For those that have followed me for a while, you’ll know that self-care and wellbeing are important to me. Since my burnout in 2013 I’ve created better boundaries in all areas of my life and that my ‘me time’ and daily practices are non-negotiable. I don’t and won’t compromise my time out, I know it’s needed, I know I need it and I know that if I’m not looking after myself then I can’t be my best self for my family, for my team, or for my clients.
When my sons were at school, scheduling holidays out of the office were fairly easy, I just needed to work around the holidays and with my husband and parents, we ensured that we had every school holiday covered and on the whole, I was off work for a week or two every six weeks, or every 12 weeks. My sons’ birthday is 18th December and so my Christmas break always starts then. This wasn’t possible when I worked in retail, but it has been every year since 2004.
When I started my own consultancy back in 2014, it didn’t feel as necessary to book leave in advance, after all, for the first year it was just me in the business. And as it was my business, surely I could just take the time off when I wanted it. And of course, in reality, that’s true. It’s also true that as your own boss, in your own business, there is no holiday pay. If you’re not working, you’re not earning – and yes, this is why so many people now have online memberships and passive income streams, because it keeps the money flowing.
It’s also true, that if you don’t book the time, you won’t take the time. In my first year in business, I had three weeks away throughout the year, and then Christmas off with my sons. But that first Christmas was also the first Christmas I was newly separated from my husband and the last Christmas in what was our family home. I know that in 2015 I’d have to work harder and earn more to pay the bills, keep food on the table and provide for my sons. In 2015 I started to recruit for the team, the business grew, work was flooding in, and then in the July I hit a block, I was having blackouts again, and they were wiping me out.
I was put on medication for an epilepsy relapse on my birthday in September 2015, which meant I was unable to drive for at least a year, and the medication sent me into such a downward spiral of depression with all that it was doing to my head, that on Christmas Eve 2015 all I could think about was the quickest way to end my life. I immediately called my partner, knowing from my Neuroscience and Psychotherapy courses that I needed to get back into my logical and rational mind, we talked it through for hours, and I didn’t take my second dose, or any more doses of my medication and spoke to my Consultant as soon as I could when he returned to work after Christmas – DO NOT stop taking medication without the help and advice of a medical professional.
I took time out over Christmas, and in the January I then started to work even harder to increase sales and grow and build the business. I took three weeks off all year. Between my burnout in 2013 and the start of 2017, I had set boundaries for my self-care, I had introduced a number of daily practices, morning and evening. I was attending yoga classes, four times a week, going to the gym, walking almost everywhere, had stopped drinking alcohol, started eating a vegetarian diet and in my head was doing everything I should be doing to stay well, lots of water, no caffeine, no tech after 8 pm, meditating, journaling, a gratitude practice, always learning, working with a coach, working with a therapist, working with a personal trainer – I was doing it all. What I was not doing, was resting. I wasn’t resting. I wasn’t taking anytime off. I was working and pushing and doing.
And in 2017, I went back to booking regular holidays. I took one week off, no more than 8 weeks apart, I had two weeks off in the Summer and I took my time off at Christmas. Then in January 2019 my team and I started to work a four-day working week, closing on Mondays, and that wasn’t all. I scheduled my lunch breaks daily, I got really specific about my working hours, I stopped working at weekends and I enjoyed my time out. Sometimes I was active, sometimes I binged on Netflix. Sometimes I was away with family and sometimes I was at home. But I took the time out.
And this continued until 2020.
I had my weeks booked off, my volunteering trips, my yoga retreats and my holiday were all planned, all booked and all paid for and as was the case for everyone, one by one, every single one of my trips was cancelled. But I didn’t take any time out. And I didn’t take any time out because I told myself that when the world opened up again, all of my trips would happen, and this would be my time out!
In 2020 I had four days in a caravan about 30 miles from home, three days off where I lay in the hammock in the garden when we had sun, five days off when we moved house in October, a few long weekends, and one week to myself in September for my 40th birthday. This was not enough. And this wouldn’t be enough during any year. But to only have this amount of time off during a year where the world was closed, emotions were high and energy was low, this was absolutely not enough time out. On top of this, my four-day working started to creep into five days and six-day working, because, well, what else was there to do!
And when I started this year exhausted, and drained, and still feeling the heaviness of 2021, I booked every sixth week off in my diary, plus August and my break at Christmas. Two trips I was hoping would go ahead are cancelled again, but I have the time out. And last week was one of one in six weeks off, and I feel amazing this week.
A number of my current clients are NHS workers, they had to work without breaks. A lot of my friends are key workers, they had to work without breaks.
I don’t have to work without breaks. If I work without breaks it’s a choice, and that’s true for many of you. Many of you have paid leave – take it. Some of you have unlimited leave – take it. Some of you have four-day working weeks – make the most of it. All of you are entitled to lunch breaks, tech breaks, and your own personal time off.
You really cannot run on empty, so please stop choosing to. With this year's Mental Health Awareness week being focused on Nature, fill yourself up by spending some time outside.
Kelly is an Executive Coach for CEO's and CPO's who want to change the world of work at kellyswingler.com and Founder of The Chrysalis Crew.
She leads and coaches with an open heart, an open mind and has the courage to challenge the status quo and do things differently so that we can all love our roles, find balance in our lives and so that we can all change the world of work for the better.