Physically uprooting from Denver has undoubtedly inspired me to live with more audacity and urgency. It has certainly been the catalyst for massive mental shifts. BUT, I’ve realized that you don’t have to move to a new country to change your work-life perspectives.
What got me living to a different beat (a simpler, non-work-obsessed beat) was shaking up my “normal,” immersing myself in completely different situations and exercising new brain muscles.
However, I’m not sure I would have navigated these new territories if I hadn’t taken a three-month hiatus from my business. That time away was unintended rehab for the workaholic in me.
You know how they say in order to nail down a new habit, you’ve got to stick with it for 30 days? Try 100. That’s the number of days I spent away from Brit Stueven PR.
Just a few weeks before we left Denver, I made a conscious decision to press pause on what I now see was my biggest addiction: MY BUSINESS. Deep down, I knew something had to change. Work was starting to take over my every thought. It had become the basis of my identity and daily motivation.
I knew that if I didn’t force some distance from what I knew too well, I’d likely return with regrets. One burning question would remain:
Why the HECK did I spend those two years on my laptop and NOT seizing life in a foreign country?
Pressing that pause button was THE ultimate game changer. It forced me to take a step back, slow down and take a true breather.
This is huge for me, people.
I finally learned HOW to take a BREAK.
Whether for 100 days or seven minutes out of our day, I finally learned WHY we need BREAKS.
Because I took time away, I was able to see that I was working harder, not smarter. When you do a little for a lot of people, you start to lose sight of why you started in the first place. When you take too much on and don’t take time for yourself, there’s room for error and risk of burnout.
One hundred days into my hiatus (OK, fine, 102!), a favorite client reached out. Women in the Mix was looking for collateral documents to complement the media kit I’d designed for them in October. Their second annual Work-Life Thrive Summit is set for May 19, and they needed a sponsor guide and event flyer.
I was undoubtedly hesitant. “Will this send me into a work bender?” I thought. “Will this pull me away from my new and oh-so-fleeting time in Germany?”
Something about it just felt right, though. The same voice that told me it was time to take a break was now telling me it was time to do a little dabbling. It was a little test.
Well, it felt amazing to take on just one project with a fresh perspective. There was a renewed focus and loads of creative energy that had been silently charging. I thought I’d just tackle their requests and get back to my “breaker.” But working with them again – with a new lease on my work-life priorities – gave me the confidence and inspiration to re-launch my business.
I now plan on re-opening my virtual doors, but with new boundaries and processes in place. OH, it feels GOOD. (SO much more on that to come.) But for now, back to the list…
2. When we take breaks, we give ourselves more room to try new things.
Hopping out of our comfort bubbles, even in the smallest of ways, awakens our senses. We look and listen a lot harder. We taste differently. We’re bound to be more adventurous, and in turn, get lost in the moment. We shed our inhibitions and by default, become more present.
Since moving here, I’ve gotten more into cooking and trying new foods. I think I’ve cooked more new recipes in the last four months than I have my whole life.
I’ve taught English to large companies, taken German classes with people from all over the world, made a fool of myself in Zumba class, gone to my first bible study and tried so much cake I’m now officially a “cake person." I've joined 20+ women in "Storming the Rathaus." I've even worn a full-body chicken suit. (Karneval, I loved you!) Need I say more?!
Go do something you’d never see yourself doing. Whether for an hour, a day, a month or even a year, I promise you, you won’t regret it. It WILL be awkward and painful at times, but that’s how you’ll know you’re growing.
3. We’re fueled to explore.
Whether you hop on a plane for vacation or simply take a new path in a park, a different mindset kicks in when we know we’re on a break. There’s less pressure. We’re inspired to play. We notice more.
I can’t tell you how many amazing little spots, cafes, trees and parks I’ve found from simply going on wandering walks. One day, I spent close to two, guilt-free hours just taking pictures of bumble bees…getting drunk on tulip pollen.
Even as a first-grader, you wouldn’t find me playing kickball or running around aimlessly at recess. I was probably hunting for rocks with my friend Mary. We’d tape these geologic treasures into our little stapled books that we’d later fill with penciled facts from library books and encyclopedias. (Remember encyclopedias? They rocked my nerdy world. Pun intended.)
After I finished my homework, I’d likely ask my dad to give me some math problems. WHAT?!
When friends came over, they were guaranteed a role in my latest venture. From making magazines and filming newscasts to choreographing dance videos and running a 42-member women’s club, there was always a project.
But even in my “work-obsessed” childhood, I still found time to just BE. I can see myself sprawled in the summer grass watching the cotton candy clouds colliding against the blue Colorado skies. I can still feel water in my ears from hours of floating in the swimming pool.
As I started digging into my professional path, I started to lose my ability and desire to take REAL breaks...to be TRULY present. I couldn’t justify it. There was always something waiting to be captured, completed, improved or responded to.
To me, the less breaks I took, the more I’d get done, therefore, the more chances I’d have of getting promoted. Right? WRONG. At one point in my career, I invested so much time and energy in landing that promised promotion that I worked myself physically and mentally ill…right into two weeks of medical leave.
Those 14 days were a godsend, though. I was thankfully yanked from the weeds (the toxic work weeds we can all get stuck in) and could finally see the bigger picture. I was ignoring my health. My confidence was being dictated by others’ feedback. My priorities were so out of whack. I’d invested entirely too much energy in one particular outcome (getting that promotion) that I failed to see what was happening internally and to my relationships.
I vowed never to let that happen again. That was also around the time I met my husband David. Talk about godsends! He was one of the biggest influences in getting my health back and continues to be my voice of reason. He’s amazing at leaving work AT work and continually reminds me to take breaks.
Even after those realizations, though, I continued to take pride in how much I could juggle. I thrived off being busy, accomplishing things and having giant to-do lists – it’s clearly in my blood.
So when I started working for myself, I really didn’t know when to stop.
Creative freedom is AMAZING. Having the power to create anything you put your mind to and doing it in Colorado? Game ON. There are SO MANY amazing businesses, entrepreneurs, designers, nonprofits, restaurants, artists, creators and just all-around inspiring people.
For someone who loves community, creativity and getting people excited about new things, Denver is a DRUG. And when you don’t know when to say no and everything is seen as an opportunity for growth, of course you’re never going to stop.
There were, of course, deeper reasons for why I became so work-obsessed. Thanks to the help of Susannah Campora, I was able to uncover catalysts from my past and start some serious inner work.
What I couldn’t seem to do, ever, though? Take BREAKS…for ME…to just BE.
Susannah even tasked me with taking just ONE hour out of one of my days, leaving my phone in the car and partaking in something that would allow me to just be Brit…just BE…just for a short while, and not THINK about work.
I never did it.
I couldn’t justify it.
Taking time for me just got in the way. My clients were more important.
I got high at the sight of new emails. My replies couldn’t wait. Apparently, emails would self-implode if I didn’t respond as quickly as humanly possible. All those shiny, endless opportunities were going to crash and burn if I didn’t grab a hold of them.
There were countless days I would lose track of time and barely eat. I’d get so lost in my laptop or be hopping from one place to another that I’d forget to take time for me and my BODY. And when I did take time for lunch, I was still working…hovering over my laptop while I chowed down or tapping away on my iPhone if I actually took time to stop somewhere.
My dreams even started to be about work. I can’t tell you how many times I was emailing in my sleep. THAT got confusing in my waking life. LOL! “Where’s that email? Did I write that or dream that?”
Some nights, I’d wake up at 3 a.m., just riddled with ideas, ideas, ideas. Thoughts, thoughts, thoughts…all about work, work, work…and couldn’t slow my brain down until I wrote them all out.
When I WOULD pull myself away for a run along the Cherry Creek path or some hot yoga at The River, work still dominated my thoughts, and I couldn’t wait to get back to my inbox and social notifications.
Get the drift?
Work was taking over my life.
But it wasn’t until I took that PAUSE and started navigating new life roles in a foreign country (expat, homemaker, hostess, cook-in-training, English teacher, German student) that I realized how much grace I was failing to give myself.
I’d forgotten how to PLAY, truly celebrate, LEARN and laugh things off.
Now, four months in, I think it’s fair to say I’ve become a serial learner. I know it’s still ridiculously early in this journey, but I’ve gained some serious golden insight from those 100 days away.
Without further ado, here are...
On weekends we’re in town, David and I take long walks around this city…each time taking a new path. We always discover SOMETHING interesting or new.
4. We learn the power of being truly present.
I’ll never forget Teresa Taylor’s keynote speech at the inaugural Work-Life Thrive Summit. She recounts the time she was late to her son’s school because something came up at work. By the time she arrived to eat lunch with him and his friends, she only had seven minutes with him. Teresa was devastated and spent the afternoon crying in her office. But what her son said when we came home changed EVERYTHING. You can read the full story here.
This mindset has helped me in more ways than one. It’s what got me through our first holidays away from family. When we immerse ourselves in the places we choose to be, we’re not thinking about what we’re missing out on or what we should be doing.
5. We’re reminded of what we took for granted.
Now that we’re officially 4,926 miles away from Denver, it’s been pretty eye-opening how much I took for granted. Precious, face-to-face, in-person moments with family and friends. Being able to just call anyone from anywhere at any time. Driving. HUGGING my niece and nephews. Delicious Chinese delivery. Chipotle. The hot bar at Whole Foods. If I don’t stop…I’ll keep going.
Distance really does make the heart grow fonder. It wakes you up a little bit. It makes the moments you reunite with loved ones, cities, or even foods (Ha! Dairy Queeeeen, I neeeed you!) that much sweeter.
6. Our work is better because of it.
We return with fresh eyes…maybe even some new ideas. Taking brief, mental breaks will actually keep you focused. You’ll be less likely to make mistakes, too.
Studies have shown that some of the mind’s stickiest problems are solved whilst daydreaming AKA “diffuse mode.” Stepping away from “focus mode” allows our brain to make connections and realizations.
Here are 3 scientific reasons you should prioritize breaks at work.
7. We learn to let go.
It’s taken some time to realize it, but I can’t agree more with C.S. Lewis: “There are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind.”
Leaving communities behind that I worked so hard to build was NOT easy. Leaving behind opportunities that had finally presented themselves and projects that were just picking up speed? NOT easy.
But now, it’s amazing to see all that I’ve gained because I DID let go.
8. We see the bigger picture.
When we don’t take breaks, we get lost in the weeds and forget there’s a much bigger world out there. It’s amazing what taking a step back can do. You’re able to check in on your goals and priorities instead of working in a silo.
9. We’re able to foster the best versions of ourselves.
We need to make it very clear to ourselves and those around us that in order to be our best and take care of others, we MUST take care of ourselves first.
This is a great read: How to Take Care of Yourself -- What Does it Mean?
10. We’re reminded of the possibilities of life.
Remember this video? You know, the one that features a British artist delivering a spoken word poem about looking up from our phones? It’s a little intense, yes, but I love the message.
You never know what might happen when you take a break from your device, work or normal routine. You just might meet your soulmate or a new friend. You might discover a new hobby or hidden place.
Breaks encourage spontaneity, letting go of control and embracing all the possibilities that LIFE can bring.