When you're reaching for a goal, you're allowed to go slow.
I am on vacation with my family this week.
It is lovely. As I type this I can hear the ocean and feel the hot sun on my neck.
I used to drag work with me on vacation. Either physically, or mentally. Scroll through unfinished projects in my mind. Worry about all the things I wasn’t doing while I was away. I’d feel guilty for not working, but then feel guilty if I did take some time to work. I wasn’t able to create clear boundaries for myself and everything blended together.
I stopped doing that a year or two ago. It was hard work. But I told myself before this trip began that I didn’t have to work or write while on vacation. I set clear expectations with my clients, and with myself. And I have learned that taking a break and stepping away from the day-to-day always pays off for me. I find myself coming up with new and creative ideas. Feeling much more productive, and generally reengaging with enthusiasm upon my return.
Even with clear boundaries in my mind. Even after telling myself I was “allowed” to relax and take a break this week. A few days into vacation and it’s hard to drown out that buzz of anxiety about not making progress.
For those of us who are strivers, who are achievers, who are trying to reach goals, there is always a lingering question. What happens if we’re not working toward our goals? Who are we and what are we doing if we’re not productive?
And then there’s the worst fear of all, tickling at the back of my mind. The black and white thinking that creeps up, no matter how much I embrace the reality of the gray in life. The fear that time off from making progress means that I’ve fallen off the wagon and into a ditch. All the progress that I’ve made is for naught. Taking a break means I will never reach my goal. A few days off means failure, and not the kind that you teaches you to grow.
It’s the dark side to striving for goals. The belief that productivity is black or white in that way — you either are or your aren’t. But I try to remind myself. Redirect my thoughts. The pursuit of goals is not the pursuit of perfection. There is no predetermined path. There is not only one way to get there. And there is not only one speed that is the right one to reach those goals.
And here is the truth: there is no wagon, and there is no ditch. And the path to your goals is never going to be straight, no matter how much you plan.
There are a lot of reasons that we take breaks in the pursuit of a goal. Some of them are self imposed, others are when life gets in the way. Sometimes we can have the best intentions but we simply can’t move forward at the speed that we’ve hoped.
But the truth is, what difference does the speed make?
We set in our head that we need to achieve a certain thing by a certain date. I need to complete these work tasks by the end of the week. I need to write this many words each day to finish my novel by June. And if we go slow, or take some time off, it feels like a failure. And then we feel like a failure. And then we spend so much time beating ourselves up that we run out of time to work toward that goal, at any speed.
But perfection is unattainable, as we all know.
I am the kind of person that loves control. I love to think that I know what will happen in advance. But the truth is, even if I worked every day of this break, it still might take me longer than I expected to reach my goal. I don’t have that kind of control over the outcome. And sometimes, I need to allow life to unfold in all its imperfect and lumpy ways. I need to accept that some weeks I’ll win the race. And others I won’t quite make it to the starting line.
Fast or slow. Breaks or no. If we trust ourselves. That breaks don’t mean the end. That the steps we take can be giant, or they can be tiny. Even standing still for a week is a way of holding ground. It’s not a backwards step, like beating myself up might be. Or giving up all together. It’s a pause. It’s holding the thought. The story will continue, after this important break.
If I trust that I will keep working toward my goal. If I know that I will take my next step forward upon my return. That’s all I can control. The rest isn’t up to me.
So, we’re all a work in progress. I’m still trying to develop a better relationship with myself. To trust that I can take this time off. And then get back to my goals. It’s hard work. But I believe in myself.