I have, several times in my life, worked myself right into a nervous breakdown. My vacations are usually the kind that last for months and are a result of burnout. Looking back, I realize that if I had just taken a week's vacation every few months, I would have been fine.
No one ever told me to rest. All I ever heard growing up was “work harder!” Hard workers get ahead. No one ever explained to me that the hare stopped to nap, not because he was lazy, but because he had started off too fast and wore himself out.
I'm the same way with writing. I'll push myself to the very end and happily jump off the ledge. Then I suffer through a month or two (or more) of writer's block, unable, even then, to step away and rest.
Thankfully, last week, I listened to intuition for once. I took four and a half days off from writing. I didn't do anything. No writing, no networking, no editing, no thinking, plotting, or anything else.
Americans are workaholics. We're quite different from people in the rest of the world. Not that there aren't workaholics in Asia or Europe, but their cultures are different. In Europe workers often get six to seven weeks of paid vacation. Six weeks of vacation—you'd think it was a sin. I've heard Americans rant on Europe's very liberal vacation time. There are 365 days in a year. Italians get 42 days paid vacation. Americans get 16. (I got 5 at my last job.) Some say they're lazy. I say we're stupid.
Americans have bought into the idea that working our fingers to the bone is virtuous. We think productivity comes from long hours. Forget that Europeans are, generally, happier people than Americans are. We get more work done! After all, that's our purpose, right?
We've confused working long hours with working hard. They're far from the same. Virtue isn't working a 60 hour week, it's getting the same amount of work done in half the time. Virtue is working smarter, not harder.
In my own experience, rest is more important than work. It's impossible for me to work day after day, sometimes six days a week, sometimes skipping days off entirely. I do serious harm to my body, but I'm not the only one. A lot of people sacrifice productivity for time spent on the job. I've always been more productive working part time than full time. I've always been more productive on a Monday morning following a long weekend, than on a Friday after a fourteen day stretch. I've always hit the point where, after working too much, I just don't give a damn about anything anymore.
The time on the punch-card doesn't tell the whole story. It doesn't say how much work was really done. For me, it's always been the case that the more hours being logged, the less work is being done. Always.
Will times ever change? Will Americans ever sit back and appreciate what they have, instead of trying to get more? When will we finally realize that less is more?
I ask these questions because sometimes I don't know when to stop.