“Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” – Audre Lorde
A week ago my partner, Lia, and I boarded a plane and put our phones on airplane mode. It had been over two years since we’d taken a vacation, and with the swipe of a button, we made a choice. We said yes to us and committed to resting and recharging our souls–individually and together. We both felt the deep desire to unplug in a way that we never had before. We both work in the education arena, and the past few years have been full to say the least.
The truth is, we had no idea how much we needed rest. I had a hunch I was maxed out, because my body was speaking to me, but I love what I do, so I pushed through. Symptoms of overworking and exhaustion tend to creep up on me. They often come in the form of stomach pain and eye-twitching, both of which were going strong the day before leaving.
It’s wild how much noise from the media (especially social media) permeates loudly in the fabric of our lives. We have access to so much of the world with one swipe. So much information. That excess impacts us and distorts our perception of what’s important, urgent and necessary. It starts in subtle ways, and eventually takes over.
I say this from experience. Those who know me often hear me say “I’m a recovering perfectionist and people-pleaser”, so embracing my imperfections and doing things that are “good-enough” takes work. In fact, my big goal for 2018 was to set more boundaries, because 2016 and 2017 maxed me out. I was doing too much on my own, and it took a toll on my body. So I started 2018 by declaring my intentions and goals (literally sharing my WHY with my community and inviting dialogue about leading B.I.G., with boundaries, integrity, and generosity). It was powerful.
I gotta say, in ten months, I have written, strategized, reflected, and created more content than I had the previous 2 years combined. In setting limits, I’ve learned I can only climb one mountain at a time. At many points this year I felt *on fire* and in-flow. I even deleted my Facebook app from my phone for 3 months, and I witnessed the power that came with that boundary; YET these past few months, the noise crept in. The intensity of our socio-political landscape and my commitment to social justice caused me to engage. Deeply. With the Kavanaugh hearings the week beforehand, as a survivor, I felt emotionally drained.
The noise and frenetic energy from social media played their roles, and as an empath, I was like a sponge that had absorbed too much. It always starts out subtle (I’ll just check one thing, or share one photo/article/question, or connect with one person…), but in the end, it creates a cumulative concoction that impacts me. A lot.
SO, one Friday, after a whirlwind of a week, I took a deep breath and looked at Lia and said “We need a break. Let’s get away. For the first time the your school has a week off in October for fall break, so let’s find a good deal and go to Mexico. We haven’t gone on vacation in over two years. We need this–for us”
Fast-forward a month and some change…I found myself sitting on a beach in Mexico next to Lia, journaling about the power of saying what you want and need. I watched the waves wash over the coastal rocks on the island of Isla Mujeres and was struck by their glory. It was high-tide, so the waves were huge, crashing and forming a little mini-waterfall on the rocks. I looked closer and noticed the formation of a little waterhole as they neared the rocks on the beach. The force of the waves grew stronger, and the waterhole began overflowing, spreading and seeping into other rocky waterholes nearby. There was space for the overflow.
I found it so metaphorical–when our space overflows (and when we’re at capacity), we’re not meant to hold more. The rushing energy is designed to find another place to fill, but all too often we continue to absorb overflowing energy. That can cause stress, exhaustion, overwhelm, discernment distortion, physical pain, and more. These things, in excess, impact our health significantly.
This is why I feel so strongly about setting limits. We must give ourselves permission to set boundaries. We must know when we’re at capacity, recognize our overflow-symptoms, and make space for the energy to flow elsewhere.
Easier said than done, though, right?
The truth is, there’s no way I could have written this blog one week ago. Emotionally and intuitively–I wouldn’t have been so closely connected to them.
So, the power of the pause was real. We unplugged. Left the laptops at home. Stayed in airplane mode for five days.
(insert exhale here)
The funny part–on the second day, somehow notifications started buzzing on our phones (because of wifi–even on airplane mode those messages come through!)! I laughed out loud and shook my head thinking “okay universe, I see you” and put my phone in the dresser drawer, away from everything. It took work to fully let go…
That’s the thing about transformative learning experiences–they’re always coupled with tests, temptations, and turbulence. Because growth is around the corner. It’s almost as though the universe is saying “how bad do you really want this?”…
But we stayed strong. We followed through on what we said we’d do. And, what followed was nothing short of magical. The metaphors continued…the crystal clarity of the water purified all the toxins and stressors that had been absorbed in previous months. The ease, flow, joy, and feelings that followed were unmatched. We laughed more than we had in months. We played games and giggled for no reason. We read books. (multiple!) We explored. We people-watched. We shared stories. We experienced the magic of symbols and signs that flew our way. We were fully present with each other, and it was a gift.
Our ability to set limits and stay true to our intentions unleashed something for both of us in a powerful way. We were so profoundly impacted by the experience that we wanted to capture it, bottle it, and preserve it in some way. So, thanks to Lia’s brilliant idea, on our last day, before boarding our ferry back to Cancun, we sat overlooking the ocean and wrote our future-selves a letter, committing to integrating some of the practices into our daily lives.
Here are the top 10 lessons-learned…
Writing letters to our future selves is a profoundly powerful act.
Giving ourselves permission to unplug and prioritize our well-being is essential for our health and allows us to show up at our best for our communities.
Pushing pause and avoiding distractions takes discipline and commitment to our WHY.
Social media noise CAN (and must) be turned down. It will always be there. Showing up with intentionality and asking ourselves “why is it important for me to look at__right now” is so important.
The people we spend the most time with (our partners and our closest friends/family) have a profound influence on our life –consciously and unconsciously.
Our relationship to ourselves and our loved ones is like a garden — what we water, grows.
Reading a book from start to finish in one day is so satisfying.
Our brain thinks MUCH more clearly when we complete one task at a time. Period.
Spontaneity, joy, and laugher are the drivers of creativity, and they’re waiting for us to join them. Everyday.
Following through on what we say we’re going to do –and being fully present in the process– is liberating for all involved.
I could go on and on, but I’ll stop at ten.
Now that I’m back home and proximate to frenetic energy, I have the internal reserve to set boundaries. I am incorporating the reminders above into my daily life. I get to choose.
We all get to choose–every single day. To lead with a S.P.A.R.K. is a choice. A daily choice.
I’ll always be a work in progress, so to keep myself responsible to this process, I’m sharing with you, dear reader, that I’m going to continue setting limits, setting social-media boundaries (since my business is online), getting on for 30-60 minutes a week during intentional windows, with an intentional focus / purpose…AND I commit to going on airplane mode a few days a month, prioritizing JOY and exploring more of the world with my love.
NOW: I’d love to hear from you…
What’s your learning edge? Where, in your life, will you give yourself permission to “go in airplane mode” and set more boundaries–for your health and well-being?
Which one (of the 10 above) stands out to you? Is there one you want to work on and/or set an intention around with me? Just comment below or email firstname.lastname@example.org
PS – Here are a few photos from our vacay if you want to experience a little slice of heaven…
Rachel Rosen is a seasoned facilitator, leadership coach, Racial Justice and LGBTQ advocate, and the Founder of SPARK Leadership and S.P.A.R.K., the interactive, inclusive, community-building card game. All S.P.A.R.K. offerings sit at the nexus of Rachel’s personal and professional passions. With a Masters from Stanford, and extensive training in leadership, coaching, team and organizational development, S.P.A.R.K. experiences are grounded in theory and practice. If you have any questions or would like to chat more, feel free to contact her here.