Skip to content

Attention Overachievers: You Have Permission to Let Go

March 3, 2012

I can’t imagine where all of the slouches have gone.

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.

You can practically hear the value-added theme music playing in the wake of their paths.

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, followed by a quiet 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. As if the work we are doing will prevent the earth from spinning off its axis.

I worry we are losing perspective.

A friend of mine frequently attends evening meetings that may go until 11 pm. Then he insists on dragging himself out of bed at the crack of dawn the next morning in order to get 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 tell you: 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 thirty 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.

What is it you need to give yourself permission for? And what is stopping you?

41 Comments leave one →
  1. March 3, 2012 4:27 pm

    Oooh, I really, really love this. Thank you.

    But… only one hour late after pulling an 11:00 p.m. day?? Should count for at least two!

    Especially love the little throw-away: ‘hamster in our mind’ – cause that’s exactly what it often feels like.

    I used to call those days off ‘mental health’ days for my kids when I could see they were getting buried alive by school/church/friends/sports/music – even our kids are over-pressured, over-scheduled. You’ve got a great list here – now to take it to heart.

  2. March 3, 2012 6:21 pm

    road trip…here i come!

  3. March 3, 2012 10:49 pm

    This is good stuff. You over-achiever you!

    Seriously, I don’t know how the slackers do it. What I do know is that they are all hanging out at Starbucks in the middle of the day and I say to myself, “What am I doing wrong?” Think I just might need to join them next time.

    • March 5, 2012 9:25 pm

      Susan – I dare you to block out a lunch hour to go to Starbucks, put on some headphones, and just hang out, or write. Like it’s a meeting with yourself. I have done that a few times (to be honest, it’s not easy to make time for that during the work week, but once in a while…)

      It really is fun.

  4. daphinas permalink
    March 4, 2012 6:19 am

    Thank you for the day off, Brad.

    But how does a small business owner dare do that?

    Or… what are they doing wrong if they feel unable to stop working and take a break?

  5. March 4, 2012 8:21 am

    One of my personal mottos is: Aim high, settle for less. That once popped out of my mouth and it was a bit shocking to the audience I was speaking to; but you know what, I stand by it :)!

    • March 5, 2012 9:26 pm

      There is something liberating about that… I like that you encourage the “aim high” part. We all need that, and then a balanced approach to getting there.

  6. March 4, 2012 8:41 am

    The steady blare for ‘excellence’ can drown out a life well-lived; the insistence on ‘more’ inevitably leads to less somewhere else. Thanks for a good apologia of sabbath, and for permission to ease up a bit…

  7. March 5, 2012 8:18 am

    This post was entirely too wrong for a productivity freak like myself. Then again …. I read every word and it’s so amazingly true. These poor clerks in 7-11 are being measured by their productivity. My son the nurse gets a measurement. Meanwhile, Congress dawdles…but that’s for another blog.

    Now, I have to confess. I have recently taken a power nap right on my floor. No pillow. No blanket. But I just felt the crush of no sleep and pressure and I laid down and actually fell asleep for about 10 minutes. I even had a little sleep drool — but I felt amazing the rest of the day

    • March 5, 2012 9:38 pm

      Good for you, David! The mid-day power nap is one of the most underestimated weapons of productivity… I wonder why it remains such a taboo in the workplace.

      • March 6, 2012 8:40 pm

        At the very large aerospace company that starts with a B and ends with an oeing, where my husband works, the policy is that one cannot be disciplined for sleeping on the job unless that individual HIDES to take a nap.

        Then you’re in trouble. But right there at your desk, for all the world to see? No problem.

  8. March 5, 2012 10:14 am

    This is good stuff. It’s all about perspective. I think a lot of it has to do with where we derive our value. If we feel valued because of what we accomplish, then we’ll be the hamster on the wheel. But when we can find our value in who we are in Christ, that’s when we can begin to truly give ourselves permission to have a biblical perspective on life – and a biblical balance is achieved in the process.

    • March 5, 2012 11:30 am

      I like your comment about finding our value in Christ. It is so true but also quite a journey to take specially for a hamster like me … And yet promises to be so fulfilling at the end of that journey.

  9. March 5, 2012 10:21 am

    I watched an interview with Eugene Peterson last week on the topic of Sabbath. One of the things he said which I’ve been mulling since then is that Sabbath-keeping is profoundly inefficient in human terms. Stopping–ceasing from work–is a means of putting things into perspective; chiefly, that God controls the universe and I don’t. Some of us need to be reminded of that more frequently than others. Your list above looks like a bunch of mini-Sabbaths, time-outs to put things in proper perspective.

    • March 10, 2012 12:07 pm

      But the irony is that we become all the more productive when we stop to take time for those “inefficient” Sabbath-rests. It’s part of that wholeness and balance necessary to make us human beings!

  10. March 5, 2012 6:22 pm

    I was feeling a tad bit guilty about taking Wednesday off to go fishing. I feel better now. Thanks Brad! And, oh…Daphinas, I am a small business owner. Leave someone else in charge and if there is no one behind you, forward the calls to your cell and be selective in answering. Very selective.

    • March 10, 2012 12:08 pm

      You are a great role-model, Phil. Don’t ever feel guilty for taking time now and then to do what you love. You will come back with more to give back to others. Right?

  11. March 5, 2012 6:47 pm

    I think we should all be reminded of Ecclesiastes 3. There’s a time for everything–including “slacking” 🙂

  12. March 6, 2012 8:34 am

    Awesome. So perfect. I just have to report that our Spring Break trip to the south was canceled because both my daughters got sick. So we drove back home to an empty house and neighborhood with nothing to do all week. It was HEAVEN!!!! We walked in the woods and even went owling. I’ve taken simple photos of nothing special 🙂 No productive at all.

    • March 10, 2012 12:11 pm

      That really does sound great. Leaving plenty of space for rest and serendipity and exploring and spontaneous conversations. And even boredom, which is totally under-rated these days.

      Owling sounds very cool. Did you do it at night?

  13. March 6, 2012 9:02 am

    I’ll be laughing about the first sentence the whole day! Love this post!

  14. March 6, 2012 9:37 am

    I can now go to Mexico on Friday, guilt-free! Woot! Thanks Bradley. (Meanwhile, however, we’ve been burning the candle at both ends so we can actually get out of here. It will be worth it; I’m sure of it.)

  15. March 6, 2012 9:46 am

    Mister Bradley, before my husband lowered himself down a rung on the work ladder, sometimes what my son and I saw at the dinner table was the backside of his head as he fell asleep in his plate. It was horrid for him and us. And when he interviewed for the un-management job, his biggest obstacle was that nobody could understand why he didn’t want more.

    He told them he did, just not at work, but at home.

    Now we see his face each night at the dinner table. And every Saturday he and my son go snowboarding for seven hours. I don’t know if that counts as slouching, but it counts as living.

    Thanks for this piece.


    • johnny permalink
      March 13, 2012 8:11 pm

      Oh my gosh! That is EXACTLY what I’m working for: to lower myself down the career ladder and not be caught up in all of the hoopla. Just enough to pay the bills. For me, that means a high paying contract that I work for 6 months then take the next 6 months off. It could be happening right now were we a little more out of debt. [sigh]

  16. March 6, 2012 3:11 pm

    Thank you for this. It hit the spot. I am learning to shrug off the hold my perfectionism has on me by stepping daily into God’s Sabbath rest. He does not need my efforts to keep his world spinning.

  17. March 6, 2012 3:46 pm

    Do I have permission to leave email unanswered for another week? Do I have permission not to explore Pinterest for awhile longer?

    Man, you are speaking my language here. I have a very aggressive hamster in my head, and he won’t stop running on that stupid, squeaky wheel.

  18. March 6, 2012 8:55 pm

    Have you been listening to my conversations lately? You have written this for ME today. I needed to hear this, and in fact, after I share this post on Facebook, I think I am going to make a cup of tea and go lay in bed and just stare at the ceiling. Or maybe I’ll read, but nothing compulsory. Thanks for this, friend.

    • March 6, 2012 10:30 pm

      Thanks for sharing this post, Charity. Even those of us who don’t work outside the home can tend to act as taskmasters over ourselves. Last week, I filled my schedule past the brim and not just with things I was attending, but several things that I was leading. That meant late nights of preparation and early mornings of getting the kids and myself to our events on time. Eight days in a row of having multiple places to be (and being stressed pretty much every moment in between), and wouldn’t you know it on Sunday night as I wrapped up the stretch of overactivity, I got my first sore throat/congestion crud of the season. Lesson learned.

      • March 7, 2012 7:50 am

        In those periods of my life when I was a full-time homemaker I overscheduled and pushed much harder than I ever did at any paid employment. There’s no ceiling, no limit to what you can decide to shove into a day.

      • March 7, 2012 10:42 am

        So true, Sheila. Then there’s the whole multitasking thing and we end up never truly “being” where we are.

      • March 7, 2012 11:26 am

        So true…juggling all the time.

  19. March 6, 2012 8:58 pm

    It was only one spreadsheet, I only stayed an extra fifteen minutes, and then I took a whole week off!

  20. March 7, 2012 1:44 pm

    I think I might re-read that permission list just one more time…

  21. March 8, 2012 10:36 am

    Oh, I love this! I know that hamster very well. Thanks for the permission.

  22. March 9, 2012 7:31 am

    Great piece. In a profession where hyper-productivity is certainly expected/rewarded, it’s hard to take a break. Thanks for this reminder. I’m taking you up on it.

  23. March 14, 2012 11:47 am

    My boss has this great saying when the hamster wheel is in high gear: We’ll do what we can and not what we can’t.


  1. Things are ALWAYS how they seem…CTA | The Vault of Unfinished Thoughts
  2. Link love: Letting go of overachieving | Journey Through the Chrysalis

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: