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Taking Breaks Is Inclusive Leadership

Seven years ago, I walked away from my last full-time office job. I chose entrepreneurship for a variety of reasons (the usual suspects: being my own boss, having flexibility over my own schedule, working almost exclusively on issues I cared about.)

But I had another reason. I wanted to take time off when I needed it.

At my last corporate job, I remember visiting my family in Singapore and having to dial into meetings at all hours of the night to keep up with my U.S. coworkers. Out of a three week trip (after flying 24 hours to get to Singapore), I only really got two weeks “off,” and was expected to be back in the office the morning I returned, after the 24 hour journey back.

I was supposed to just be grateful that my manager “let me” work from there.

My “usual suspects” reasons for leaving that job weren’t even that bad. I’ve met people who were forced to work for themselves after being told by employers to return to work after losing a parent, a child, or dealing with a grave illness (let alone, being able to take a break just because!).

Pardon my manners, but F- that.

The “grind until you’re dead” culture in the U.S. is strong. At some point in the pandemic, I lifted my head and realized I had actually taken on more work over the past year. Whether it was in response to the hustle I saw around me or my anxiety in the face of uncertainty, I’m not sure.

But I realized quickly I was ignoring one of the main reasons I started working for myself: to take breaks when I need them. Whether to visit family who live 24-hours-in-a-plane away, to attend a personal event, or to rest after a hectic work week.

It should come as no surprise that U.S. workers are very, very overworked. One study found we leave 768 million vacation days unused. Many don’t even have vacation days as the U.S. does not mandate paid time off (ahem, not even for birthing a child).

The time off I’m urging for does not mean “vacation” per se. I’m asking more of us to take a break — make what you will of that break.

Meanwhile, here are a few things I’m re-committing to:

  1. Taking time for lunch everyday and not scheduling meetings between 12-2 PM. Here’s more about why lunch is sacred to me in Harvard Business Review.

  2. Taking at least one weekday off every month. Over summer, I plan to take a month off where I don’t take meetings, attend conferences or speak publicly. This year, it will be August and likely most of December.

  3. Focus on not feeling regret or FOMO for being offline. Instead, feeling gratitude and joy that I can focus on recharging myself.

How do you take breaks? How do they make you feel (anxious, guilty, relieved, relaxed)?

Does your workplace or boss support you when you need them?


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