Reflections on Life and Leadership: The Call to Rest

Recently, while sipping a cup of coffee and looking across the tranquil waters of Lake Martin, near Dadeville, Alabama, I found myself without a laptop, book or Blackberry to distract me from the renewal of the moment. Once again, I was reminded that in the chaos of life and work how often we find ourselves overwhelmed by its incessant demands. Regardless of whether it is the creeping weariness borne of constant projects, endless deadlines, and family responsibilities or the seemingly sudden, heart-pounding, gasping for breathe kind of exhaustion that comes from an impossible “to-do list” and 14 hour day, those who would lead, or follow, often find themselves with insufficient reserves of energy and creativity to live and perform well. It is then we realize, as legendary Green Bay Packers’ Coach Vince Lombardi once said, “Fatigue makes cowards of us all.”

Fatigue can be emotional, physical, or mental. And fatigue in any area can drain us of the ability to perform in the other realms. When we are distracted with the pain and stress of family matters our mental acuity is affected at work. Mental exhaustion from work can affect our physical reserves. If you don’t believe it try going to the gym after a 12-hour day. (Or staying on your diet!) We are such creatures of routine we often fail to recognize how one component is intertwined with the other. Worse, we fail to realize how desperately in need of rest we have become. In a culture that regards rest as laziness, we risk our effectiveness, our physical health, and quality of our business and personal relationships as we drive ourselves. To affect change, and remain effective, we must first recognize the impact of the overlapping contributors to our fatigue. When we find ourselves impatient, short-tempered, or unable to focus on completing a task, we must recognize them as the warning lights on our dashboard. Something needs attention. To proceed without further examination is to risk calamity. These warning lights tell us it is time to take stock of ourselves. Those are the same things we must watch for in our teams and families if we are to lead well. Just as we must guard against the erosion in our own performance that is caused by the fatigue, as leaders we must guard against it in our teams. It is odd how clearly we recognize it in a grouchy four old who needs a nap and we fail to see it in ourselves. We must invite those trustworthy confidantes around us to intervene on our behalf to suggest it is time to invest in some well-deserved rest.

Rest is more than a nap. Though it is that sometimes. It is more than a few mindless hours in front of the television. Although, that too, may be considered rest. (Especially when it is spent watching Modern Marvels or Swamp People!) For those who would lead, rest must result in renewal. Renewal is more than a vacation. It is the regular and deliberate feeding of our body, mind, and spirit with that which has the ability to restore us. It must be part of our day, our week, and our year if we are to avoid the angst and stress that prevails in our culture. Sometimes renewal is a quiet moment sipping a cup of coffee (caffeine-free?). Sometimes it is a raucous evening with friends and family filled with music, laughter, and perhaps a single-malt Scotch, glass of wine, and simple food. It may be the solitude of a long walk in a remote setting or along the beach. Other times it may be a reflection on spiritual writings in which one finds meaning. Whatever the case, we must be deliberate to find that which Steven Covey referred to as self rejuvenation or “sharpening the saw.” The absence of a deliberate strategy leaves one with hope only. And hope is no strategy.

Rest and renewal need not cost large sums of money. It does not require us to buy another thing that ends up owning us. But it does require us to examine ourselves. Perhaps that is why it is so difficult to find rest and renewal. We may be simply fear what we will see and the changes we must commit to making. Then again, this may be the best possible reason to engage in such reflection that becomes the foundation for change that reignites our creativity, energy and our effectiveness as leaders. Whatever the case, as always… Keep the Faith