Work Hard, Rest Hard

May 28, 2024

My friend Jonathan recently took a two-month sabbatical.  Over my standard breakfast at my favorite local bakery, he gave me the full debrief.  As I listened to his report, a powerful thought crept into my mind—“I need one of those.”

One Without the Other…

Work and rest are meant to go together. Work without rest does not allow for meaning and fulfillment. Workaholics don’t have time for reflection and course correction, and life has enough twists and turns that, without some pause, hard chargers eventually run off course.  One of my hobbies is biking, and I know that if I want to survive the ride, I need to coast down a downhill after a steep climb.  I can’t just keep pedaling with all I’ve got.  George MacDonald wrote, “Work is not always required.  There is such a thing as sacred idleness.”

On the other hand, rest without work also falls short and does not allow for peace and satisfaction. To be honest, it’s not even real rest if you haven’t worked beforehand.  That’s what makes a good sleep so good or a break so enriching.  It was preceded by hard work. I sleep hard when I’ve worked hard, and I’m not alone. A National Sleep Foundation study found that exercisers sleep better than non-exercisers.

Work and rest are married.  They’re not like a twin-engine plane that can fly on a single engine if needed.  They’re more like a pair of oxen—these two concepts must be harnessed together pulling your life in the right direction. If either one is unharnessed, success is impossible; the plow either goes wildly off course or crashes altogether.

Finding and Maintaining Balance

I believe we are all designed to have a balanced rhythm of work and rest. Here are ten insights that have helped me recapture and maintain that sense of balance in my life’s journey. They’re not rocket science, but I’ve found their simplicity and clarity helpful:

  1. Although the particulars of our jobs may vary, balance in work and rest is universally crucial to a life of flourishing.
  2. Rest requires that we stop working for some length of time.
  3. To stop working means I need to pull over, shut down, and turn things off. There is an explicit action to stopping.
  4. A hobby is an important structure to help with the balance of work and rest. Lots of top executives have learned this truth, from Condolezza Rice golfing to Warren Buffett playing the ukelele.
  5. My job cannot be my hobby.
  6. Work can become an addiction. And we usually need help beating addictions.
  7. The concept of Sabbath and the Year of Jubilee are biblical examples of weekly and seasonal resting. These must be scheduled into our system if they are ever going to happen.
  8. If my work is not filtered correctly on the front side, it will never be manageable on the backside.
  9. Hard work helps me rest. Good rest helps me work hard.
  10. What the fool does in the end, the wise man does in the beginning. Build rest into the rhythm of your life, before you get to a place in your life and work where you HAVE to take a rest.

On which side do you err? (It's no secret on where comedian Jim Gaffigan errs.)Pay attention over the next seven days, then 30 days, and make a decision to balance out the scale for whichever side you are leaning. Get a plan to balance out the rhythm between restoring rest and meaningful work.

On a recent trip I sat behind two gals who were very loud talkers and had lots to say. I wasn’t creeping on their conversation—quite the opposite! I just couldn’t get my earphones in fast enough. I unplugged just long enough to order a Diet Coke and discovered they were still on the same topic and tone where they had started 45 minutes before leaving Chicago. Both were complaining about the pace and demands of their job. Both were exhausted. Both hated their work, their bosses, and their co-workers. Neither had taken a vacation in over a year. The pace was killing them. Their individual families were in chaos. Life was horrible. They were both in a spiral and they knew it.

Although most of us probably struggle, like these women did, with too much work and too little rest, the opposite does happen. Often, the lack of engaged work slips in quietly. We get lazy in our work. We stop sharpening our saw, as Covey coined it. Or we become obsessed with a hobby, and our value and contribution begins to slide in  our work. We were all born with work muscles that must be exercised regularly. We have all heard of the foolish person who wins or inherits some money and they announce “No more work for me!” It rarely works out.

I need both work and rest in rhythm and concert. So do you.

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