Increasingly, We Must Disconnect to Reconnect

I could get used to pottery. The studio near my office offers a flexible schedule for people who lead busy lives (like me). But it turns out that the art of pottery requires a focused mind (which works in tandem with your body to control the wheel’s speed, center the clay, and shape it into something worthy to adorn a mantel). Simply put: You need to leave the anxieties of the day at the office, at home, in your inbox, or on the other end of that mobile device. This isn’t an easy thing to do, for me at least.

From the oversaturation of social media to the 24-hour news cycle to the ongoing demands of work, our lives crave tutorials on unplugging. And for ambitious professionals, especially those of the always-connected BE Next demographic, these conditions could make for a legion of workaholics. The label unfortunately comes with neglecting yourself and anyone or anything listed on the “life” side of work-life balance. Over time, functioning in this dysfunctional manner leaves one feeling overwhelmed, depleted, even resentful.

“Normally, you’re serving people from a cup that is either half-empty or bone dry,” said motivational speaker, author, and life coach Lisa Nichols during our Women of Power Summit earlier this year. “You’re giving people what you should be holding on to for yourself.” Placing an empty glass on top of a plate, she poured water into the glass until it flowed over onto the plate. “You [should] only serve from your overflow,” she asserted. “What’s inside the cup belongs to you.” That approach isn’t selfish; it’s strategic.

I’m not alone in trying to reverse the burnout trend. A New York Times/CBS News poll showed that while some Americans are working longer hours, a larger proportion are spending more time than before with family and friends and pursuing such hobbies as gardening, cooking, and reading. Bottom line: As the business landscape is changing to a “do more with less” norm, so are our priorities. People are identifying and pursuing interests, activities, and relationships that elevate, connect, and provide synergy. Volunteering is one example. According to the Corporation for National & Community Service, 1.6 million more Americans volunteered in 2009 than in 2008–the largest increase in service since 2003. The results can create a domino effect, replenishing you personally and professionally while directly reaching others.

I haven’t settled on pottery as “my thing,” but I’m working on finding something. I almost forgot how I enjoy reading for pleasure and spending time with friends and family. The bigger effort, though, is continually challenging myself to set aside the time to explore and reconnect. I’m confident this will make for a satisfying future. Now, how will you fill your cup?

Tennille M. Robinson is the Small Business Editor at Black Enteprise.