For years, I’d been too busy to sit and read a book. I had no time to get lost in a good story or better yet, read a book that reinvigorated my spirit or inspired me to expand my view of the world and grow as a person. But when I left my job in Digital Marketing in 2018 to start Daughters with Ellen, I had the ability to immerse myself in reading again for the first time in years. And of all the books I’ve read recently, Arianna Huffington’s Thrive tops the list. Arianna’s personal experience with burnout and fatigue is, without a doubt, one of the most relatable stories I’ve come across. Thankfully, my personal experience wasn’t nearly as severe as Arianna’s wake-up call, but any woman who’s worked in the always-on, always-connected, powerhouse of corporate America will see a reflection of herself in this story. So many of us find it difficult to justify taking breaks at work. And saying no to the never ending stream of requests that we encounter on a daily basis feels impossible. For someone like myself, a tried-and-true Type A personality, I would often find it easier to rationalize taking on more than I could handle. I’d convince myself that if I just keep my head down and work the extra hours, everything will get done. Or worse, guilt would drive me to say yes to things even when I knew I might never get around to them, and if I did — I wouldn’t be able to do them well. I was unnecessarily creating new things to feel guilty about with every ‘yes,’ and my to-do list became a constant reminder of my failure to follow through as each item was pushed from one day to the next. Which is, to say the least, one of the most prevalent and stress-inducing issues many of us face today. Because saying “no” also comes with a healthy does of guilt on the side, we find ourselves overworked and overwhelmed by trying to avoid that guilt at all costs. But if Ellen and I have learned anything over the last year, it’s that setting boundaries in order to prioritize yourself is not only possible, it’s absolutely necessary if you want to start feeling better.
If I could sum up the single most important thing this book did for me, it was to re-frame my concept of success.
When we are young, we go to school because we’re told to. We work hard for good grades so we can get into a good college. We go to college and we’re told success looks like a high paying job so you can afford to have expensive things and retire comfortably. What they don’t tell you though, is that setting goals to achieve material success is exactly what will cause your first life crisis (or at least it did for me). I graduated from school, got a good job and worked around the clock so that I could afford to upgrade my lifestyle and live more comfortably. I was making virtually nothing when I first started working, and 70–80 hr weeks were the norm, not the exception. But I moved up quickly, getting promotions and raises that allowed me to move into a house, get nice things and be the adult I’d always thought I wanted to be. At first it was exciting and I couldn’t get enough, but soon my social life disappeared because I was always traveling for work or t the office. I was tired all the time and I couldn’t appreciate my home or any of my nice things because the only time I was there I was sleeping or packing. I had perfectly set myself up my quarter-life crisis. Once I had acquired all of my goals, and had the income to afford nice things, I started to feel like I was killing myself for nothing. My personal life had been torn to shreds, and each new promotion felt like a bribe that only increased my feelings of obligation to work around the clock. And none of the nice things I thought I wanted were making me happy enough to balance out the stress from my lifestyle. Thrive helped me see that I had to completely change my relationship to what I view as success. Jumping back on the hamster wheel to achieve someone else’s version of success was only going to lead me right back to where I was, and I had to make a change. If we only set our goals on achieving material wealth, we can never be fulfilled — and we only get one chance at this life. Arianna does an incredible job of articulating that the things in life worth focusing on and striving for are not material things, they are the intangible things. For her, it was the realization that we should live the way we want to be remembered in a eulogy. I think about this book every day, because it changed my perspective on what I need to be successful in such a profound way. Success is about living a healthy and fulfilled life, about appreciating the people you love and living in the moment, and finding a way to bring as much positive energy as possible into every interaction of your day.
Multi-tasking is counter-productive to our productivity.
In the book, Arianna shares her personal experience with burnout and physical ailments caused by compound stress. She talks about how she was able to adjust her perspective on life to re-prioritize herself, and still be incredibly successful without having to drastically change her life or find a new career. Her approach resonated with me so clearly — it shifted my entire relationship with time as well, from one that she refers to as “time famine” to one of self prioritization. I thought packing my schedule with back-to-back meetings and multitasking was making me more efficient, but the research definitively proves this theory is incorrect. Unfortunately, the reality is taking a “personal day” hasn’t been something most of us have been able to do since we were in school. Thrive helped drive this home for me because it incorporates a multitude of studies that will convince even the most skeptical reader that there is a direct correlation between spending time away from work and increased performance, health and happiness across every department of your life. This book is that it will arm you with the information needed to start making changes in your own life and offers a number of different things you can try to figure out what works best for you. After reading this book I finally realized, if you think about what truly makes you happy and how you can truly bring joy and love to those around you, it becomes easy to keep the stress of work in perspective and give yourself permission to unplug. Because when we really understand that our approach to multi-tasking and efficiency is actually counter-productive, we allow ourselves to be as present as possible in the moment, focused on one task at a time.
Now of course, for that to happen something has to give. And that’s the key to making this stick in the throws of everyday reality. We can’t keep doing the same things and expecting new results! Arianna addresses this issue in the book by explaining that it’s okay to let go of self-imposed things on our to-do lists that we know we aren’t going to get around to. Rather than letting them make you feel bad every time you push them from one day to the next, give yourself permission to simply remove them. It doesn’t mean you don’t want to do them, or that you won’t find time to do them in the future, it just means you know it’s not realistic to complete them now and that’s okay. This process for me was incredibly cathartic. I promise, if you try this you’ll find it helps clear the mental clutter and unnecessary stress from your day, so you can focus on the things that matter. And if you’re a workaholic like me and you have a hard time kicking the guilt, you won’t regret reading this book. It’s much easier to convince yourself to take a few moments out of the day to rest and recharge when you know the simple fact is: you will be more productive and successful at work, and happier in your personal life when you’re well rested and healthy.
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