Your aliveness matters most.

Although it’s been a long time since I’ve worked as an employee (27 years, to be precise), I can remember how I, and all my similarly-employed friends, lived for time away from work. From holiday to holiday, and from vacation to vacation, time away was a bigger focus and conversation than anything having to do with work. As I still have friends with jobs, I still see that happening today. And I get it; as employees, people get precious little time off and it’s wonderful when it happens, especially in a nine-to-five(ish) life of routine in a job

As soon as I left that world, one of the first things I decided for myself is that I wouldn’t work Fridays, ever again. My life, my biz, my hours. If I was making it up for myself, that’s what I wanted.

Just that one change was massively freeing to me. Especially when I figured out that no one minded. My clients not only weren’t bothered by it, they didn’t even comment on it when I told them!

Oh, and I decided I would never again work a single US Federal holiday. Or the days after Thanksgiving and Christmas, or New Year’s Eve.

I lived that for a while, and after a time, realized I needed to create my own vacation/sick time standard. While I would take a day here and there, and D and I would go away for a week once a year, I hadn’t yet figured out a better/stronger standard for vacation/sick/personal time. If other companies have standards of time they allow people to be away from work, I should too, I reasoned. And not that crappy two weeks, plus a couple of sick days I would never use because I’d feel guilty about being away, kinda thing. I decided to lump it all together and give myself four weeks off (in addition to the holidays and Fridays). So that was four weeks of generalized vaca/sick/personal time, plus two weeks of holidays, plus 45-ish Fridays (allowing some deviance for holidays that may fall on that day of the week), for what’s the equivalent of something like 15 weeks off each year. Not a typo.

Why was I able to do this for myself and my business, especially when I was a new biz? I wish I could say that it was because I was a smart business person and knew it was important. But, the truth is that it was because I *could*. No one was bossing me around telling me I couldn’t. So, I did. And maybe where I was smart was in being guided by the realization that one of the greatest benefits of self-employment is the freedom, and part of that is taking time away from work.

I mention all of this, not to wag my smartypantsness at you, but as a precursor to saying that in my years of working with VAs, this is one of the places I see many of them—even the most seasoned and successful of them—shooting themselves in the foot. Maybe you are, too?

Oh, they may have a standard around time away, but they’ll also be the first to step over it and work rather than plan to do something else or do nothing at all.

I’ve asked about it and have heard tons of reasons:

  • I wanted to get ahead
  • I wanted to catch up
  • I didn’t have anything fun I wanted to do
  • I was bored, so I worked
  • Most of the holidays mean nothing to me
  • I felt like crap, but my client needed stuff done
  • I didn’t plan a vacation, so I worked
  • I’m too busy to take time off
  • I’m no good at doing nothing; I need to stay busy

First, I call bullshit on all those reasons; they’re truly lame. Back in the day, these are the same people who would have KILLED for time off, yet now, when they can have it without asking anyone’s permission for it, they WORK?

Chances are, if you believe you can’t or shouldn’t take more time off, or if you have a time off standard that isn’t strong, or you step over it and work on your stated time away, I won’t convince you otherwise today. But, I’d like to plant a few seeds for you to consider:

Humans are meant to sprint, not run long-distances when it comes to using their energies and brains.

Being a VA is incredibly energy and brain intensive work. You need time off. It’s as necessary for you as air, food, water, or sleep.

Time away is self-care.

It helps you reduce stress, improve overall health, sleep more deeply, have better sex (truth!), improve your worldview, and it’s not only restorative, but it helps you be your best when you do work. You deserve time away to help you with all of that.

What you do here speaks to how you value yourself.

If you always put others ahead of yourself (“My client needs this today, so I’m going to power through this massive headache/cold/flu/pain from my recent surgery to get it for her,” or, “My client told me this morning how important this is to her, so I’m going to cancel lunch with Heidi and get it done,” as examples), consider how you’re sacrificing your aliveness. Lovely You, you’re not here to sacrifice your aliveness for anyone, ever (well, OK…you can sacrifice for babies you’ve pushed out of your own body—but only until they leave your house to stand on their own, or people you adore in times of genuine crisis—as opposed to fake, drama-induced crisis, but for no one else, and especially not for clients. They matter a lot, but not more than you deserve to matter to yourself!). Your aliveness matters most.

Plus, you must ask yourself what’s up if you’re not treating yourself better than you were treated when you were an employee. If it’s all here for the taking (and it is), why wouldn’t you take it?

What you do here speaks to how you value your clients

You can’t do your best work for them if you live on a gerbil wheel of your own making. You must be able to easily hop off (and that means both physically and mentally!). When you sprint, rest, then sprint again, you are more productive for them, as well as more creative. No matter what you think, you don’t help them much when you overwork. Time away elevates your work, and, what I know for sure is that it makes you more potent; there’s more vibrancy in what you bring after a break than what you bring when you try to go, go, go all the time.  So, you show a valuing of your clients by taking more time away, not less.

You’re modeling for the world.

People see what you do and learn from you, even when they’re not aware that they are. This is true for other VAs (think about that!), and true of your family members; most especially true of your minor children. So if you don’t take time off from your work, or you do it sporadically, or you say you’re going to and then change your mind and work, or you do it to save a client’s ass, you’re showing others a way of being and behaving that I’m pretty sure isn’t what you, in the depths of your heart, want to be showing them. If they learn from you (and I promise they do!), be sure you’re teaching them the good stuff. Oh, and teaching the good stuff by modeling high standards and self-care isn’t sacrificing…just in case you wondered. ;)

Time away from your work strengthen bonds with others.

You need quality time with the folks who matter to you (yourself included), and overworking doesn’t allow for that to happen. More time off gives you more time to be present. Less time off gives you more of what I call, “drive by” time; time where you see and/or communicate with the people who matter, but on the fly, on the run, and not in a focused, present manner (which is where the good stuff happens between people).

It’s priceless, and available whenever you want it.

It’s likely that, as a VA, you’ll make a goodly income. But the real benefit in it is in the freedoms it affords you, one of which is time off. Taking it is just smart. Being able to is priceless.

“But wait, Anastacia…I can’t afford to take time off!”

Oh. Yes. You. Can. ? Maybe not as much as I was able to, but you can take time. Probably more than you think.

To do it, it would help to have a few things in place:

  1. You need to work smart, be productive, and incredibly focused when you do work.
  2. You need to have your fees set where they deserve to be, and you need to be profitable. If you’re profitable, the fee you charge your clients includes what would be needed to pay you for the time off. If you don’t think you can “afford” the time, then you’re likely not profitable.
  3. You need to choose terrific clients who are also profitable and see the value in working with you.
  4. You need to know what you value. I value time and freedom more than money. You may value money more than time and freedom. Whatever you value will drive how much time you actually take, but if you’re in the latter camp you need to watch yourself to make sure you take enough so that your aliveness isn’t compromised.

For now, though, focus on the fact that you need time away and, as importantly, deserve it, and in bigger amounts than you may think are sane. Practice owning the fact that freedom is yours, and you don’t have to justify engaging in its fruits.

And consider seven weeks away from your business, as a starting place. So that’s all ten Federal US holidays (amounts to two weeks), plus five weeks combined vacation/sick/personal time. You may want more if you need additional time away for religious or cultural days that are special to you.  And if you didn’t want to work on Fridays (or some other day, on the regular), you wouldn’t hurt anyone’s feelings. Just saying. ?