The power of the pause

Earlier this year I left my full-time job.

Something else was calling me, but I didn’t know what. So, I decided to clear some space in life and give myself permission to pause and figure it all out. I am sure many thought I was crazy, offering an uncertain ‘good luck’ as they didn’t quite understand.

It isn’t surprising given that work is a dominant value in our society. It’s usually the first thing you are asked when you meet someone new, ‘so what do you do for work’?... perhaps it defines far too much of our identity, it certainly consumes way too much of life.

I gave up work to temporarily do nothing, to be idle.

The word idle was used by Aristotle to mean ‘the cultivation of the most divine element in us through the exercise of leisure: spirited but serious reflection on who we are and what we are up to; free from base demands of mere usefulness’. His definition resonates with me, idle is time for introspection and reflection, tuning out to tune in.

In his TED talk, ‘The power of time off’, Stefan Sagmeister shares why he takes a year off in every seven. He closes his New York studio each time to explore projects and rejuvenate, this not only allows his mental health to improve, but allows ideas to incubate. He explains how his best work and creativity come out of the time off, which has meant that his business has flourished and he is better off financially.

Its often when we stop that our best ideas come to us. Ken Robinson, in his book, ‘Finding your Element’, also suggests cutting out the noise and clearing space, the real ‘gold’ he says, comes when we disrupt our normal patterns of thought.

Too often we go from job to job, sometimes without even taking a break. We do not give ourselves permission to pause for fear of being ‘idle’, when idle is the very thing we need to make our future self even better.

Then there is the temptation to fill every bit of our waking time with something. Something I was very guilty of, but there is power in nothingness and genius in boredom. Boredom makes us seek that which is unfamiliar to us. 

I have to say it has been one of the best decisions I have ever made. The break has been like looking in a very uncomfortable mirror, to take away work and ask, ‘who am I when I am not a XXX professional'. I understand that to not work for some time is a privilege, a privilege many cannot afford. For this I am very grateful.

My ‘idle time’ allowed me to cultivate new and ambitious plans. So now its back to work, but on my terms. I'm co-founding a social enterprise, writing a book, doing public speaking gigs, cultivating skills I didn't even know I had. Its been a very special time of renewal and reinvention.

In a world where being busy is on trend, we have overlooked the power of nothingness, and over valued productivity. 

I’m not suggesting that everyone quit their jobs like me, far from it, but we should value the pause, the idleness, the gaps in-between for everything they can give, both intended and unintended benefits.

If you only take one thing from reading this article, let it be this question. How do you give yourself permission to pause? 

#pause #timeoff #reflection #creativity

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