5 Lessons I Learned On Hiatus


I think there is a difference between burnout and the need to step back and reassess choices. I’ve been burnt crispy at multiple times during my adult life, usually as the result of constant (self-inflicted) pressure and a FOMO attitude that drove me to take on too many (and ill-fitting) things.

What happened in late April/early May was different. My daughter thinks it was empty nest syndrome come early. My coworker thought it was a midlife crisis (another?). One of my friends thought it was caused by the wild hormone shifts I have been experiencing (effing perimenopause). But it wasn’t burnout. It felt different.

In the immortal words of the Talking Heads:

And you may ask yourself, “Well, how did I get here?”

So after working with this and making some big changes in my life, I came up with lessons learned.

1. Getting Out of the Frantic Loop Was Necessary To See What Was

I was asked if I could have done this sort of re-evaluation of my life without disrupting everything. I don’t think it would have been possible. My life was so full of stuff that I didn’t have the bandwidth to consider what I wanted to be doing.

Breaking out of the frantic mode of doing things constantly was necessary to give me breathing space to do the thinking I needed to do. In addition, it also helped me see how many of my activities were necessary to my life. (Few were; and those that were necessary were the ones I wasn’t doing).

The easiest hiatus lesson: I had to stop doing everything in order to evaluate everything.

2. Vacations Are Necessary

One of the common complaints I have heard from people over the pandemic is that they are working longer hours from home because they don’t think about it. That hasn’t been my problem; since I bill hourly, I know how many hours I put in each day, and I’m good about stopping so that I don’t exceed client limits.

One thing I haven’t been good at, though, is taking vacations. In 2020 I didn’t take a full week off of work at all. In 2021, I took one full week off. Sure, there were many three day weekends, but I really believe I need a full week away from the office in order to fully rewind and recharge.

This also goes for other commitments. I haven’t taken time off from the blog in years – so long, in fact, I couldn’t find the last post where I announced a vacation. That tells me I have been doing this without ceasing since at least 2015, since I know I took a blog vacation when I was in school for my teaching license. In addition, I have been the sole technical support for an online group for four years, 24/7/365. Even when I was off work I still dealt with any problems.

All of this was unnecessary. I have paid time off for a reason…I earn it. And I shouldn’t spend my paid time off doing blogging catchup or tech support.

I took a week off from work in June. I will be taking a week off in August, and I will do my best to take at least one more before I get to December.

I need that time off to recharge, get out of my head and just be.

3. Examine Everything

Every time I have done a life evaluation before, some things were off the table. I never considered walking away from projects in progress, or relationships, or my career, or even my role in the household. This time everything was examined.

spark joy or get out

And while I laugh at it, the phrase “Spark joy or get the eff out” was a constant mantra. Anything that is not sparking joy got a much closer look and steps were taken to rectify the issue.

It means that my husband and I are now in counseling to build a relationship as empty nesters. It means that I will not visit my mother this year, in spite of her frailty, age and cognitive decline, because I won’t spend a week being the target of hypercriticism. It means that I am not returning to the choir until they stop singing in unison. It means that I have communicated clear expectations to husband and daughter that since I am the sole breadwinner, I will not be doing the cooking or weekly routine cleaning. It means that I got really honest with the women I consider friends and stopped hiding parts of myself and my life, and the relationships have grown closer and more meaningful. It means that I am (respectfully) calling out my OCD coworker when he criticizes me because I do things differently than him instead of internalizing the anger.

I’ve never done a shakeup that hits everything. And even though it was really scary, I feel much more centered and sure of myself. I know, as a result of all the thinking and journaling, that no matter what happens with these changes, I will be OK.

4. Recreation and Relaxation Have To Be Planned

One of the things I have really come to realize is there is no “free” time that will miraculously open up in my life. The pandemic showed me that even as my outside commitments dropped to zero and all my evenings were free, I still chose to fill the time with less-than-meaningful activities.

I’ve started time blocking so that my free time is not sucked away in housework or non-urgent stuff. That way I have time for my projects. But more important than that, I have to plan for reflection and relaxation. That means that at least two evenings a week are spent doing crafts or reading fiction.

I realized how necessary both of these activities were when I spent a week’s evenings crafting or reading. I no longer felt like I was taking time away from something else, and I felt refreshed after them as well.

There was a big side effect too: my creativity rebounded and I felt excited to blog, write fiction and make planners. This in turn has turned my big project work into something I look forward to and not dread.

As a result, I have non-negotiable evenings that I spend crafting or reading.

5. Going Beyond Was Fracturing My Soul

I have always been a person with too many irons in the fire. And my upbringing taught me that if I was doing something, it had to be done excellently (or perfectly, but that is a topic for another article).

So for every project I took on it became more as I drove myself to go the extra mile.

Instead of just writing blog posts, I felt I had to be on every social media platform, and do it well. This lead to countless hours of research to be on platforms I detested. Instead of publishing one article per week, I felt had to write a new one, plus revise an old one, plus do the patron or podcast article as well. Instead of working on my novel, I felt I had to read all of the articles and books to correct foundational issues. Instead of working on one craft project, I felt like I had to work on one of each type, and then make each better than the pattern I was following.

No wonder I was always out of time. Not only was I expending all this effort to go beyond the point of diminishing returns, but all the extra time needed for the effort was leaving me with zero free time. I found myself with no time left to think, plan, or even enjoy what I was doing.

And add that by the time I fell into bed, still later than I should have for optimal health, I read late into the night, because it was the only time that I got to do something I enjoyed for the sake of doing it.

A lot of the thinking as part of the hiatus has led me to scale back. I got rid of social media on the blog. I cut back how much content I was producing. I use my existing knowledge for writing and only researched when I ran across something I didn’t understand. And I work one craft project at a time and finish it before starting another or picking up something else.

This has freed up a lot of my discretionary time, as well as cultivated a sense of excitement about what I am doing.

Hiatus Lessons: At The End Of The Day

Change is not easy for me. I’m still not entirely comfortable with all the things that changed, nor how much changed. But I believe it was necessary in order to really be deliberate about my life. At the end of the day, I have to constantly remind myself that just because I can do something (as I did things before) doesn’t mean I should.

1 Comment

  1. This comes at a perfect time for me, as I am embarking on a 5 week hiatus of my own. You’ve given me some additional things to think about.

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