On the Frustrations of Rest


After four days on a long-planned vacation, I’ve reached the following conclusion:

I have absolutely no idea how to relax.

This realization comes almost five years after leaving the corporate world and the only possible reason for its belated arrival is frank and persistent denial.

This isn’t to denigrate all the progress I’ve made over the last half decade in terms of slowing down. But as with all other manifestations of success, I’ve used that progress to avoid having to deal with stubbornly problematic areas.

My shift toward self-employment represents the latest in this series of clever self-concealment. For all intents and purposes, the transition was supposed to inaugurate a new era of relaxed and purposeful living—of having full control over my time and my energy and any activities that required both. But I only ended up importing a productivity-junkie mentality into a territory that unfortunately doesn’t have the necessary safeguards of well-defined workloads and well-defined hours. If I enjoy what I’m doing, and my work is my hobby, then why should I have a break—or more importantly—why do I even need a break? Aren’t rest and recreation merely consolations in a world where careers and vocations don’t necessarily coincide?

And this, I think, is where the root of my inability to relax lies: I think of rest as a sign of failure, a sign of having failed to engage in a line of work where freedom and security and responsibility and enjoyment come together in a single pursuit. I don’t—or at least I haven’t learned—to relate to rest as just rest, as the necessary pause that makes for a life well lived, in the same way that notes must be separated by intervals for music to be even heard.

Of course, realizing this is the easy part. Living it is another matter entirely. Good thing that I have the rest of my life to try.

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