Take Breaks | 37

We all need regular respites in our lives, because we’re humans, not machines.

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Episode Transcript

This is The Good List — I’m Tsh Oxenreider.

This is an idea. …Yet, I’m going to flip the script in this episode by sharing with you first a recent conversation with my friend Sarah Mackenzie, and then I’ll share with you my idea (they’re a bit related, and it just makes sense in my brain to do it this way). Sarah’s a good friend who runs Read-Aloud Revival and she’s a sought-after speaker in a variety of different topics, usually literacy or education and homeschooling. But she’s also my writing accountability partner; we check in with each other regularly to hear how we’re each doing on our writing projects. She and I chatted recently about a thing on her Good List that’s also coincidentally a thing on my own Good List. And it’s something I plan to do more of in the coming weeks. I’ll share more about that after our chat. So here it is, my recent chat with Sarah.


Tsh: Hey Sarah, how are you doing?

Sarah: I am doing great. How are you, Tsh?

Tsh: I am just delightful and I love talking with you. Sarah, tell me something that is on your good list right now.

Sarah: This has surprised me these past few months, but I do a lot of online learning. I know you do too, Tsh, like online classes or master classes or video classes, that kind of stuff. But I have started taking a writing class and it’s a fiction writing class, but a writing class that’s live. It is online, but it’s not prerecorded so we have assignments we have to turn in. We have live class times where we can all see each other and we listen to our teacher and she gives us feedback. I have been floored at how much more useful a live class has been, just interactive. And I think it’s partly that deadline of, I have homework I have to turn in. I have writing pages I turn in every week. It’s made me wonder if all the online learning I have been doing over the past few years has been almost the harder way because now I don’t just have to, I have to get up the gumption to watch the video and then put it into practice. Especially with video classes, I don’t know if you’re like this Tsh, but this is how I am. I will binge watch or more likely, binge listen to, a bunch of classes or trainings or teachings or whatever and not really implement them. So having a live interaction assignment piece has sorta surprised me, but I’m realizing maybe I’ve been doing things the hard way. Maybe I need to learn in this interactive format more than I have been in the past.

Tsh: Okay. You have no idea how timely this is. We have not talked about this beforehand, but yesterday I took my first live, in the same way class, not the same class you’re taking, which I super want to sign up for. It’s a class with CRC Institute. I’m taking a class on beauty. It’s totally just for continuing education, the topic sounded really interesting. We started with ancient Greece yesterday and it was a live hour and a half class with another human person across from zoom. There’s a 160 of us, which I could not believe. We just geeked out on the Iliad and statues and the Parthenon.

Sarah: Who’s teaching it?

Tsh: Katarina Kern.

Sarah: I love her.

Tsh: Katarina Kern teaches it and it’s so lovely. It’s just one of these like refreshing, I’m doing this just for my own edification kind of things. My daughter even came in and was like, what you doing? Because this was her last day of school. I told her and she loved it. She thought it was great, but she was like the last thing I want to do right now is take a class on Zoom. I don’t blame her, but it’s really interesting that you said that because I’m wondering the same thing now because I took copious notes. I stayed engaged. I made comments. Whereas before, I’m a member of Masterclass and I love it and I’m probably going to renew it because I really enjoy it. But I listen to it like a podcast.

Sarah: I do too.

Tsh: You can even toggle it to where you just do the audio, at least on your phone.

Sarah: Yeah. I know. That’s great.

Tsh: I will binge listen, but it’s more like a podcast than a class I’m taking. That is so interesting that you said that.

Sarah: It’s interesting because once, when we think about like how students learn, we know that they actually need that reflection piece, is the more important part of learning, not like drinking up the information while you’re reading or listening to a lecture, but it’s taking all that information and then either telling it back in your own words or doing something with it. Right? But when I’m thinking about how I usually learn something, I’m trying to learn, I just do the soaking up. Like you said, I listen to masterclasses as well. I really do love them. I like to listen to them while I’m walking or making dinner or whatever, but I don’t do any assignments or anything. That’s the harder part. It’s easier to skip. It’s easier to go, I’ll do that later. I’m going to listen to the next class.

Tsh: I’m curious because this class you’re taking right now, it’s a smaller cohort, right?

Sarah: Yeah. There’s only, I don’t know how many people are in the class total, but in our live sessions, because that’s like another thing that you signed up for, there’s six of us. We get one on one feedback, really. I mean one on six feedback, but we turn in pages and if you weren’t to turn in your pages, everybody would notice and be like, where are yours? Because they read them for you and give you feedback every week.

Tsh: I was actually just going to say that you would literally, they would know if you weren’t there. My class, you wouldn’t know with 160 people, but that’s okay with me. I still want to show up because I paid for it. But with yours, you’re missing out on what you paid for, if you don’t show up with a group that small.

Sarah: One week I didn’t have, I really just didn’t have time to get my pages in. I showed up to the class, but I didn’t have anything for feedback on. I did feel like, oh man, I paid for this. I’m here. But I missed out on an opportunity that I had and I just think there’s a few things going on. I think number one is it happens at a certain time. It goes on my calendar. Whereas when I’m taking a online course that I’ve bought, that’s already prerecorded. I can watch it at any time, which also means I can delay it at any time. Then number two, I think me having to do something, an assignment of some kind and turn it in and people knowing if I didn’t or if I did, I just think, I didn’t realize how much that accountability makes learning easier for me. I thought I can learn and lots of different ways and we can, of course.

Tsh: I think it’s interesting how much that accountability comes into play. The older I’ve gotten, the more I have learned how significant that is for me in doing any of these things. I think of myself as pretty independent. But like as an example I thought of, this past year I joined a gym and it’s a CrossFit gym and we just meet a few people at a time and they just started up again, post quarantine and it’s still super spaced apart. There’s literally three of us at a time. But it was amazing to me how much I missed it. Like I thought, okay, I learned a lot of new skills. I’m going to keep it up at home. And I did for like three weeks and then it was so hard. It’s just funny to me, how much just knowing other people will notice whether you’re there and then cheer you on, really is a motivator for me, it’s weird.

Sarah: As adults, I think, because so many things like that, like you’re talking about at the gym or like this class that you’re taking or that I’m taking, there are things we want to do, so we think, well, I want to do them, so I’ll be motivated to keep going. But whenever you’re learning or whenever you’re trying to get better at something you’re going to hit roadblocks. I think it’s really easy for us to make excuses for ourselves or just get caught up in all the million other things we have going on. You know? So having that accountability makes it easier to keep going when it gets hard. I think that’s been something I’ve been surprised by how big of an impact that’s making. I was even a little hesitant when I saw there was the live component like, oh, yikes. I don’t know if I have time for that. It turns out I can make time for it apparently.

Tsh: That is so true because I think that used to be a deterrent for me. I don’t want to sign up for a gym because then I have to physically be with other people. I don’t want to sign up for a live class because then I have to show up, which is so dumb. Now that I’m saying it out loud, like of course, if I want to, don’t I want to show up? But somehow I wouldn’t. But I love that. I think you’re right about putting it on the calendar, too. Like yesterday, I was really in the middle of grading essays, but then 3:00 PM, well, it’s time for my class. I’m going close out the tabs where I’m grading essays because it’s only an hour and a half. I can spare an hour and a half to take this class I signed up for. I took so many notes and I wrote them down and then I’m going to transfer it to Google doc, which is another way I process. I hand-write and then I type it. I’m invested in this even though it’s only a six week class and it’s only just for fun. I love the thought of taking something professionally, like what you’re doing, because you really do have a reason for taking it. You’re hoping to find a career or ROI from this class you’re taking. Right?

Sarah: Yeah. Actually, you saying that makes me also realize that the other thing I tend to do is collect classes because I like to collect information. Normally I will sign up for lots of different classes and get a book. This class, like I said, is a fiction writing class. I would get books on fiction writing and watch masterclasses on fiction writing. I know Pixar has a great Khan Academy class on fiction writing, all these different kinds of things and collect them. But because I’m in this live class, I know that I have things that have to turn in. I’m not collecting stuff because I know I don’t have enough time to go through it all. It’s almost just focusing and making me simplify and go, nope, I decided to go all in on this live class.

Tsh: That’s good. That’s true. I collect as well because there’s so much out there. The internet is so great about that and yet we get decision fatigue and overwhelm and then I think you pointed out something else that I’ve been thinking about a lot too, how I think the better classes these days are the super specific ones. Not the ones that are helping you run an online business, but really specifically, we’re going to talk about fiction writing and for you not even fiction writing, but it’s specific part of the process of writing fiction. For me, we’re doing a six week class on beauty from the classical tradition. We’re not talking about something broader than that. I just created a four-part audio series, it’s specifically on creating a rule of life and I purposely made it really short, like four, I mean I think under 10 minute, little blips, little things. I think people, I know I appreciate that so much more. I want something I can see the end in sight, like right away the second I sign up for it.

Sarah: That’s a good point. I should point out this fiction writing class that I’m taking and you mentioned it’s about a specific topic. The first one I took was about structure and then this new one is about craft and there are recorded parts to it, just like your audio course. I actually love that because I can watch and rewatch and listen or re-listen. I like that ability to go back and revisit it. I think the live piece does help me with the accountability and whatnot. I think there’s something there for focusing for short period of time on something very specific, like your beauty class for six weeks or rule of life for four weeks. I’m going to take this very small commitment of time, not the whole next year, but just the next X number of weeks and I’m gonna really focus on one particular thing.

Tsh: Because we are normal working adults with kids and we don’t have two years to get a master’s in something, but we can take a semester or a few months or a few weeks and gradually, I don’t want to say it’s self-improve but gradually get better at the thing we want to get better at. I love that you brought this up. This is a really good one.

Sarah: Well, I’m so glad. I was thinking this morning, what has made the biggest impact for me in the last few weeks or months really, has been this. It’s sounds silly when you say it, taking a live class instead of a recorded one, but it’s making the difference for me.

Tsh: I think it’s so smart. It’s really good.

I don’t know if it’s the pandemic and quarantine, or what, but for whatever reason, I’ve signed up for a lot of continuing education classes this summer. Most of them have to do with my work as a writer and teacher, but a few are just for fun — regardless, I find them all fun intrinsically because I’m a huge nerd. I love learning stuff. I’d happily be a student full-time the rest of my life if I could figure out a way to make a living out of it.

This isn’t really new for me; I’ve taken tons of online courses over the years, some great and some not-so-great. But I’m grateful for them all, because I’ve learned something in each one, and they’ve helped me grow professionally and personally.

But …there’s also such a thing as letting those lessons percolate. If we take in too much new information in a short period of time without letting our brain organize its files and let the new stuff find its home wherever it needs to be, we’ll either lose that info and it won’t be any good to us, or we’ll get overwhelmed, our brain’s limbic systems will go into overdrive, and we’ll freeze. We’ll stop learning. All this has happened to me before, and I’m guessing you’ve had experience with it, too.

If you’ve followed me at all in the past 12-plus years I’ve shared my work online, you know that I almost always take a summer work break in some capacity. It’s one of the huge perks of working for yourself — setting your own calendar — so I’m not saying this flippantly. But I am grateful for it, and I do love taking advantage of it. The summer is an ideal time for me to slow my brain down and rest so that it’s ready for the second half of the year — especially the past few years, when I started teaching, and I think especially this year, with the fall being a giant question mark for much of my work schedule and routine (and I’m guessing it might be the same for you).

Last summer I took my first-ever, full-on sabbatical in my work, and after 11 years, it was beyond due. I didn’t work for a solid month, and I road tripped with my family through the Pacific Northwest while I logged off the internet completely. It was so beyond fantastic and restorative that I vowed to do that sort of full-on sabbatical more often; definitely more frequently than every 11 years. I had no idea how badly I needed a clean break from the internet. I came back and started working with an entirely new perspective, and it’s still affecting me to this day.

Well, I knew then that even though I can’t afford to take a full summer sabbatical every year, I have to prioritize taking more breaks more frequently, to avoid burnout and so I continue to enjoy doing the work I do. And I want to encourage you to do the same with this idea, because I really do think ‘taking regular breaks’ should be on all our Good Lists, whatever our lives look like.

Maybe you don’t work for yourself, so you can’t take a complete break from work. Or maybe you can, if you’ve got vacation time you haven’t cashed in on. But perhaps, if you’re working from home these days, you could look into taking a break from your current surroundings — you might not feel safe traveling long distances via airplane right now, but maybe you and your family could find a guesthouse a few hours away. It might surprise you how much you need that break from the house you’ve been in for so long now.

Or maybe instead of a full break from work, it looks like some sort of downshift. Is there a project you can shelf for a month, or a weekly routine appointment you can pause for the next little bit? Is there some part of your work you can take a break from? It might help you work fewer hours — or if not, it might at least provide a bit more mental space in your life right now, giving you more margin to rest.

I know you know what I mean — taking regular breaks from work is nothing new; I’m not coming up with an idea you’ve never thought of. But I am asking you to consider whether you have a fixed mindset on whether you can take a break; that perhaps with some creativity you can take more of a break than seems possible on the surface. Even a short break from thinking about some part of your work makes a huge difference. We all need these regular respites in our life, because we’re humans, not machines.

You already know one big change I made after my summer sabbatical last year: I ended my long-running podcast, Simple, at the end of the year and started this new one after a short break. This show is much easier to create, and it takes up less of my overall work time, giving me more time to write — because one thing I finally admitted on my sabbatical that I otherwise wasn’t giving myself time to truly think about is that I’m a writer who podcasts, I’m not a podcaster who writes. My work priority lies in writing well, and I was mistakenly giving too much of my energy to podcasting. With my finite humanity, I chose to reprioritize my work so I can still do my things well without them letting drain me creatively.

So with that in mind… I’m taking advantage of that shift. Starting a new podcast meant I was free from an ad network dictating how many episodes I needed to create, and how often they needed to go out. By selling only private ads, and prioritizing being a listener-funded show, I could block out my calendar whenever I needed it without worry of a sponsor getting neglected. I long envied my podcasting colleagues who were independent who could take breaks whenever they wanted. And so… that’s what I’m doing.

The Good List is gonna pause, just for the next few weeks, so I can take a break from podcasting and catch my breath a bit. I’m going to work on writing my book, planning my next school year, and sketching out what the second half looks like for the final year of The Art of Simple. I’ll still send you weekly 5 Quick Things letters, and I’ll keep guiding our Books & Crannies summer book club discussion, because those things are fun and life-giving to me.

And I’m gonna work on a few of those continuing education classes that Sarah and I were talking about. I’ve signed up for the class on writing that Sarah’s been raving about to me for months now, and that starts in a week — I want to devote plenty of time and energy to it, since as I mentioned, I want to make sure I prioritize my writing. I’m looking forward to catching up on my classes, getting my full nerd tank filled.

I’m almost positive I’ll go quiet on social media during this time — I did last summer, and it was the best decision I made for my sabbatical. Those places are intentionally engineered to be addictive, and I’d hate it if I unintentionally spent my short work break scrolling Twitter or Instagram. I may pop on once or twice — but I may not, who knows. I’m not gonna sweat those places, either way.

Whatever the next few weeks look like for me, The Good List WILL be back, with brand-new episodes for you about the little things in life that make everything better. You’ve already got an archive of 37 episodes from season 1 here, and I’m proud of that — they’re all short and bingeable, so you can replay any of them that inspire you when you need a boost of encouragement.

So as a reminder… I’m on twitter @tsh and sometimes on IG @tshoxenreider, yet as I just said, I may be a little quieter in those places for the next bit, which I’m excited about. If you want to keep up with me throughout the summer, the best place to do that is in my weekly newsletter, which I’ll still send out every Friday — go to fivequickthings.email to sign up, and if you want to join our summer book club, where we’re reading Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, you can upgrade your subscription to Books & Crannies whenever you get an email from me. It’s super low-pressure.

Another little reminder as well that this summer might be a great time for you to take my new 4-part, self-paced audio series called Create Your Rule of Life. It’s an easy, approachable, applicable workshop based on St. Benedict’s Rule of Life, and it’s pay what you can — that means you can pay a dollar if that’s all you can do right now, or you can pay more to help support other listeners so they can create their Rule of Life, too.

For that audio workshop, as well as a transcript and the show notes of this episode, #37, and all episodes, go to thegoodlistshow.com. There you’ll find links for all good stuff — my newsletter, books, workshop, and more. It’s where you can also go to leave a voice recording we may feature here on the show, where you tell us what’s one thing on your current Good List.

Thank you, listeners, for a great season 1 of The Good List! And thanks to Sarah Mackenzie for sharing with us what’s currently on her Good List. Music for the show is by Kevin MacLeod, and thanks, as always, to Caroline TeSelle and Kyle Oxenreider for their help, as well as my furry intern, Ginny. I’m Tsh Oxenreider, and I’ll be back with you soon, pinky-swear — thanks for listening to The Good List.