Embracing Rest in a Culture of Busy

Since childhood, many of us have resented the idea of rest. Countless studies confirm that we are addicted to caffeine, obsessed with finding the newest and next, and are consumed with an ‘on-the-go lifestyle’. What was breaking news yesterday is old and forgotten today and those who can’t keep up with the revolving door are relegated to cultural inconsequence. This grueling pace worked just fine for many of us, all the way from elementary school naptime boycotts to college all-nighters, but as we emerge from our early twenties, a new reality sets in. 

We can’t always go 100 miles an hour. Life has traffic jams. And just like in traffic, sometimes you can’t tell why you don’t seem to be going anywhere. 

While there seems to be a continual conversation in the media about what can best be described as ‘The State of the Hustle,’ what hasn’t been adequately discussed is the fact that no matter how hard we try to stuff our schedules, we are not always busy. Ultimately, life throws us periods of downtime; we do have slow days when friends aren’t calling, new projects are at a standstill, and new ideas are absent. To achievers used to focusing relentlessly on the next challenge, these times of less activity can come as a very unpleasant shock. 

Coping with these break periods is not easy. Our immediate response tends to be that we’ll just drink another cup of coffee and push through it. But what happens when we can’t? What happens when we become a writer who can’t write, a scientist who can’t find an answer, a receptionist who has lost sight of her goal? In a culture full of 30 Under 30 lists, these frustrating inspiration voids can far too easily begin to feel like failures. 

Our immediate response tends to be that we’ll just drink another cup of coffee and push through it. 

This feeling is a lie. 

If you are going through a time of slowness I want you to know that you are NOT a failure. Days when inspiration seems far away say nothing about your value or capabilities. As much as our culture fails to address them, these downtimes are part of the natural pattern of life and they exist to prepare you for the next adventure. The traffic has stopped. There is nothing you can do but hang on and wait it out. 

If slow periods are inevitable, how do we cope with them when it’s our turn? 

1. First and foremost, as much as you may hate it, take advantage of the opportunity to rest. Your body needs it. Try to embrace the slowness. Sip your tea instead of guzzling it, savor your food, stop to smell the roses. You might discover an elegance to your life that you hadn’t noticed. 

 Take advantage of the opportunity to rest. Your body needs it.

2. Invest in your health. You have been presented with an opportunity to get your body back together – use it! Get eight hours of sleep for a change, go hiking, take up yoga, salsa or rock climbing. Start running in the morning like you planned to but never actually did. Empty pipelines feel worse on an unhealthy body, that’s for sure. 

3. Get your mind off of the fact that you are frustrated. Many times slow periods are accompanied by illness or lack of motivation so your energy may be lacking, but the smallest new experience can bring life back. Try to reignite your ability to be surprised and impressed.

4. Set aside time every day to push forward as much as you can. Just because you don’t currently see an opportunity in front of you doesn’t mean there isn’t one just up ahead that you can be ready for. Don’t beat your head against the wall; instead (metaphorically), make sure you check every nook and cranny of that wall and know it completely. You will wake up one morning and you’ll see one of the cracks is a little bit wider – that’s how you’ll know the downtime is coming to an end. 

5. Above all, remember this is normal. This is life. This happens to everybody. Don’t be discouraged when you find yourself in a period of rest. Take advantage of the slow days. Use them to build your strength and to learn and listen in ways you couldn’t when life was frantic and exhilarating. Hold steady and know that inspiration will return as long as you leave the door open for it. The cycle will right itself. In the meantime, take a much needed and well deserved rest.