You DON’T need a break. [On The Contrary] Sep07

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You DON’T need a break. [On The Contrary]

The point of Labor Day weekend has always flummoxed me. Why do we need a holiday weekend at the end of August? Presumably we’ve been taking our vacations sometime over this period, and enjoying those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer. Yet apparently we need a break after all of that, a break that completely robs the week we now find ourselves in of any momentum. In school, we’d often start classes the week before Labor Day, only to immediately go into a 3-day weekend, completely throwing off class schedules right when they should be getting started.

I’m not against holidays, and certainly not against the labor movement that this most recent holiday commemorates (unions helped put food on my table throughout my childhood). But there does seem to be a prevailing notion in our society that encourages us to take breaks more often than we need them. Advertising constantly encourages give ourselves a break, or have a treat. Self-help books and novels encourage us to find ourselves on vacations—to escape from the stress of our busy days.

But how busy are our days, really? Certainly there are those out there who work 60 hours and more a week, who struggle through multiple jobs to support family or maintain a decent quality of living. But those people probably aren’t taking breaks—they can’t afford to. For the rest of us who work closer to 40 hours (or less) we probably tend to give ourselves too many breaks.

Ok, I give myself too many breaks. I’ve never found it difficult to stop working and take it easy. It’s getting going again that is the real difficulty. There is nothing I have found that is more addictive than complacency—it’s really the root of all continuing bad habits. Rest is more addictive than crack. (Not that I’ve never tried crack, but I hear it’s addictive. To put it more in my experience, rest is more addictive than Pinkberry.)

It’s so easy to settle in to watch a football game, read a book, or surf the web and have the hours fly by, while I keep telling myself “Just one more chapter,” or “I’ll just watch the first half.” Before I know it, an entire day has been frittered away.

“That’s ok,” people say, “it’s the weekend and you need to give yourself a rest.” A rest from what? The interesting thing about rests is that when you really need one, you’ll take one. Your body or mind will put you down and say, “No more. You’re going to sleep now, whether you like it or not.” Most other times, I’m just convincing myself that there’s justification to my laziness.

Actually taking a break should be an active choice rather than a passive one. If you really have a problem spending too much time working and have to force yourself to rest, I envy you. But in that case, you are being active in choosing to take a break rather than just lazily continuing to do nothing. It’s really the equivalent of me forcing myself to go back to work after a layoff.

September is a month where everything seems to be starting, and where respite seems to be far away. The holidays are as far from us now as the start of summer is in the other direction. With schools starting, network television seasons ramping up, the NFL getting rolling, and even the start of Oscar season at the multiplexes, it can feel a little overwhelming. One might even be tempted to think that a break is in order. Action is the best way to alleviate stress, though, not inaction. So please, stop saying we need to be easier on ourselves. If anything, we need to be harder.

Now excuse me while I take a two-week break before my next column…

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featured image credit: Incinerator