I had an epiphany about how I work and I’m not really sure what to do with it. I have had a problem, my entire adult life, with working too much and not letting myself have downtime. I’ve been aware of this and I’ve never been able to figure out how to fix it because I end up overworked and stressed all because I almost never take breaks.

I frequently use the expression, “I don’t deserve a break” which is a weird thing to say now that I step back and look at it. What determines whether I deserve a break or not? Doesn’t everyone deserve a break? And when I do take a break and try to relax I feel hugely guilty about it because I should be working, shouldn’t I?

I was a very good student in school (both in college and pre). I got good grades, headed several clubs and activities and worked hard. My formula for being a good student was simple: I had to finish my school work and then I could have fun. This wasn’t something my parents required so much as just something I imposed on myself. I wouldn’t play the Sims, read, or do anything I enjoyed for leisure until I was finished with everything that was due.

Once the work was done, such as when I was on a school break or even just on evenings after I’d finished all my work for the next day, I would totally cut loose and let myself do lots of fun things. I used to spend hours upon hours in the summer reading piles of books, playing computer games till my butt got numb, watching bad TV with my mom or just randomly dancing around to music and I never felt the weird guilt I feel when I try to take a chunk of time off now. When I think back on all the hours I spent in my school years hanging out and doing not much of anything, it floors me because I have so much trouble now just letting myself do nothing.

So I worked hard and then, once I was done with the work, I played hard. It was a good balance and it worked very well in school. But I think it may have messed me up for life.

My old system worked because, in school, there were deadlines and things ended. Assignments were due, marking periods ended, papers were handed in and once things were done I could let myself have fun. Remember that freeing sensation of walking out of your last final and knowing that you were DONE, baby?

But, in real life, the work never ends. You are never truly DONE. There is no end of semester, no due dates, no school breaks. And I realized that this is why I have so much trouble letting myself take breaks. I always have work to do and projects hanging over my head, so I’m always mentally in that “must work, I’ll take a break when the work is done” mode.

Now obviously, as I’m the person writing this, I understand on a conscious level that I will never truly be done and that this is just what real life is like and I need to start giving myself permission to take breaks without being insane about it. But, even though I know this, I’m still finding it very difficult to do. Because the school cycle of due dates is so ingrained in how I think and work that I just can’t seem to break free of it.

Which brings me to one of my several new year’s resolutions: let yourself take breaks. Are there some people out there who are serially lazy? Probably. But chances are, if you’re the good student type and you feel like you’re always working too much, you’re getting enough done and you deserve to take some time to yourself to relax.