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Attention Overachievers: You Have Permission to Let Go

December 13, 2010

I can’t imagine what has happened to all of the slouches.

Almost everyone I know these days is obsessed with their personal productivity and performance. Whether it’s hitting a profit target, or getting more page views on a blog, or just making ends meet, I am surrounded by a cloud of witnesses – hyper-responsible and ambitious souls – driven by some looming pressure to deliver results and add value.

I can practically hear the value-added theme music playing in the wake of the path they cut.

Which is all well and good, except that I have found myself habitually conforming to this performance grid in my head which says, “More! Not enough! Keep pushing!” It’s like I can’t stop for one nanosecond just to allow myself to take a deep breath.

And let’s be honest – this can get carried away. Instead of coming home at a decent hour to spend time with the fam for dinner, then sitting by the fire in an overstuffed chair listening to classical guitar music with a nice glass of Sineann Merlot, we convince ourselves that staying at the office to finish off those last couple of spreadsheets is the better choice. Like the work we are doing will prevent the earth from spinning off its axis.

I worry that we are losing perspective.

I have a friend who frequently attends evening meetings that may go until 11 pm. Then he insists on dragging himself out of bed the next morning at the crack of dawn in order to make it in to work at the “normal” time. God forbid that he makes up for it on the other end and come into work an hour later than usual! But really, would that be such a Thing? No, but the hamster in our mind won’t hear of it.

We are pushing ourselves so hard, like we have to know everything and be everywhere, and we don’t know when or how to stop. Yet we are loathe to give ourselves permission to be off the hook, for fear of lost productivity, or slipping behind, or just looking bad.

Esther Sternberg, in her book, “The Balance Within” talks about the mounting scientific biomedical evidence that links the care of our spiritual selves with the health of our bodies. She says we must stop and take care of our spirit in order to maintain our overall health and productivity, to avoid chronic disease, depression and burnout.

Listen, I know you are all working very hard. But I am here to say it is enough.

Sometimes all we need is a little reminder, a sort of self-permission slip that allows us to take care of ourselves. So here you go.

You have permission to come in to work an hour later after being out at that meeting until 11 pm the prior evening.

You have permission to stare into space and do nothing for several minutes per day.

You have permission to wander in bewildering confusion for a period of time.

You have permission to take 30 minutes a day to do something you love.

You have permission to be gripped by fear for a few moments before taking that next step.

You have permission to take a day off, for no apparent reason.

You have permission to shut the office door and take a nap right smack in the middle of the day.

You have permission to put your health and family above all of your work and career demands.

Go ahead, add some more. What is it you need to give yourself permission for?

Photo by Nance Marie, used with permission.

22 Comments leave one →
  1. December 13, 2010 8:35 am

    You are so right… we beat ourselves up if we can’t keep up with the Jones’ or if we can’t get a thousand things done in a day… perfection is not a goal, for is it something you mangage… in fact, no one person is perfect… not all the time and in all honesty, Not Ever. That’s an unrealistic concept, yet we are taught from an early age that we should attain this.
    I love how you have given permission to us, but it’s from within that has the greatest impact. I Let Go of _____________, For me, filing in the blank is hard, but it is also the most courageious thing I can do!

  2. December 13, 2010 8:56 am

    Good post, Brad. I will forever be haunted by the aural and visual image of “the hamster in our mind” .

    • December 15, 2010 8:17 am

      Yet there he is, running along nonstop on his wheel, generating all of those obsessive thoughts…

  3. December 13, 2010 10:05 am

    I, too, like the “hamster in our mind” :). Very visual, especially to those of us parents who have had to clean up after the things. Think about that: the cage needs cleaning once in a while. 🙂

    Thanks for saying this, Bradley. There is something else that gets left behind in this unceasing quest to be the best–our concern for others. I sat at the bedside of a gentleman in his eighties at work last week. The poor guy has earned a reputation as a grumpy old man among the hospital staff. When I offered my ear, he railed against this generation and their lack of respect and compassion for the elderly. Bless him. He really was an old softie when someone gave him a little of both.

    Merry Christmas, friend. Enjoy that glass of wine by the fire. Hold your loved ones close and spend a few extra minutes in their embrace this holidays season. Sometimes we need the calendar to give us permission to do so.

    • December 15, 2010 8:25 am

      Thanks Laura – Merry Christmas to you too! Yes, our presence in relationships is likely the thing that gets lost in our mad quest for getting things accomplished. And the truth is, without healthy relationships, we are sick, sick people. We need community to be whole. (And I am serious about that fire and glass of Merlot. It’s SO happening.)

  4. December 13, 2010 10:26 am

    Like Maureen and Laura, I was struck by the image of the hamster in our minds. I’ve given too much power to that stupid rodent. I think it is time to set a trap for him and squish his little head.

  5. December 13, 2010 12:08 pm

    Mark Driscoll (Mars Hill Church Seattle) advocates Sabbath rest in all aspects.

    He takes one month off a year. One day off a week. And He takes a five minute break from work every hour, just to ‘stare off into space’ as you suggest.

    I like it. It creates a place for our minds to renew and recharge. And we’ll find that we are more efficient and better workers, rather than the stretched out shells of human beings that most of are working at being with this pace.

    • December 14, 2010 11:56 am

      Sabbath rest – oh what an old-fashioned concept! Except it’s God’s concept …

    • December 15, 2010 8:36 am

      I think he means a total of four weeks vacation for the year? Otherwise the idea of one entire month off each year is just completely, ridiculously unrealistic for 98% of working people. Yes, I take as much vacation as I can get. I am not a workaholic. No way. A five minute break each hour to stare off into space? I’m diggin’ it.

  6. December 13, 2010 1:24 pm

    Oh! That hamster is working non stop in my head! I am still laughing at myself for my immediate reactions to your permission list 🙂 Here goes:
    1) yay! … but… there is still so much work to do…sigh.
    2) God forbid that someone catch me doing that!
    3) eh!?! What’s that?!
    4) hmmmm…. nice idea…. key word… idea….
    5) Not possible. Maybe if i am really, really, ill
    6) WHAT!
    7) Would really, really love to… can I? really?

    But on a serious note, that 1 day of rest really should be taken. The hamster should have access only 6 days a week, then s/he must take break and let one rest. Giving oneself permission to take a break is rather difficult, yet is necessary for a balanced life.

    Thanks for this one Bradley. It really has made my day 🙂


  7. December 13, 2010 5:17 pm

    thanks for using the photo, it always makes me feel accepted and loved.
    sineann wine… do you drink that swill? 😉

    i would like to encourage you to take photos, because it really is fun and adds
    a new perspective in looking at the world. and that way we can use each other’s photos.

    as soon as i finish uploading all my photos onto flickr, then i will make some of them
    available to friends again.

    your post is right on.
    so many people have gotten stuck in an unhealthy groove of trying to do too much.
    i don’t know how each has gotten there, or what they think of relaxing. or even
    taking a siesta.

    i makes me curious enough to do a little google about naps.

  8. December 14, 2010 10:56 am

    I’m always amazed at how much my work benefits when I make sure to have a life, and how much my life benefits when I make sure to work. The key is balance and giving myself permission to rest.

    In college I gave myself one day a week “off” from studying, reading, and all school things. It was a literal step of faith and trusting that God would still provide all I needed get my work done by honoring him with a day of rest. What I continued to see in the context of school was how I always managed to get it all done, without all-nighters. The times I tried to do it on my own things always seemed to take twice as long.

    But now that I live in “the real world,” I have lost this perspective on day-to-day life. I wonder what “taking a break” looks like now?

  9. December 14, 2010 11:58 am

    Bradley thanks so much for this post – like so many others I need to keep hearing it. Does God care as much about what (and how much) we do, as He does about who we are? For that matter do our family members, friends, and even our colleagues?

    Also I’m reminded of Luther’s journal entry that read something like “A lot to do today – must spend an extra hour in prayer”. We are far more productive when properly rested and in balance.

  10. December 14, 2010 1:56 pm

    I have a friend now , who, while she is rallying against the race and the perfection and lamenting her dwindling centred self, is running faster with every new Monday morning gate opening.

    She knows, and yet.

    I will say things in relation to my sloth and lack of care and she will say , oh how I wish, must be nice, I know… and then proceed to tell me yet another situation where she is trapped on high speed. I think some people are addicted to being addicted .

  11. Bob G permalink
    December 14, 2010 2:39 pm

    I had TODAY off, for no reason. Well that, and later today my wife and I are celebrating 10 years married.

    It’s funny you wrote this as of late, because Amy helps me A TON with the perspective thing. She’s definitely hard working but somehow has demonstrated great wisdom here. I use to hate hearing it. Not so much any more.

    Thanks for the reminder Bradley.

  12. December 14, 2010 3:17 pm

    it’s snowing on your desert- camel shadows!

  13. December 17, 2010 9:46 pm

    I have permission to try Sineann Merlot. I have permission to spend 3 hours at a holiday lunch…

    I can’t imagine being a hamster. Thanks for this post!

  14. December 18, 2010 10:11 am


    I am struggling to see whether or not you think everyone needs to calm down and stop working so hard or whether or not you are satisfied with your current level of achievement.

    While ‘overachievers’ are often teased and taunted by quick-witted rascals, the source of that teasing and taunting is often fueled by the rascals feelings as if they have fallen a bit short in some with respect to meeting objectives and demands.

    Are you satisfied with your current level of achievement BJM? Or are you becoming a bit snarly with those who may be outperforming you?

    • December 19, 2010 7:57 pm

      No, I am not satisfied, thus the hamster at work pushing me onward to greater achievements and rewards that are out their awaiting my enormous potential. But it wears on me, that’s all. And sometimes I wonder if I’m just making it all up, that there really is not anything out there for me, and I should just relax more, and BE.

      That doesn’t mean I won’t get snarly once in a while if I see someone running the race a little faster than me…

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