Can we actually take time off?

In my group coaching of women who run businesses, we inevitably come upon the topic of taking time off. One woman will share that she hasn’t had a real day off in months – or longer – and ask how often others are taking time away.

Everyone will look around at one another, uncertain whether to be woefully proud or cheekily embarrassed of how long it’s been. And then everyone will tell one another how important it is to schedule time off, how much better we are when we’re rested, and how this week’s intention is to finally block off those days on the calendar.

But do they do it?

In my coaching circles, yes. But that’s because we revisit the topic until we are blue in the face. But otherwise I’m certain they wouldn’t.

To be clear, these are women who are running their own businesses. They are managing their own schedules and don’t have to even make a request to someone else to take time away.

You could make the argument that these are entrepreneurial workaholics, but the reality is that the situation is not better among those with corporate careers or other jobs. And ask a stay-at-home mama the last time she had a day to herself? We’re usually talking years.

The benefits of taking days off are clear, and I’m not sure that we have to convince ourselves of them. More rest translates to greater productivity, better life satisfaction, more resiliency, and a happier outlook. Taking regular time-off can help curb burnout and make us better parents, professionals, and people.

But what gets in the way?

Let’s first acknowledge that many of us are not eligible for PTO, and so not working means less income and potentially unpaid bills. Almost a quarter of U.S. employees do not receive PTO, and many of those have to make the essentially impossible choice to keep working despite needing and deserving time to recuperate.

Among those without official PTO, however, there are many of us who cite lost income as the reason to avoid days off, when in fact we could reasonably afford to take more time. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve asked a business owner what it would mean to her bottom line to take time off, and she has no actual idea. It’s not the dollar amount that deters her; it’s the feeling that it would negatively impact her. 

Similarly, about 27% of PTO went unused in recent years. When I asked our Instagram community this week what stops them from using PTO or scheduling days off, the responses looked mostly like this:

“My own fear of being seen as not doing enough.” 

“Constantly moving is like autopilot these days. I don’t even notice I’m not taking breaks.” 

“Guilt.” 

“Perfectionism.” 

“Finding childcare.” 

“My thoughts tell me I’m not being productive.” 

“Workloads that become more stressful if I push them off.” 

And the comments went on, primarily centering on themes of guilt, overwhelm, and a system that makes the practicalities challenging.

The bottom line is that we have been brought into a system that doesn’t support rest, and so we struggle internally and externally with engaging in it.

But the other thing is that while we didn’t create the system, we sustain it by not claiming the opportunities for rest that are available to us. When we push off days off or assume that we just can’t afford to take a mental health day, we perpetuate a culture that devalues our work and exploits our exhaustion.

I’m not suggesting that any of this is easy. Challenging internalized hustle culture or finding childcare to avoid losing your shit aren’t simple endeavors. But when we decide that it’s too much to try, we tacitly approve of a system that is harming us. 

I want us to take days to lounge and not think and do the things that fill us with pleasure. I want us to own our time in a way that many of our foremothers couldn’t. I want us to take a day off. 

Dr. Solomon is committed to an inclusive, culturally relevant, and evidenced-based approach to working with individuals. She utilizes her many years of experience as both a clinical psychologist and a corporate leader to support individuals in achieving their objectives. She has been trained as a Gaia Women’s Leadership Coach and blends her warmth, science-oriented brain, and real-life wisdom to support female-identified people during challenge points in their lives.

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