I was catching up with a friend over the phone this week. She moved to Brisbane last year and it had been a while since we last spoke. When we started catching up about our lives and the conversation turned to work - she said to me, “Have you found you’ve been doing even more work during COVID-19?”
Well lucky for me I spent two weeks on leave a little while ago - and it was marvellous!
While some businesses and organisations are asking their employees to take leave to reduce their overall liability during this period, I took leave purely out of the need to. I had originally planned on taking leave at the beginning of April to coincide with Easter. But changed my plans when the possibility of being able to “get away” became unavailable. I will hopefully find my way to Kosciuszko another time.
After another month or so of work I realised for myself that I wasn’t at my best. I was receiving communications and my internal response was apathetic. Which, I know, when I am at my best my innate posture is much more front footed and proactive. While my physical health and mental health were positive, my overall energy in relation to work was low. And prompted a conversation with my manager about the need for a break. From there it initiated a conversation between Kent and I about what it means to rest and rest well. What does it mean for us to recapture Sabbath as resurrection people?
Being on leave resulted in a lot of re-learning. Re-learning the importance of disconnecting from work and being reminded there are other things to do with life than work. I read a tweet from an organiser over my time off, she said, “Being trained as an organiser means spending most of your time advocating for others. Today I am remembering to advocate for myself as well.”
Time off from work should not be the only time we advocate for ourselves, but it's an incredibly important piece of the puzzle. And carving out that time and giving permission for ourselves to disconnect, switch off and power down from work can be immensely challenging for many of us. Our neoliberal system and protestant work ethic culture make for a deadly mix of constantly working ourselves to the brink of burnout. Perpetuating maladaptive boundaries around work can look like founding our self esteem in achieving and ticking things off our list, or using work to avoid or ignore other important parts of life. As well, our smartphones are constant reminders of work and sometimes before we know it we’ve reentered a work headspace when we’re supposed to be resting. These and a host of other reasons are often excuses for martyring ourselves through the quagmire of overworking.
One of the biggest lessons I relearned in my time off was that being well rested means I am better and more effective in my job. In the first few days of being back I had friends and colleagues say, “you look well rested”. And I had no idea what the signal was on my face that gave this away. But I could definitely feel it.
While there are many things we can be aware of for ourselves. We also need to look to broader systems and cultures that promote and perpetuate unhealthy behaviours and inequalities. Part of the trouble is the unaffordable economy we live under. For many of us we MUST work full time in order to pay bills and even have a chance at saving, considering that most of us probably don’t live in affordable housing. (Housing is considered affordable if you spend less than a ⅓ of your income on rent). Some of us also work for organisations or businesses that don’t promote healthy boundaries. People end up with overloaded position descriptions where they are expected to fulfil the work of 2 or more people and unsupportive management that don’t advocate for their staff but instead shift blame onto them.
Recapturing sabbath means understanding there are other things to do in life than work. In fact Sabbath isn’t just about rest, but is fundamentally about enjoying creation in all that it has to offer us. And how are we to do that if we are always working or just simply too tired to enjoy it. And part of being resurrection people is the belief that life comes after death. To find life, sometimes, we need to stop doing the thing that is dead. If overworking doesn’t bring life to you, then it probably isn’t bringing life to others around you either. So why would we keep doing it? (Acknowledging what I just said about an unaffordable economy).
Over these pandemic months, for many us, our boundaries have shifted dramatically and become very blurred. We are working, studying and resting at home. It can make things confusing and off kilter and leave us unsure about how we navigate the need for rest. Maybe we are reluctant to take time off work because we can’t go somewhere for a holiday. Good rest, however, is not just found in “going somewhere” for escape and it isn’t measured by a list of things you tick off. It's found in being present to ourselves; in reconnecting with our intuition enough to discover what we really want to do in that moment. Unfortunately, this is not something we are often spared in work when we are constantly evaluating our past actions and thinking about what’s coming up tomorrow.
Advocate for yourself. Find ways to be present in the moment. And enjoy creation.
In a 24/7 world, even a pandemic one, making and holding space for ourselves to disconnect from work and our phones, being present to ourselves and our families, enjoying life and creation is incredibly radical, necessary, subversive, culture setting and life giving.
And really, if we aren’t doing these things, are we really living?