Can you really take a day off?

There was a time when I believed – when I was totally convinced – that I could not take a day off.

Maybe it was the example of my parents, whom I saw work tirelessly every single day, never letting go of the responsibilities of their jobs, and never taking a day off unless they were absolutely required to (and by that I mean, being so sick they had to be admitted to the hospital).

Or maybe it was medical school, where I learned by working alongside residents and fellows who would regularly show up to work sick, because they “couldn’t take a day off”. On one rotation, I recall the vascular surgery fellow being so rundown from flu-like symptoms that he had to dash out of the operating room to throw up in the scrub sink during a procedure he was performing. I watched wide-eyed and took everything in, my mind drawing the conclusion that “people with important jobs can never take a day off“.

I became determined to find work that would enable me to take a day off, and still be considered important.

The problem was, I really had no idea what was truly important to me. I had many concepts that had been implanted by messages from my family, from images in movies and advertisements, and from the culture in which I was living. “What’s important” was a moving target, a reaction to whatever “everyone else” appeared to be doing.

Meanwhile, in my heart I knew that I wanted to make a difference in this world, to care about something genuinely, and to share my story somehow in this life.

But the only way I knew – based on what I had seen, learned, and been taught – was to put my head down and work.

I worked hard at everything I did. I didn’t take many days off. When I did, I remember feeling an odd combination of freedom and loss.

“Who am I without my email inbox full of requests and my voicemail full of messages?”

“Who am I when I am not answering to anyone else?”

“What would I choose to do if I had an entire day with no obligations, no one telling me where to be or what I had to do?”

Questions like these would pop up in the few instances I let myself off the hook and took a break. The questions themselves brought up feelings of fear and confusion, because no one had ever asked them of me before. I had never dared take the time to find out what the questions might reveal, if I invited them into my life.

So I pushed them away, filling my time with work instead.

It was easier than grappling with the questions.

And yet I know now, looking back, that the times when I felt the courage – the imperative – to take time away from my routine and give myself a change of place, a change of pace, and a piece of open space to allow these questions to surface, have been food for transformation in my life. Had I not followed the instinct to “Just do it”, I would not have been given the chance to watch my true story unfold, and so many of my genuine desires come into reality.

These days I am often approached by people for advice on career transition, achieving happiness or fulfillment, healing from chronic medical diagnoses, and how to get “unstuck” in life.

I listen, and I am always deeply humbled by the courage required to put our struggles into words and share them with another person.

I know that, being another human being, I never have the answers for another human being. To say that I do would only feed that part of our minds with an insatiable appetite for certainty and control – the same part that tells us we can never take a day off.

The coaching or healing or help or support I provide – whichever word you choose to describe the energy of being in the presence of divine acceptance of what is – is a practice of opening space, of giving permission to ask the questions that come up (no matter how much fear accompanies them), and celebrating the miracle of the unique journey we each take in this life.

So, can you really take a day off?

I don’t know the answer for you.

But if the question interests you, why not try it and see where the answer takes you?

Here’s an opportunity to join me and my friend Mary Bartnikowski – photographer, author, kundalini yoga instructor, and world traveler – for a May Day ReTREAT at the beach in Half Moon Bay: Spring Cleaning For Your Soul

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