What Julia Roberts and I have in Common (besides great hair, big smiles and hunky husbands).
Sure, I've got my favorite shows (Survivor, Grey’s Anatomy and The Real Housewives of Anywhere), but when it comes to TV, I'm an equal opportunist. I watched an episode or two of Running Wild with Bear Grylls but I wasn’t hooked 'til I heard he’d be running with Julia Roberts. Julia was doing it for a cause close to her heart, but I was watching for a glimpse of her vulnerability, and as usual, Julia delivered. Bear asked her about something she had done that scared her and Julia told him about taking time off following her success with Pretty Woman, “The wisest most courageous thing I could've done for myself at the time was really just to put the brakes on, and it ended up being two years that I didn't work, which started to feel like a big mistake.”
Julia was talking about pressing pause, something I am passionate about, because it feels at once highly desirable and incredibly terrifying. (And don’t say, well that’s Julia Roberts she can take time off cuz she’s Julia-frickin’-Roberts. Because she could have been "Whatever Happened to Julia Roberts?” and almost was according to a cover of People magazine at the time.)
Blocking off time for our to-do list or work or working out feels good. But blocking off time for time off feels...off. (I mean, if you’re going to have some time off wouldn’t that be a great time to book a weekend getaway or a spa day or a date night? Something useful to do with your time off instead of wasting it away?) That’s the thing with time, we don’t want to waste it. And spending time with yourself, hanging out and listening for who you are right now and what you want to do next, can feel like a big waste of time.
The biggest problem with pausing is that it connotes a luxury of time and space that we simply do not have, this being a life guaranteed to end in death. And having that hovering over us puts the pressure on us to figure out who we are and what we want as quickly as possible. Ironically, it is this very pressure that creates our daily anxiety. The pressure to figure it out, to be happy, to maximize our potential, to do our work, or to work out our karma (notice there’s a lot of work involved in just being who you are). That’s the reassurance we get in the busy-ness of doing. A reassurance we can not get from just being. Because being requires what we call ‘doing nothing’ which is not highly valued. Whereas doing is measurable, actionable, and at the very least, distracting.
Distracting from the overwhelming and inescapable truth which is that our lives will eventually be over. And that can be in 50 years or 5 weeks -- we have no way of knowing, such that the busy-ness becomes a way of avoiding the fact that we are going to die. And given that incredibly inevitable truth, why on Earth would you press pause, or slow down, or sleep for that matter? As the saying goes, ‘I’ll sleep when I’m dead’ and all of a sudden the rat race makes so much sense.
When I pulled back from my consulting work eight years ago, it was more exciting than scary. I was confident that once I regrouped I would come back to my career with the same energy and drive that had gotten me to where I was. But as time went on, my confidence wavered. Pausing was not the problem, re-entry was. What I had imagined would be an easy drive back onto a familiar street, became the equivalent of merging onto Germany’s Autobahn.
Using the Autobahn as a metaphor for life seems perfectly apt, after all you can be driving full out at your top speed of 100mph and someone will zoom right past you. Driving on the Autobahn isn’t just exhilarating, it’s humbling, slowing down isn’t just dumb, it’s dangerous (and pulling over is just illegal). It takes a certain personality and practice to drive that highway and enjoy the thrill of it. But stop doing it for awhile and re-entry may seem daunting. Just because you thrived in the rat race doesn’t mean your comeback will be successful. (Worse yet, you may not have the energy or desire to go back. Driving on the Autobahn was a thrilling experience for me at 28, but holds no pull for me today at umm, 38, yeah.)
But it is exactly for this reason that the pause is so priceless. If you’re going to spend all that time and energy racing, don’t you want to take a moment to make sure that you still want to go where you’re going? You might find that you’ve changed your mind or prefer the scenic route or that you love the town you pulled over in and want to stay there indefinitely. Pressing pause can be scary but it’s also a relief to stop running. And if and when you decide to get up and go again, your desire is clearer and your energy more sustainable.
After her two-year hiatus, Julia made dozens of movies, including Notting Hill, Eat, Pray, Love and Erin Brokovich, for which she won an Oscar. And don’t say, yeah, of course, she’s Julia-frickin’-Roberts, because, c’mon, you’re You-frickin’-You! And, yes, your path may be different and your pause may be different, but that call to pull over and take a breather is the same regardless of who you are. You are no less deserving of a break from the craziness of your life; consider heading towards the next exit to heed its call, you can always grab a coffee and get right back on.