The paradox of rest in American culture

Currently it’s July and it feels like the offseason of my life. I don’t feel the heavy burden of stress and a million things to do like I do during the school year. It’s the perfect time to lounge outside while finishing a good book (That Sounds Fun by Annie F. Downs). 

American culture is quite unusual for a lot of reasons. Our strange measurement system, our obsession with Internet culture and being entertained at every possible second, our workism, our hyperindividualism leading to a loneliness epidemic and more. In some European countries, taking time off work is normalized. You can travel and be with family without the penalty or the stigma of not being seen as a hard worker. But in America, it’s not the same. 

When I was a first year, I had a dear friend introduce me to the concept of Sabbath. It’s a 24 hour period where you don’t work. This is different from the Jewish tradition from sun up to sun down with no use of technology. The main idea of a Sabbath is to rest. To realize that you are not the most important thing in the world. You are not indispensable. But that’s the opposite of what corporate America is trying to make you.

If you want to keep your job, you’re threatened with this sense (not directly threatened, of course) needing to work so hard that your employers see you as vital. It’s counterintuitive to work as if you have limits. But we do. 

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Working for hours on end without a proper lunch break is unsustainable. Working without having had a vacation for months on end is unsustainable. This is why burnout is a thing. Burning out produces this weight, a sort of bone tiredness that you can’t get rid of with a few hours of sleep and a couple of energy drinks. 

Back to my first year. 

My first approach to Sabbath was to try and get all my work done. I’d gear myself up on Friday nights doing all the homework I could to try and rest on Sunday. And maybe it worked a few times. But it definitely didn’t last. I’d end up having to work on Sunday anyways, until my Sabbath didn’t really exist. I wasn’t getting the rest that I desired. 

This is the approach we all try to take. 

We think if we work enough hours and do such an astounding job, it’ll show how great I am and that’ll qualify me for a break and a bonus. But in reality, we end up working those hours because we became expected to, and that vacation gets further and further away. 

My approach to Sabbath changed as I continued to try and implement it during my second and third years.

In my second year, I’d end up hanging out with friends on Friday and Saturday evenings so naturally I cut off my work in those hours. I worked and then gave myself permission to stop working. 

In my third year, I had unwittingly established a beautiful ritual. On Friday nights after work, I’d swing by Chick-fil-A, pick up a salad, and go home and watch The Bachelor. Sometimes that’s all I’d do. Other times, I’d do a little bit of work before diving in. The point was I chose a time to stop working and start resting.

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If you don’t pick a time to stop working,  you’ll never be in a position to rest. That’s the paradox of rest.

You don’t automatically rest when you’re done working. Because the truth is the work never stops. There will always be a new project, a new pile of work sitting at your desk waiting for you. But if you don’t step away, what’s to say you ever will?

Ideas for Rest

If you’re like me and you don’t know what to do when you’re not working, here are some ideas!

Go hang out with friends

Go on a walk and listen to a podcast

Watch your favorite TV show

Write + Publish a blog post

Cook a meal + Eat it

Try knitting, crocheting, or embroidering (at least once!)

Grab some board games and get competitive (I love Avalon!)

Read a good book 

Listen to a new album

A hobby just for fun is where you can find rest. Any time where you can just slow down is a place for rest.

Set down your work and take time off. May you be well rested, friends.

Signing off, 


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