From Exhausted to Energized: How to Claim the Rest You've Earned

Don't you just love summer?

There’s something soothing about this season that makes us feel lighter and happier. Plus, summer means vacation for many - an opportunity to escape from the stress and tedium of everyday life and go have some fun.

Unfortunately, too many of us end up feeling desperate for summer and the time off it brings; like we’re dragging ourselves (yet again) over the finish line of a very long and exhausting race to vacation mecca.

If you’re feeling stressed and exhausted way too often, I encourage you to take advantage of this season and make this a summer of renewal. This is a perfect opportunity to take a thoughtful look at your day-to-day life and make some smart decisions that will help you feel less stressed and more energized going forward.

Where do we begin this process?

Let’s start by examining our attitude and habits regarding vacation.

Woman relaxing on deck looking into the woods

We have a complicated and confusing relationship with the idea of time off. On the one hand, generous vacation time is a coveted job perk – a top priority when job seeking or negotiating benefits. (Studies by both Harvard Business Review and Monster back this up.)

On the other hand, many of us don’t take enough vacation, with nearly half of us choosing to lose earned time off rather than miss a few extra days at the office.

Our conflicted attitudes suggest that we value the concept of time off but aren’t very good at taking it on a regular basis. As a result, our vacations are too few and far between, yielding an all-work-and-no-play situation in which we’re carrying around a lot of accumulated work and life stress. We’re working harder and enjoying life less. (The quality of our work suffers, too, but that’s for another blog post.)

Woman stressed out looking at laptop

Strangely, when the hard work ethic that guides our behavior doesn’t yield the fulfillment we’re looking for, we often double down on status quo. Instead of questioning the ethic itself, we simply decide we haven’t worked hard enough and vow to work even longer hours and take even less time off.

How do we make this change? These three steps can put you on a better path.

First, recognize the true nature of work.

At one point, it dawned on me that the whole concept of work is a bottomless pit. There will always be more work to do, and doing it tends to yield the same result as a pie eating contest: the more work you do and the more results you produce, the more work and production will be expected of you.

The trick is to make sure we work strategically. Work without thoughtful decision-making is just a continuous slog, and thoughtful decision-making requires regular opportunities to recharge and reassess commitments. In other words, it requires time off. It’s important to respect vacation time as much as you respect working, as together they can ensure that your work has direction and purpose and is sustainable over time. 

Man relaxing in a field

Second, take on the identity of a “balanced person”.

We are constantly bombarded by societal messages about what we should value and pay attention to. These messages make it difficult to stay focused on what is most meaningful. Because of this, I firmly believe that internalizing a goal is essential to our ability to stick with it.

One way to internalize an important goal is to first internalize a revised sense of identity. Author James Clear, in his book Atomic Habits, says, “Your behaviors are usually a reflection of your identity. What you do is an indication of the type of person you believe that you are – either consciously or [un]consciously.”

Adopting the identity of a more balanced person means deliberately taking time to clarify what this means to you and what regular behaviors align with it. This process requires taking time away from the workplace to gain perspective and think.

Woman updating planner

Over the years you may have unwittingly adopted the identity of an overworked and stressed out individual who is swept up in a work/life situation beyond their control. If you feel like it's time for a change, consider taking the more relaxed months of summer to make a significant shift in your work identity. Consider adopting the identify of an intelligent, purposeful, and self-guided individual determined to make thoughtful (if sometimes difficult) decisions regarding how to best spend precious time and energy.

Take the time to answer important questions that can help you internalize this change and bring it about. What habits or behaviors does this type of person engage in regularly? What sense of renewed control or confidence would this mental shift give you? Would this person work themselves to exhaustion without a break on a regular basis, or take time off at regular intervals to recharge and recalibrate?

Third, give time off its rightful place in your “new” life.

Let your new identity as a “balanced person” give you permission to stop thinking of vacation as a luxury to recognize it for what it truly is. Vacations not only provide fun (important in and of itself), but also provide a critical opportunity to step back from the daily grind and make smarter choices going forward.

Summer drive along a beach

Whether it’s a single personal day, an extended weekend, or a week-long getaway, consider time off a normal and necessary part of the ebb and flow of a productive and meaningful life.

Wait, do you hear that? I think those use-or-lose vacation days are calling your name .