An American plan for better work: Stop.

A rest ethic to accompany your work ethic.


There are few things as American as the work ethic. Some call it the “Protestant work ethic”, connect it to religion, and claim it sacred. That’s their choice, but those people would do good to note: not all that’s worshiped is holy.

And that’s the thing. We often treat our work as if it is high, special, sacred. When work calls, we do. We go. We run. And in the mean time we forget that there are other things in life that require doing, and going, and running — more than our work. 

The proposal

The idea is simple: work gets tough, so stop.

Stop working. Go somewhere where you can’t work. Turn your phone off, unplug, recharge. Then come back, emptied of work, ready to fill up again.

Do it for one week. Do this once, then plan to do it again, in one year. Make this a ritual for life — take your family, go with like-minded friends. People will help you unplug completely.

Plan for it. Save your money all year so you can do this. Entrust your work to trusted colleagues while you’re gone. Watch your life unfold as you travel through time from one period of rest to the next.

Rely on it. Do things that refresh your heart and soul, like playing games with your spouse and kids. Take pictures and hang them on the walls of your house. Look forward to this time, and make it everything you need it to be.

Start working again. Get back into work immediately. Dive into it like an Olympic diver. And know that, no matter how tough things get, you’ve got another breather waiting for you in just a few short months.

The excuses

It’s too expensive. Yeah, it is. That car was “too expensive” too, but you bought it. This isn’t expensive. This is priceless. 

I’m too busy. Exactly. Did you read the proposal? You do this because you’re busy.

I just don’t trust anyone to take over for me at work. Sorry. People probably deserve to be trusted a little more, though. If you never trust them with anything,  you’ll never trust them. With anything. 

I don’t have the money. Somehow people think this is different from “It’s too expensive”. You have the money, you just choose to spend it on other things. Put $50 per month into an envelope. That’s enough to do something fun for a week.

I don’t like vacations. That’s silly. Do anything fun (not work) without stopping for a week. That’s a vacation.

The problem

Conventional wisdom says to find yourself in your work. Find something you love to do, they say, and you’ll never work a day in your life.

The problem is that tomorrow you could be rendered unable to do your work. Then what would you be? Who would you be? If the time you feel really alive is only at work, that’s a problem.

Tell your wife that, and guess how she’ll put it together: if you’re alive at work, then when you’re with me you must feel… dead. 

Ultimately, that’s not her problem. It’s yours. It’s wrong that we can’t find anything to define us other than our work — especially when we have spouses, friends, children, churches, etc. These people deserve our time and effort, just as much as the things at our jobs do. Actually, what they deserve from us, is work. 

The truth

The truth is that there are things in life that are worth more than a paycheck. Oh — and for those who say their work is their passion, there are things in life that are worth infinitely more than that, too.

What good is it to live a life based on things that are not ultimate? If the unthinkable happens, and somehow your passion was taken away from you, what would you be left with?

The solution

The solution is to come to an understanding that people are more than what they do, that a person works better when their soul is full, and not emptied from years of overwork. If you can understand yourself in this way, you’ll eventually come to see other people that way as well.

Rest. The ancient Hebrews had a rhythm of life that was given them in their religion, and it mandated a day of rest on Saturday. Then, they had seven festivals every year, during which they were also not allowed to work. Somehow, they prospered. It was a way of reminding them that no matter how hard they worked, they ultimately would never be able to completely control their own success. They would always ultimately have to depend on God.

That’s more than a work ethic. That’s a rest ethic. 

Work. Work is an incredibly important thing. It should be attacked with vigor and skill. But it is not, and can never be, the only thing. A man (or woman), the saying goes, should work to live — not live to work.

Work without rest is drudgery. It does not require skill to devote time to a task, undivided. Skill is required if one is to balance work with something else. This is our calling, as workers — less conquering, more balance.

A wise manager will promote those who know how to balance many responsibilities. Imagine the kind of person who is sufficiently organized and mature that they have found a way to add a rest ethic to their work ethic. I think that’s the kind of person we want to be.

The why

The conclusion is the why, the reason for all this. It’s deep.

We don’t stop doing important things unless we find something more important. The thing is, more important things exist all around us, regardless of whether we recognize their worth. The stopping of something as important as our work requires us to find those things that are important enough to make us stop.

All of this thinking and planning will teach us 2 things.

It’ll teach us to go, do, and run for something other than our paycheck.

It’ll teach us that, even if our work is our passion, there are times when we need to let it be “just” a paycheck.

The planning and thinking we must do to learn these two things will make us better people, and, ultimately, better workers.

 

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