The Tyranny of Self-Imposed Obligation
I love vacations! Vacations give us the chance to step outside of our routines and the everyday demands of our lives. Here’s a quick list of the things I don’t do on vacation.
Instead, here are the things that I do on vacation.
Just writing about vacation and visualizing myself there fills my body with tranquillity. The familiarity of our everyday routines can create the illusion of peace, but it lacks the serenity that accompanies time without obligation.
My last vacation was with my family in January. It was a lovely trip, and we knew it would be one of a fleeting few remaining with my older daughter starting college this fall. After her departure a few weeks ago, I realized that I needed a vacation. Mentally, I was exhausted. Reading my social media feeds was draining my energy instead of fueling my creativity. It was a struggle to write and develop content for my business. So I permitted myself to take a digital break. I stopped writing my blog. I limited my engagement on social media, personally and professionally. I didn’t attend my weekly networking groups on zoom.
My original plan was for a single week. My father was in town to help me with a home renovation project, so the timing was perfect. But the next week, I was still on the struggle bus. Every internal push met a mental shrug and sigh. My vacation was not finished.
As I examined my internal struggle regarding my hiatus from virtual communication channels, I asked myself some tough questions about my commitments to myself and my business. I am selective about the obligations I assume because fulfilling my commitments to the best of my abilities is one of my core values. I realized that posting regularly, engaging with others’ posts, creating new content, etc. were tasks that I’d accepted and could also refuse.
In its truest definition, an obligation has an ethical or moral context. Clearly, electronic engagement doesn’t meet this definition. Instead, content generation and attention are functions of business development. As business owners, we do these things to gain exposure to our target audiences, build awareness about our services, and build relationships with others in the business community. We benefit from these things and the free platforms that we use benefit from our activity. I like when businesses value customer loyalty, and at some level, appreciate that this is what social media is doing when they increase the exposure of their most consistent users.
However, many people feel shackled by the demands of maintaining an active social media presence. In my view, consistent engagement on electronic business channels is a throttle that we all have the power to adjust. We can allow them to rule us as dictators or exert our free and independent will. When we allow the judgments of others to shape our narrative about ourselves, we enslave ourselves.
So, if you too are feeling burnout from the demands of maintaining your digital presence, make your own list of all the things you gain from taking a vacation. Allow your mind and body to reconnect with the tranquility you experience when you disconnect. And then give yourself permission to take the vacation from your digital life that you have earned.
You have power and voice in this relationship. You don’t have to buy into the fear-driving narrative that keeps you compliant with the demands of a business partner who will never stop asking for more from you. The only person who can release you from this grind is YOU, so just let it go.
When Moving Forward Means Letting Go
When you are scaling the rockface, it takes a lot of trust to let go and reach for the next hand or foot hold. And yet, the only choice is to keep climbing, or concede defeat and rappel back to the ground.
Last month my husband and I passed another significant milestone. Our firstborn child started her freshman year of college in another state. I won't lie. The teen years have worn on us, and we fantasize about our empty nest phase. So I was unprepared for how displaced I felt upon returning home.
My rational thought process was out of sync with my emotional self. During the move, I drove away sadness with mental pep talks like these.
"This is not about you, it is about her. This is a happy and exciting moment. Be in the moment with her and enjoy it!"
Upon returning home, however, I was confronted by my inner turmoil. I tried and discarded many labels -- Was I anxious about her happiness? Was I fearful about her health and safety? Was I missing her? After many days of contemplation, I realized that I was grieving. I let my daughter go out into the world to live a life independent of her father and me. And despite the fact that this was the natural progression and something that I rationally wanted, I was also grieving the end of a togetherness we would never again inhabit. For 18 years, we had occupied a space and definition of our lives that would never exist again. It is bittersweet.
While sitting in deep reflection, I began to see parallels between my personal experience and my professional work, which brings me to this new article series - #LETGO. I'm a visual person, and in my mind's eye, I see horizontal travel when I think about moving forward. However, through this experience I realized that a better visual in many instances is to think of a mountain climber. Using their hands and feet, mountain climbers learn to let go of the rock, ledge, or crevasse where they feel secure in search of the next hold that allows their progress to continue.
I have entered a new parenting stage that requires me to let go of where we have been and journey forward into the unfamiliar. This progress is essential and welcome, and yet it is also the ending of something more cherished because it is ending.
It's been my privilege to work with small business owners who have reached a similar phase. In the early years of growth and development, they were actively involved in every area of their business. They understood it more deeply than anyone else, and their success was attributable to their consistent hard work.
Eventually, the overwhelming success of their labor created a demand that exceeded their capacity. Like Atlas, they began to stagger under the weight of the world they had made. Exhaustion, worry, and self-doubt replaced the joy and confidence they had known for so long.
These business owners hired people to help them, and then struggled to entrust them with authority. Although the owners were incapable of juggling all the balls in the air, they felt equally incapable of ceding control and responsibility to others. They didn't know how to be the business owner if they weren't managing everything. And so they were stuck in the middle of their climb, unable to ascend higher. They needed to learn that the only way forward was letting go and reaching for the next handhold.
In these moments, the work is learning to become the next evolution of who we need to be while guiding employees to become what we have already mastered. It requires confidence in others and yourself. It also demands the building and testing of systems and processes that may not have existed before, just as climbers utilize carabiner clips.
When you are scaling the rockface, it takes a lot of trust to let go. And yet, the only choice is to keep climbing, or concede defeat and rappel back to the ground. Me, I love to see my child and my clients move forward; defeat is not in my vocabulary!