Reflect­ing on Time and Space

“Every year isn’t about results. Sometimes it’s about rest.”

Dark, starry expanse of the night sky with a light nebula running through the center

The past few years have been a lot, to say the least. Not only personally, but also… *gestures around*. Just over a year ago, at the end of 2022, I one day woke up to find myself utterly exhausted and burnt out by the way things were.

So at the end of that year, I left my busy-but-comfortable agency job and my incredible UX team in search of respite. Like a hermit heading for the hills, I was looking for some much-needed time and space. Not looking for results, as the above quote so aptly states, but for hiatus. And thus began the Year of Rest.

Loosely based on the ideas of the Theme System (if you haven’t heard of it, I’d highly suggest checking it out), I purposefully set out to make 2023 a year centered around resting, rebalancing, and recovering from the burnout that was wearing me down. Quitting my job was only the first (albeit largest) step in this process.

Before I get too far into my year, I want to make something clear: I had no grand vision for how this year would go, or what would happen. (And to be fair, that was kind of the point.) I wasn’t sure if I would be rested and ready to jump back into work in three months, six, or never again at all. And thankfully, I had the security and support to figure that out as it happened.

Now let’s take a look at how the year unfolded.

Time

Prior to the Year of Rest, one of my biggest challenges was that I never had enough time. Between work, raising a child, continually improving on our home, and a little time left over for working out, there just wasn’t any room in the schedule for anything extra. Side projects were out of the question. Social outings (already strained by the pandemic) stretched thinner. Relaxation time was more of an end-of-day “I’m so tired I can’t do anything else but sit here” than an actual, intentional choice.

And so the next step in my Year of Rest was to reclaim and reallocate my time in a way that fit how I truly wanted to live.

In the beginning, this looked like lots of physical downtime. Consistently getting a full night’s sleep. Forcing myself to sit and read a book, or play that video game I’ve put off for years. Doing anything that wasn’t go go go all the time.

This did wonders for resetting my brain (over time, constant stress can really exhaust your basic cognitive skills). But it took time, and it wasn’t always easy. Even when I knew I should be taking it slow, the voice in my head was always nagging me: 

“Shouldn’t you be doing something right now?”

“Is this really the best use of your time??”

“How is this productive???”

I had to condition this voice to shut the hell up — if I’ve learned anything this year, it’s that not every second of every day needs to be productive. Downtime is an essential and historically proven part of human life (whereby individuals in some pre-industrial societies “worked” only 15–20 hours per week, and socialized, played, and rested for the remainder). 

And there’s quite the precedent showing downtime is necessary for continued productivity and creativity. There’s a reason the ultra-wealthy go on months-long meditation retreats; this mental detox becomes a necessity when you reach your utmost cerebral capacity. My Year of Rest was the working man’s version of those super-focused sabbaticals.

As the year progressed, of course, I got more wind back in my sails, and required less downtime to feel balanced and mentally refreshed. But I also shifted the allocation of my newfound time to focus more on productive outlets of my choosing. With the absence created by not working, I was able to:

  1. Spend more dedicated, intentional time with my family
  2. Have more time for writing and creating music
  3. Work on purely-for-fun side projects, like BIR.BZ
  4. Volunteer with local community aid collectives
  5. Establish our incredibly fruitful home garden 
Wide shot of three raised garden beds with plants overflowing from them

On that last point, I honestly didn’t know what I was getting myself into — and was so fortunate that I happened to stop working the same year I started this garden. We’ve grown vegetable gardens for a few years now, but had these new raised beds built last fall to give us more space to grow food. I knew it would be a lot more work than previous years, but the amount of effort to plant, maintain, harvest, and process the bounty of this garden was truly a full-time commitment in itself. While the time spent was a bit antithetical to the Year of Rest, it was refreshing to be out in the sun and fresh air, and the production itself has been remarkable (we’ve easily preserved enough veggies to get us through until next spring).

Space

I’d be remiss if I didn’t also mention the other through line in this theme: space. I don’t mean physical space, necessarily (much of my time since the pandemic started has been spent at home, and that hasn’t changed much this year). Mainly, I’m talking about mental space. 

Just as I was lacking for time in my busy schedule, I was also missing any sort of space to be creative beyond what was required by my job. It’s like my brain was squeezed so dry by everything going on, that there was absolutely no juice to be spent on anything else. And so reclaiming that space also meant more ability to focus on more things.

Even though this was the Year of Rest, this extra space made it my most creatively productive in a long time. I was able to launch BIR.BZ, my silly bird-based side project that spun out of a newly gained pandemic hobby. I also had more mental space to write music again, something that I hadn’t really had capacity or energy for in the preceding couple years. I even redesigned and rebuilt this very website — all stuff I was previously too tired, too compressed, to even begin to accomplish.

All in all, finding more space in my life has allowed me to breathe, in a way that I couldn’t before. I’ve been able to think clearer, reflect on what’s actually important in my life, and rethink how I want to make space for those things moving forward.

Looking Back

Now that my Year of Rest has come to a close, what have I learned? What does this all mean for the next year? Well, firstly, I’ve learned that radical life changes can be not only helpful, but necessary. I don’t know where I would be, had I not shaken things up in such a big way (still burnt out, I’m sure of that much). I acknowledge there’s huge privilege in being able to leave my job for a whole year, but I’m certain any amount of such respite would prove invaluable to other work-wearied persons. For anyone contemplating a similar life change: do it. Save what you need to, figure out how to make it work, and take the leap. It will be hard in some ways, but rewarding in so many others.

As for me, the results of this year have been transformative. It has soothed my soul to rebuild my schedule in a way that has left me happier, feeling more balanced, and overall alleviated of burnout. There have definitely been stressors, sure (being down an entire income has not been easy, as you might assume). But in the end, I’ve spent more time on the things that matter, and been able to engage with those things on a deeper level. I’m feeling refreshed, encouraged, and ready for the next year ahead.

Looking Forward

Speaking of, what type of theme could possibly follow the Year of Rest? Well, fittingly, 2024 is going to be the Year of Work. 

I’m so ready to jump back into my career, and start building awesome shit for (and with) awesome people. And I’m especially excited to do it on my own terms, in a way that fits my own life. For now, that means going independent — finding my own clients, augmenting existing teams, and being flexible in how, when, and where I work. And if the right opportunity to join an in-house team somewhere should arise, then I know I’ll know it when I see it.

There is also work to be done in my personal life, too. Other house projects (I need to build out a real home office!), more community work, more effort put into my other creative endeavors. Altogether, it’s going to be a lot of, well, work. But I’m ready for it.

But enough about next year — after all, it’s still 2023 for a few more hours, so I’m going to sit and savor what’s left of this year with the family, play hella board games (scored this sweet expansion set for Xmas), and eat more cheese than I can probably handle.

I’ll be back a year from now, to reflect on the Year of Work (what a contrast that’s gonna be). But until then, I wish you a stellar 2024. Stay healthy, stay balanced, and stay rad.

Peace out, 2023. ✌️