Up until recently (say the last couple of years), I haven’t been good at taking breaks from my work. I guess you could say that it started by growing up in a very German work-oriented family. I’m one generation from the farm. My father grew up on a farm, and I have a million stories of how at the age of 10 he was sent away to work on another farm for $1 a day to help support a family of 11 kids. My mother’s side of the family saw work as life. Their idea of a vacation was to spend the afternoon by a lake grilling.
As a kid during the summertime, I felt incredibly guilty for sleeping in or watching too much TV. As long as I can remember, I had some kind of job and, in some cases, I helped my family out when times were tough.
So, all of that is in me. And, for many, many years, I saw it as a badge of honor. As I grew up and had a family with two kids, when we did go on vacation, I always brought work with me and would get up early to “check emails” so that I could keep clients happy and show my boss I was responsible.
It wasn’t good. I regret that I wasn’t present to my family and that I wasn’t able to relax, because I thought work should always be my priority. And, quite frankly, the culture of our workplace was one that we should always check in. It showed how dedicated you were to the client and to the company. But I loved it because it just fed into my psyche of “you can never do enough.”
But over the last few years, I’ve changed. And I think it’s because 1) I don’t want that culture of “all work, all the time” at Veritus and 2) because I’ve seen how it’s damaged front-line fundraisers like you.
You have such a hard job. And I don’t have to get into the details about that, but you also have this “thing” either inside of you or coming at you from your non-profit culture that if you don’t keep at the work, something is going to suffer. Whether it’s a person, the planet, an animal, or a donor, if you take a break or a long vacation, you’re hurting your non-profit and the mission.
Believe me, Richard and I talk to fundraisers all the time about this. The culture overall from our industry is that “it’s never enough.” So, the pressure to take time for yourself seems, well… selfish and like you’re not dedicated enough.
But this is wrong. I know, because as I just told you, I lived it. I know there’s a lot of pressure on you to make your goals. And, because you’re a responsible person, you feel the weight of those goals – because if you don’t bring in that money, someone, or something, is going to suffer because of it.
But you know the real suffering is going to be on you… if you don’t allow yourself to take a break. One of the best things I ever did was take a three-week sabbatical. I turned off my e-mail on my phone (because if I didn’t, I would always check it) and I cut off any communication to work. It took me a week to stop feeling fidgety about not checking in to work. Then, after a week, I was able to start to relax, and then the final week my brain and my body became calm.
It was a revelation. And not only that, I also connected with my family in a way that I never had before.
So, what do I do now? I take a lot of mini breaks. I’ll take an extra day off and make it a three-day weekend. I take an afternoon off and just relax or hit some golf balls. I’ll take a Thursday-Sunday weekend and visit people I love. And I make sure I take at least one long vacation of 10 days or more each year, when I don’t check in with work.
This has made a huge difference in my life, and it’s something we try to foster at Veritus with our team. We don’t give a set amount of vacation days. They can take off whenever they feel like it as long as they feel they’re meeting the needs of their clients. And we encourage people, when they go on vacation, to show us how much fun they’re having, so we can celebrate that they are taking off.
So, what are you going to do this summer to finally take care of yourself? Why not do a 4-day week? Take 14 days off and unplug? Take a number of long weekends?
I can guarantee you this: if you make time for yourself, you’ll be a much better fundraiser. You’ll be MORE productive and get MORE done, by allowing yourself to relax your brain, spirit, and body.
Let this be the summer to really take a break. It will make a huge difference in your life.