Trust the Process
My Dad, the Hero
We used to live in Brooklyn around Prospect Park, until I was in kindergarten. Our apartment was on 9th street, right above my dad’s grocery store. He worked there from 7AM to 11PM, 7 days a week. My mom would bring my brother and I to the store while she worked. My brother would be in a stroller in the back office, while I roamed around the aisles, and open doors for customers. At night, I remember hiding behind a sofa by our door, waiting to jump out and scare my dad when he came home. The only problem was that I would start hiding at 8PM. So rather than scaring him, I ended up falling asleep behind there and my dad would have to pick me up and bring me to bed when he came home.
About three or four years later, my dad opened a dry clearers in Astoria and we all moved to Queens. He only had to work 70 hours instead of 112. Monday to Friday, 7AM to 7PM, and on Saturdays 8AM to 6PM. He didn’t have to work on Sundays. And that’s what he’s been doing until now, thirty years later.
My mom always told us, “Your dad works so hard because he loves you. It’s not easy to go to the same job, do the same thing day in and day out.” That he was a great man for what he did, and I believed her. He was my hero. From an early age, I equated working hard with being a good person, because I wanted to be like my dad. He wasn’t as involved in our lives like my mom was but I don’t hold that against him. I feel so grateful for the sacrifice he made for us. But there’s always another side to that story that I didn’t fully realize until recently.
Like Father, Like Son
Twenty years later, I had an opportunity to do something I loved: photography. It wasn’t the mundane kind of work my dad had to do in order to provide for his family. It was something that I was passionate about, and I did it on my terms. I ended up following in my father’s footsteps. I don’t really remember my twenties because I was just heads down, working as hard as I can to build up my business. Working hard meant I was doing something right. The only “vacations” I took was a few extra days after a shoot somewhere out of state. But why would I need a vacation? Everyday was a vacation for me, I was doing something I loved.
I didn't know how to stop even after I started dating, and got married. My wife wisely made me take one day off a week to rest together, and that was great for us. But other than that day, and sometimes even on that day, I couldn’t really disconnect from work. Work was always on my mind.
There was always work to do. There was never enough time to it all.
I had the luxury of setting my own hours, and I worked 70 hour weeks like my dad.
Sean, the Workaholic
This is where I should introduce Sean McCabe. When I read this post about his life four years ago, it was like reading about someone from a parallel universe who was living the extreme version of my life.
I ate two out of three meals at my desk. I consumed dinner with a TV show, after which I returned promptly to my office to work again until midnight.
There was work, and there was sleeping and eating (although little of the latter two). I cared about sleeping and eating only as much as they enabled me to work more.
I was not physically active for most of my 20s. I sat at a desk (I didn’t own a standing desk). I didn’t walk, I didn’t run, I hardly even went outside.
“The business would not grow itself,” I thought. There were only two modes:
Mode 1: Working on the business. Mode 2: Feeling guilty about not working on the business.
I didn’t like feeling guilty.
In an episode on his podcast, he goes deeper into why he worked so hard. His business that he had started was doing well and growing so he started to hire his friends to grow the business. But, he grew too fast. The business couldn’t sustain the size of the company. Instead of downsizing the business (God forbid he’d ever layoff his friends), he moonlighted doing paid work in addition to working on the company so he can meet payroll every two weeks. That was his life for 10 years: working 18 hours a day.
Then four years ago, at the end of his rope, he downsized his company and changed his entire business model. Instead of going all in on work, he went all in on breaks and started to take off every seventh week. He’s been doing that for four years, and this is his life now:
- I sleep 8 hours per night.
- I take off all major holidays.
- I take off every seventh week.
- I exercise 90–120 minutes per day.
- I work 5 days per week and take off weekends.
- I work no more than 8 hours per day (often less).
- I spend 30 minutes every day talking with my wife.
I’ve never worked as hard as Sean, nor had the kind of obligations he put on himself. But I saw where I could end up, and it scared me. I also had a successful business that I was excited to work on. I am a people pleaser who avoids confrontation. And plus, being busy was good my mom told me so. It’s a noble thing to provide for the people I love.
Trust the Process
Sean’s story made me change my perspective. I decided to try taking a sabbatical as well. But what does that mean, to take a sabbatical? Is it taking a vacation every 7 weeks? Stay in bed and binge on Netflix?
Here is his definition of a sabbatical:
The purpose of the sabbatical is freedom from obligation. When you go into a sabbatical, you should have NO prior commitments, so that you can say “Yes” to anything in the moment.
On a sabbatical, you could do nothing and stay in bed to binge on Netflix. That is definitely a choice you can make, but the point of a sabbatical is to have the option to do what you want to do. To take control of your actions and not put it in the hands of others.
I’ve done a few already, but haven’t had the courage to do a whole week. I’ve been doing three day sabbaticals. This week is actually my first sabbatical where I’m taking the whole week off, and I’m spending a part of it in Montreal. If being able to freelance feels like a luxury, this feels downright decadent. Taking time to rest on my own terms, doing what I want to do, and saying no in order to protect this time. I felt anxious the few days leading up to this week. I felt I was being too entitled, that I don’t deserve to do this, but I think that's the point. That’s exactly the reason why I should be doing this. I'm trusting the process and believing it'll be good for me.
I’ll update on how it was and why I did it, but I hope this inspires you to do consider doing something similar for yourself.