Finding inner peace after burnout (and dog kisses)

If I close my eyes tightly enough, I can remember that warm, sunny weekend. It was the last perfect weekend of the fall.

It was unusually warm for early October and perfect weather for my son's eighteenth birthday celebration. I intended to enjoy it and had decided not to bring my computer on the trip. No work, only family and the beauty of Lake Tahoe in the fall.

You have to understand just how unusual it is for me NOT to be working every waking moment. Honestly, I was so burned out, I couldn't see straight.

At first, I felt totally lost. My mind didn’t know what to do. Unexpectedly untethered from work, I found myself walking on the beach, picking up small pebbles and delighting in the tiny, flowering plants that had somehow managed to find a foothold so near the water. I stood there, aware of how special it was to be in this place with these people, and tried to memorize every little thing.

Listening to the calls of the seagulls and hearing the sound of children playing, my mind drifted, and I dreamed of a life where this kind of experience was normal.

I actually began to relax.

I tried to burn this special time into my memory, and now I can replay small moments in my mind like slides flickering on an old screen from a family vacation.

Look, there we are, standing in shorts and t-shirts on the loose pebbles right at the edge of Lake Tahoe. Each jockeying for position as my newly minted eighteen-year-old son agreed to take a group selfie. With his long arms, he effortlessly held the phone out far enough to get the three of us in the frame.

Another slide change, and we’re hiking to a waterfall in the bright sunshine on the steep, rocky trail above Emerald Cove. About an hour into the hike, the trail got so difficult that I stopped and told everyone else to go ahead. Sitting there on a rock, with poor cell phone service and no computer, I basked in the noonday sun and daydreamed. I gazed out at the impossibly blue water down below and felt myself relax even more.

I felt weightless and free.

I had lots of short visits with passing people and dogs on the trail. I quickly realized I was sitting at just the right height for dog kisses. After a while, my family returned and told me how difficult the rest of the trail was and that the waterfall wasn't much to see. This news made me really glad I had listened to my body and stopped when I did. 

As the slide changes again, we’re at dinner with even more family. We’re outside on the restaurant’s back deck, looking out at the marina as the day fades into darkness. Lights twinkled down near the water, candles on every table shone brightly, and strands of twinkle lights surrounded us. The patio heaters made it feel like a warm, magical cocoon. Surrounded by light and laughter, we caught up with family we hadn’t seen in years.

As I sit here in my present reality and look out the window, I can see big, fluffy snowflakes lazily drifting around like feathers during a pillow fight. At times like this, I play those warm memories of untethered freedom on repeat.

I didn't need to identify as that person who never stops working. In shifting my thinking, I realized the importance of stopping for a rest, being able to daydream without the constant pressure of self-imposed deadlines, and of taking the time to relish the people and other blessings I already have in my life. I wish all this for you, too.