You know what’s great about a month off? It’s like an opportunity for a whole month of that kind of teenager freedom that you remember having when you were young. You don’t have to make your bed (that’s for January!). You don’t have to watch what you eat (It’s the holidays!). You don’t have to do anything at all. No one is really relying on you. You can get away with whatever you want.
There’s real freedom in that approach. The kind of freedom that many of us remember having as a kid, and long for when we retire.
No one will be able to tell me what I have to do then. I’ll only do the things that I want. I’m going to garden for seven days straight and only eat blocks of cheese for sustenance! (Or whatever your weird retirement fantasy is).
That’s what my December looked a lot like. No structure. Screw you structure, you can get snoozed until January. No waking up at a specific time, no taking on any particular kind of practice.
I felt like I was in a continual tug-o-war with myself. On the one hand I had this freedom. “YOU CAN’T TAKE AWAY MY CHOCOLATE!”, I would scream to myself, foaming chocolatey spittle at the sides of my mouth. My resistance to any kind of structure was a response to the fear that I would lose the freedom I got so rarely.
I didn’t want to lose that freedom. I didn’t want to take a look at anything outside of continuing the binge I was on.
The other side of the tug-o-war was a desire to be doing something. Anything really. Just to be producing something. Because my complete lack of structure left me feeling like I was aimlessly floating, I was also frantically looking for things to do to overcome the undeniable feeling of uselessness I was experiencing.
I’d assemble cabinetry, arrange my desk, and ironically, be watching the clock for when I could tell myself I’d done enough and could go back to the video games and ensuing binge.
I sat talking about this with my coach, noticing how it was a bit of a set up to begin with. But the really interesting thing for me was how resistant I was in the conversation to really taking a look at what I intended with my time off.
My resistance wasn’t showing up by a flat out unwillingness. (I’ll play whatever game you put in front of me, because I desperately want to be a good client, leader, human being, … boy).
The way my resistance showed up is that I would continually steer the conversation back to what I didn’t want to lose.
“Well, if I’m choosing an intention, one thing I definitely don’t want to have is a month without fun… So I guess my intention is fun.”
It’s not that having fun is a bad thing — it’s just that I was giving that answer because I was scared if I chose a deeper intention (ie, one that’s more true to what I really want), I’m going to lose my fun and my chocolate and YOU CAN’T MAKE ME DO IT!!!!! (This time it’s beer-y spittle foaming at the sides of my mouth).
My parents raised me with a lot of structure (thank goodness), and it’s left me with this weird relationship to it. I always have an underlying fear that you’re going to take away my treats at some point, and so I need to maximize my play time — I need to binge. A moment of freedom isn’t just that — it’s a race to the bottom. To gather and consume all of the treats before the time runs out.
That protective tendency makes sense when you’re a teenager and your world is not truly yours to create, but as an adult, I’m only fighting against the rules I’m creating for myself, and often at the expense of what I’m most deeply committed to.
These tendencies and ways of being show up just as much in my leadership as they do in the rest of my life (we’re fooling ourselves if we think they don’t). Imagine how I might be about the structure I impose on myself and my team after coming back from a month of resisting it. It’s going to be pretty militant in response, right?
I end up creating pockets in my life where I can’t be intentional. I’ve worked hard to create a lot of intention around my time “on” (work, career, etc.), but when it comes to my time off, it all slides away. I’m left a victim to my desire to be unconstrained.
What if getting intentional had nothing to do with an experience of freedom?