Written by Founder and CEO, Sara Potler LaHayne
Today one of my colleagues was out with strep throat. Another had a bout of food poisoning and was taking conference calls from the couch. And there I was, in the office, hacking between meetings and hoping no one noticed. I looked up at one point and thought, has it really been six months since I’ve been back on the grid, returned to the hustle of New York City, grinding away again on the day-to-day?
One of my friends recently accused me of “running away” from all the pressure back in June, when I departed on an international sabbatical. He knew that I had hit a breaking point in creative stagnation, email suffocation, and meeting overload. I prefer to think of the decision to pause less like a departure from my routine and more like a leap toward a renewed commitment to the core of what drives our work- expression and contemplation- and in turn, what drives me. Sitting here sick, tired, and still working at 10pm on a Tuesday- how well am I actually doing at keeping up with the top lessons I learned from going off the grid?
I’m fairing OK, but not great, given the time of night and the flu my body’s fighting against. When and why do we fall off the train, and how do we get back on? What gets us out of our rhythm? It’s certainly easy to put into practice all of these rituals when we have all the time in the world that is a sabbatical. But when we’re back in the rat race, how do we keep finding the power of pause?
This is where I’m still succeeding to find the power of pause, nearly one year later…
1. Looking for pause micro-moments.
No, I cannot take another 6 week pause anytime soon. I am back to 5:30am wake-ups and packed days and lots of people who are depending on me. But I am finding mini pauses- a breath over my morning coffee, a walk around the block between phone calls, 2 minutes of playful laughter with colleagues before jumping into the next meeting. My favorite pause ritual is every evening when I come home, and my husband and I share three highlights from our day and something that we are grateful for in that moment. This keeps us connected to ourselves and one another, even when everything around us is swirling.
2. Refusing to compromise my creative sanctuary.
I have made a point of not missing dance classes since being back in New York. When I have a tough day full of rejections and obstacles, I know that during dance class I can close my eyes and feel an almost tribal, cathartic connection to my free, creative spirit. That creative release throughout the week has become sacred.
3. Keeping myself grounded through morning rituals.
No matter what unfolds over the course of the day, I know that I begin with two key elements that keep me on track- the Artist’s Way Morning Pages, and a good workout. If I can excavate muddy thoughts in my head and sweat out any stress before I tackle the day, I have a clear mind and endorphins to boot.
4. Creating more thorough, intentional time for holding ourselves accountable.
Fortunately Yom Kippur occurred a few months after being back, and it forced me to check myself against my own intentions. There’s nothing better than an entire day of starvation, meditation and prayer to force you to reflect on where you’re going astray and how you can do better. Although the micro-moments are what make the days more meaningful, it’s carving out separate space to reflect alone and with those we love that allows us to hit “reset” and correct where we need to.
5. Smiling at strangers.
There’s an older man who sits outside the closed-down restaurant on my block every day. I can always count on him to be there at 8:30am on my walk to work in the morning. Looking into his face shining from the brisk morning sun and smiling at him fills me up, inevitably. I noticed that while I was on sabbatical I smiled at the whole world. Why would I smile at every barista, taxi driver, and person on the street only while “on pause”? Keeping up the practice of sharing joy and laughter with strangers has helped remind me what’s actually important, especially when competing demands make it easy to forget.
How I’ve fallen off the train, and where I can do better…
We all know that sleep is critical to succeeding in work and in life. According to the Better Sleep Council, sleep deprivation impairs “learning, memory, alertness, concentration, judgment, problem solving and reasoning, as well as increase your risk of accidents.” I was on a 7.5 hour-a-night regimen, and now my bed time keeps creeping later but the 5:30am wake-up remains the same.
2. Consistently meditating.
When I’m on my game, this happens nightly. I threw myself back into a highly stressful period at work, and the evening meditations have become more intermittent. This has been manifesting recently in more restless nights.
3. Listening to my gut.
When I was living in the monastery and meditating 16 hours a day, there was ample time and silence to listen to my heart. There was no noise and no distractions. I had the clarity of knowing what I wanted and how I was going to make it happen. Now that the emails have returned with the calendar invites and competing priorities, it’s getting harder to weed out the clutter clouding my intentions.
4. Owning my value.
When I was away, the only people I might compare myself to were my fellow dancers and the Buddhist monks. Though intimidating, I understood the purpose of the time and the influence the other dancers and spiritual teachers had on my personal practice. Three months back in New York, facing daily rejections and oppositions, it’s easy to constantly question if what I’m doing is adequate. When I look around me, it can feel like I’m not doing enough in all aspects of my life. I know I need to celebrate that I’m doing what I can as a dancer, as a sister, as a daughter, as a wife and as a leader.
5. Letting it go.
In many ways I am currently carrying more pressure than I did ten months ago, before the sabbatical. I feel the weight on my shoulders almost every moment of the day, and as I head to sleep at night. I need to allow this weight to pass over and through me, to make way for the wonder and play that I know I need in order to feel human.
We can’t all take a sabbatical, but we can each recognize the importance of pause, reflection, and renewal. Hitting reset allows us to come back with newfound energy and perspective. This is a process, and we can continue to check ourselves to see where we need to re-calibrate. I’m going to start by going to bed.