The other day, my husband and I were out walking with the baby. I had been carrying our little guy in the carrier (one of his favorite places on earth) for quite some time, and we live in a very hilly neighborhood.
"Do you need a break? I can take him," my husband said.
I thought about it for a second. I didn't need a break. I was doing okay.
"No, I'm okay," I said.
So we kept walking. And then, maybe 20 minutes later, suddenly I really, really needed a break. By then I was also exhausted and cranky.
Now I'm telling you, it has honestly taken me decades to finally have the thought I had next, which was this: "You can take the break before you need it." You can take the break, replenish, stop whatever you are doing -- when you still have fuel in the tank.
A few days later, we were out with the baby again, this time on the train. We were exploring, hanging out, and everyone was having a fine old time. I decided that was so fabulous that instead of getting off at our intended destination a few stops away from our home, we should ride the train out to the end of the line.
It was really great for the first 15 minutes or so. And then we all started to get tired, bored, and fussy. It was too much.
It's hard for me to end anything -- a work session, a conversation, an outing -- while still energized and up for more. It's hard for me to take a break before a break is non-negotiable.
It has something to do with my passion and exuberance for life, yes, and I appreciate that in myself. But it also has something to do with how exhaustion numbs me from the present. If I stop doing whatever while I'm still alert, energized, then, by definition, I continue being alertly-present to my moment-to-moment experience. And sometimes I want to run from that.
Last week some friends were visiting us, with their toddler son. The little guy loved to watch our dog eat and would yell "more! more!" when our dog was done with his food. My friend, his wise mama, would explain, "He's all done. He had enough. It was enough." I got to watch his 2-year-old mind contemplate this abstract concept and try to take it in: enough. And I wanted to teach myself, just like that, with a patient, loving, maternal voice, "Tara, that is enough honey. It's enough."
I think I am still learning what enough is, and that it is. That you can declare yourself having worked hard enough for the day before your brain has slowed to a total halt due to exhaustion. That you can declare it enough hours doing childcare and take a break even while you are still enjoying yourself and have the stamina to do more. That you can declare it enough of a lovely evening with friends before all your energy for conversation expires. That you can quit while well-resourced, still alert, still enjoying, eager for it all to happen again.
So I'm going to try this for a while, and I invite you to try it with me: to take the break before you need it. To quit while you are ahead, in a sense. To experience the mysterious side of life I know little about -- doing things lightly, in moderation, with buffer.
Right now, I have 20 minutes before I have to pack up the computer and head home from this cafe. The old way? Spend the next 20 minutes polishing this post or doing a couple more tasks. After all -- I have a teeny bit of stamina left. I can.
The new way? Pack up now. Stroll for a bit, and give myself some extra buffer time for getting home before my next appointment.
I like it.
Do you take the break before you need it? Do you want to? Tell us in the comments.
Tara Sophia Mohr is the author of the forthcoming book, Playing Big: Find Your Voice, Your Mission, Your Message (Penguin, 2014). Click here to download her free 10 Rules for Brilliant Women Workbook.