engaged in physical battle like NFL players, but the stress we endure can and will kill us. The pressures to lead and manage an enterprise are real. Physically, mentally, emotionally. Our lives – including our families – pay a price for our ambition and work. Yes, they may derive benefits, too. But there’s always a price to be paid.
My wife will tell you that I’m likely the last person qualified to give advice on this score because I NEVER took my vacation days. For decades I had three to five weeks of vacation and the most I ever took were a few days here and a few days there. I’ve never taken a full week, much less two. I just never felt comfortable doing it, so I didn’t. I wish I could have. I wish I would have, but while I knew I could physically, I was unable to mentally.
Now, as a more mature leader and business guy I know some things I wish I had known when I was younger. But I didn’t. Things come to us when they come to us. Better late than never I guess.
Here’s what I’ve learned that I wish I had learned earlier. Perhaps it can help you if you’re an American businessperson facing the prospect of a 3-day weekend.
One, don’t do it for others. Do it for yourself. Do it for your career. Do it for your business. Do it for others.
Guilting people into rest, recovery and rejuvenation won’t work. Well, it won’t be effective. Nagging people into doing what you want is a poor, but often used strategy. As leaders, we resist it. Probably because our DNA is to take charge and influence the outcomes. For some (I never suffered this because I’m not that confident), they think the business will stumble without them. I rather feared things would go even more smoothly in my absence. 😉
Like weight control, fitness or fixing bad habits – you need to do it for yourself. You are a resource. For yourself, your family and your company. Deplete the resource and you’re no good to anybody. Focus on doing what others want you to do – even knowing it’s beneficial to you – and you’ll avoid doing it.
Smokers don’t often successful quit because their family nags them. Overweight executives tend to lose weight when they get sick and tired of it themselves. Not when family and friends ride their back about it.
What will do the trick? I wish I knew.
It may help for you to realize the number people relying on you. That’s likely driving you (partially) to work as you do. Flip it on its head and let it sink in that every resource you have inside your company has limits. The bank accounts. The inventory. The employees. There are limits to everything. And not every resource is renewable. Most have to be replenished.
What you think you’re so special? That you don’t need to be replenished?
Stop acting like a fool. Start taking care of yourself. Physically, mentally and emotionally. Do it for YOURSELF first.
Two, be intentional to add fuel to your tank.
We understand this about everything — except ourselves. The other day I had a thermostat die. About every 6 months or so I have to replace three AAA batteries. They don’t last forever. I took the old ones out, popped in three news ones and presto, it came back to life.
But you don’t think your life works like that? You’re wrong. Your life works exactly like that.
When professional athletes finally throw in the towel and retire, do they reach some pivotal moment that they never saw coming? Maybe. If the injury was severe enough. But I suspect many more of them endure nicks and cuts and loss of joy over time. The grind takes a slow, steady toll. The constant rehab work. The constant pain. It weighs heavier and heavier until they reach a point where they conclude, “No more!”
Is that what you want to happen to you? Do you want to ignore all the little nagging stressors until they break you? How stupid, especially when you have opportunities to prevent that from happening. Time you could spend taking better care of yourself so you can fuel up to continue the quest.
Three, stop thinking short-term. Stop being pessimistic.
Gotta do it this. Gotta do it now. Gotta get it done today.
The urgency of our enterprise is real. But not everything is urgent. Or important. We tend to make mountains out of molehills, suspecting that everything is important.
If everything is important then nothing is important.
You and I both know not everything that we think is important or urgent is. We’re fully capable of overblowing things.
We need to to stop the madness of being pessimistic that every bad thing that might happen, will. It won’t. It’s not even likely. Or probable. In fact, quite often it’s not hardly possible. But we imagine the sky is going to fall if we’re not on top of it.
Here’s the truth of it…you’re not that important.
That’s the real rub. We think everything is a NOW thing. We think the worst-case scenario will become reality. And we think if WE don’t do it, it won’t get done. That’s all short-term, pessimistic thinking. And those are poor habits for business building.
Contrast those with longer-term thinking and optimism. There’s no comparison. We know – with certainty – that thinking longer-term and being positive are far better for our company. Don’t get sucked into going against the forces that will help your company grow great.
Four, life is long. But it’s also short. Make the most of it.
Charles Francis Adams, grandson of John Adams and son of John Quincy Adams, served as a Massachusetts state senator, a US Congressman and ambassador to Great Britain under Abraham Lincoln. Adams was also quite conscientious about keeping a daily journal and encouraged his children to do the same.
Henry Brooks Adams, fourth of seven children, followed his advice and began journaling at a young age. A particular entry written when Brooks was eight has captured attention. Following a day spent with his father, he wrote
Went fishing with my father today, the most glorious day of my life.
The day was so glorious, in fact, that Brooks continued to talk and write about that particular day for the next thirty years. It was then that Brooks thought to compare journal entries with his father. For that day’s entry, his dad Charles had written:
Went fishing with my son, a day wasted.
It’s been speculated that perhaps Charles was upset that they caught no fish that day. But no matter, dad seemed to have forgotten that the act is often more important than the outcome.
What journal notations might others be making about you and the impact you’re having in their life? Isn’t that more important than all the silly little things you constantly obsess about in your business?
Make time for the things that matter. You’ll have time for the rest. And if you don’t, you don’t. Because life is long and goes by in a blur.
Take care of yourself. Take care of your family. Take care of your friends. There’s time to take care of business.
Be well. Do good. Grow great!
Have a safe, happy holiday weekend.