In 2016, I was walking with a friend who showed me his phone revealing 278 unread text messages and said, “This should make you feel better about your life.” It didn’t.
Whether writing a Broadway musical (in his case) or attempting to normalize emotional well-being across school districts (mine), life is perpetually busy. But since when does busy equal success, value, creativity, significance, or building something special?
Simply being a human being in the current world seems to mean facing a constant stream of notifications. The pings from emails, text messages, and social media never end, and the noise they create is likely even worse for our students than they are for us. Adolescents and teenagers now are constantly connected–what kind of example are we setting for them by constantly being “on?” Are we teaching them that being busy is a necessity to becoming successful?
I finally realized that busy doesn’t equal any of those things. I realized I needed to pause to strengthen my own mental and emotional well-being and ensure that I can authentically and meaningfully lead my social-emotional learning company Move This World into the next phase of our development.
I took a break. That meant zero emails, texts, social media, or calls. I did not Skype into meetings. I did not scan my inbox or my news feed. In fact, I did not even have my phone. For six weeks, I went totally off the grid, part of which included a 12-day silent retreat studying Buddhism and philosophy.
Tap the Power of Pause for Better Leadership
It was hard to be away from my team, my husband, my family and friends, but the time helped me to dust off creative cobwebs, re-center myself, and mentally prepare for the challenges ahead. It helped me become a better leader and achieve significantly greater balance.
We call it “the power of pause” and it can be harnessed in big or small ways to help you on your journey.
By incorporating these lessons into your life, you can better equip yourself as a company or school leader, find balance, and, perhaps most importantly, set a positive example for employees or students to build in their own mindful moments in between all that they are balancing.
Here are the five biggest lessons from my power of pause:
1. Go beyond the quiet to find awareness. During my sabbatical I spent 15 hours a day in an Indian Gompa exercising pure silence. During this time I felt acute awareness over my thoughts and my body. I don’t have 15 hours during the work day, but I can find 15 minutes. By bringing awareness to moments throughout my day, I find potential sources of inspiration and opportunity all around me.
2. Ask everyday, “How can I be of service?” My “karma job” at the retreat was washing dishes for 125 people. After a few days, I noticed one of my counterparts kept offloading her responsibilities to others, but another was always there to help me lift the heavy buckets of suds. I found myself drawn towards those who embodied the spirit of resourcefulness. Wherever we are and whomever we’re with, I want to be the first one willing and ready to lift the heavy buckets.
3. Emotions are not faults. For years I thought the key to being an effective leader was to push my emotions aside and use logic and rationality to guide all decisions. But it’s important to remember that our emotions serve a purpose. During my break, tears flowed during meditations brought on by thoughts of my family, death, and life moments I will never forget. Yes, I am a CEO. And eight years later, I am still emotional. Now, I embrace it.
4. Clear your “cache” every morning. Morning workouts are my mental sanctuary, but without my typical routine, I had to find a new ritual that allowed me to excavate thoughts that clouded my creative focus. I turned to writing. Whatever form it takes, clearing my “cache” every day ritualizes a process of finding my flow.
5. Our potential is limitless, but our time is not. Sitting in complete silence, the possibilities in your mind are endless. Time feels like it’s creeping by, until all of a sudden it’s over. Life is the same way. Although we can accomplish anything we put our mind to, we only have a certain amount of time to execute and deliver. Make it count.
Leaders often think they need to stay busy to be effective, but balance is critical for our long term success. I was operating at such a fast pace and with such high intensity for such a long time, I needed weeks of silence to recover.
It doesn’t have to be that way. By leveraging the Power of Pause, we can improve our personal sustainability, thrive as a leader and in our personal lives, and bring our best selves to work.
Photo Credit: Sara Potler LaHayne