Don’t Let These Myths About Success Keep You from Taking Time Off

Photo by: Chris Thompson

Photo by: Chris Thompson

You’ve long wanted to take some extended time off. There are no major financial or other barriers in your way. Yet, you’re stalling, doubting, or still putting it off.

Don’t worry, this is not at all uncommon.

I quit my job to take a year off when I was 34. I'd almost taken the leap when I was 31. Then it took me three more years to actually go through with it. To save enough money. To feel like my career was in a solid enough place. To work up the sheer courage.

Because taking time off – especially if it’s leisurely, unstructured, and fun – is a radical, countercultural move. It's going to challenge the myths out there about success and self-worth – many of which are likely highly ingrained inside you.

Here are three of the most powerful myths I encountered:

Myth #1: Successful people are busy people.

Subtext: The busier you are, the more successful you must be. If you’re not busy, you can’t possibly be successful. Taking extended time off to play or relax is lacking in ambition, lazy, and possibly disastrous for your career.  

Myth #2: Successful people can always be “on” without ever needing to take a break.

Subtext: If you’re physically unable to keep up with the pace of your work – for example, if you're struggling with insomnia, chronic aches and pains, or panic attacks – it’s because you’re not strong enough.

Myth #3: Successful people always know what their next career move is.

Subtext: If you’re dissatisfied, feel like you’re on the wrong path, or don’t know what would make you happy in your next career step, you screwed up. If you’re uncertain, it’s better to keep it under wraps; otherwise people will start to see you as a failure.

Why You've Got to Confront These Myths Head-On

I know how powerful these myths are. When I left for my own sabbatical year, I had to wrestle with each of them.

All of these myths can stand in the way of you ever taking time off. They can also keep you from fully benefiting from time off even if you do take the leap. They pose some very real dangers.

What can happen if you don't deal with Myth #1 "Successful people are busy people"

  • You never take the time off because you can’t deal with the unworthiness that you feel when you’re not working.
  • You take time off but don’t take enough because you feel too guilty.
  • You take time off and quickly fill it with anything you can, because you’re afraid of having experiencing any moments of feeling lost or at loose ends. This fear keeps you from taking the time to intentionally select and figure out for yourself what would make this time the most meaningful to you.   

What can happen if you don't deal with Myth #2 "Successful people can always be 'on' without ever needing to take a break"

  • Eventually your body, mind, and/or spirit crashes, and you’re forced to take time off to get better. This is a bummer, because now you're using more of your time off to recover rather than to have fun and explore.
  • You take time off voluntarily, but you stay stuck in a feeling of shame and self-judgement for not being strong enough to keep up your previous pace. Your time off is shadowed by these negative self-judgements.

What can happen if you don't deal with Myth #3 "Successful people always know what their next career move is"

  • You feel so ashamed that you’ve lost your way with your career, that you keep it to yourself. This shame stops you from admitting to others that you need their help, and the options they could show you. You never take time off. Instead, you leap into the next opportunity that comes your way – which might cost you a lot of time (a new job) or a lot of money (a new degree) – and that still doesn’t get you where you want to go.
  • It takes you a lot longer to get where you’d really like to go in life and work – if you ever get there.

Live by Your Own Vision of Success

When I woke up the first Monday morning of my sabbatical, unemployed and with a whole year of free time stretching out in front of me, I was numb with fear. It wasn’t like I was suddenly freed of all the doubts and anxiety that had plagued me about this decision.

In fact, although I did some really fun and meaningful things during the first few months of my year off, much of the time I was all twisted up inside, still hooked to the myths I describe above. I had to work through all of this baggage, and in the end, create and accept my own vision of success for my life – in order to benefit the most from my time off.

What I eventually learned was that I didn’t want to live a life that was busy. I didn’t want a job that gave me chronic neck pain from too much stress and screen-time and that kept my brain buzzing at night.

I didn’t want isolate myself when I felt uncertain or lost about my path. Instead I wanted to always ask for help and push myself to explore all the possibilities that life had to offer – and trust that taking scary, yet heart-centered, steps would always work out in the end.

So I work on not being busy. I practice saying “yes” to the most important things, and “no” to the things that aren’t. I try to prioritize having time for people I care about above “getting things done.”

I continue to create a job and lifestyle that don’t demand that I’m always “on.” I’m still an ambitious person and have a lot I want to do every day, but I make sure that I always make time for renewing my energy and doing some things just for pure, pointless fun

Whenever I get stuck or lost, I try to stay curious, open with others and to new possibilities – rather than going to a place of shame or self-judgement.

This is how taking time off can truly change a person’s life. It starts on the inside.

Do you find yourself hooked by any of these success myths? How is it impacting your quality of life, or driving your life decisions?

What would happen if you were to stop and define your own vision of success for this life?