“Sleep is for sissies.” This is how Alan Derickson summarizes the prevailing opinion of many executives in his recent article, ‘Real Men Go to Sleep.’ According to Derickson, roughly one-third of working Americans survive on less than 6 hours of sleep each day, an amount which not only decreases productivity and decision making ability, but also increases the risk of cardiovascular and gastrointestinal conditions.
These folks aren’t sleeping less because they think it’s a good idea, though, but rather because a “sizable contingent of self-disciplined professionals in positions of authority continue to perpetuate unhealthful patterns by pushing themselves and others under their control to turn work into a restless marathon.” Their message – “sometimes implicit, often boastfully announced” – is that relentless, all consuming effort shows strength and sleep equals weakness.
As I read Derickson’s article I was immediately struck by how similar his observations were to the recent thoughts expressed by a good friend, Brad Lomenick, on the related topic of rest.
Brad is the Executive Director at Catalyst, an organization dedicated to serving young leaders, and he recently began a 3-month sabbatical. A couple weeks ago I took advantage of Brad’s temporarily less hectic schedule and conducted an informal interview on the value of sabbaticals. Unsurprisingly, the conversation quickly migrated beyond the specific issue of sabbaticals to the larger question of rest.
Brad offered some thoughtful insights that I wanted to share with you here and that you will notice echo, in many ways, the thoughts of Derickson on sleep. This, of course, isn’t a coincidence. The attitudes of the leaders described by Derickson are simply a representative snapshot of our prevailing attitudes on rest.
In our conversation Brad continually gravitated toward two particular questions:
Why are young leaders hesitant to embrace sabbaticals in particular, and rest in general?
Sabbaticals feel like, to many people who are in environments that require more leaning in and leaning forward, that you are losing ground, that you are getting behind your competition, or that you are losing the edge of your game…Even your peers within your organization might look at you like “you’re lazy” or “you’re just looking for an excuse to take more time away.”
What I would say to young leaders is, when you’re young, set up a rhythm of your work life that allows you take a break and a perspective that says, “I’m going to step away and pause and reflect.” This may not look like a sabbatical, but what it can’t look like is “I’m not willing to stop and reflect and recharge because I feel like I’ve got to get ahead and I feel like I’m going to lose ground if I rest.”
That’s the thing we have to get away from. That’s the lesson that I’m learning. As a leader, until I do this, until I step away to rest and reflect, then I really haven’t given permission for others on my team to feel like they can do it as well.
What are the benefits of regular rest in a healthy work-life rhythm?
The people I’ve seen that have really fresh vision, and continue to have fresh vision…the people that come up with great ideas and projects that make you say, “Where did that come from? What is allowing them to roll out some many new ideas and new visions?”…A lot of times it is fueled out a time of rest, out of a time of recharging.
The sense that fresh vision requires a fresh mind is a perspective changer, because we often think “Well I can’t step away to come up with something, I just need to grind through it.” When it comes to vision, though, I think we have to step back, and that is what I’ve seen from people I admire, that are older, that are wiser, that are mature. Many times their sense of fresh vision came from a fresh mind, not from a mind that was scattered and distracted and stressed.
The other thing is the idea that we have to rest, especially today. We are way too bent toward busyness. Whenever someone asks how we are, our answer is always “I’m really busy.” What if our answer was “I’m rested right now. My life is simplified. I feel rejuvenated.” What if that was the answer?
We Would Rather Be Busy
The hard truth is that we often can’t answer that way because we value our busyness. We value the feeling that comes from knowing we are swamped and that everyone is counting on us. We wear our haggard faces and bloodshot eyes as proud badges.
Wayne Muller captured this wonderfully, writing,
“We say this to one another with no small degree of pride, as if our exhaustion were a trophy, our ability to withstand stress a mark of real character. The busier we are, the more important we seem to ourselves and, we imagine, to others. To be unavailable to our friends and family, to be unable to find time for the sunset, to whiz through our obligations without time for a single mindful breath, this has become the model of a successful life.”
Muller wrote this in his work, Sabbath, published in 1999. How much more true is it today? How much busier have we become? How much more scattered, disconnected and exhausted are we? How much more hesitant are we step away and rest, reflect and recharge?
Photo by: John Lambert Pearson