How to be visible in challenging times (part 3: the pause)

Nov 10, 2023

In the previous two articles in this series, we've covered the inner and outer work of being visible in challenging times. Today it's all about the importance of taking a pause.

One of the most significant moments in my parenting life was hearing about 'Le Pause' in Pamela Druckerman's “French Children Don’t Throw Food”. The concept is simple; when a baby cries at night, before running to your child's rescue, pause and observe.

In other words, be conscious of your own reactivity and take a breath before leaping into doing.

I've tried to use that concept ever since in all aspects of my parenting, from giving my children a moment to ponder the food they initially reject, to pausing before stepping in to resolve their arguments for them.

It's a game changer.

I wish I had known about it in the height of my people pleasing days when I'd say yes to any request, any opportunity, any invitation that came my way. I'm not sure I even stopped to ponder my own needs at the time. I was in such a rush to prove my worth to others.

Thankfully lots of work on my good girl as helped me to significantly curb this unhealthy behaviour and institute Le Pause sans guilt.

Which brings us to how we might apply Le Pause as we're building a business and working to be more visible in the world.

Firstly there are a number of strategies here which can help you pause even while the business is still showing up on your behalf.

And still, there are times when either those backup plans haven't been put in place, or when you've literally run out of content because you've been paused for longer than you anticipated.

How to manage that?

1. Communicate with your audience or community

The number of people working online who fade out without explanation and then fade back in again at some point down the track is really fascinating. I often wonder if it's because they think no one is really paying attention anyway and so won't notice if they're gone. Or if they think their list is too small to really worry about it.

Here's my philosophy; if you have even one person on your list and you need to take a pause, it's respectful to let them know. People are ok with you taking a break. They understand if you're not around because you're having a tough time at home or you're unwell, for example. What they don't like is being left in the lurch. Not really knowing what's happening.

You don't have to tell them all the ins and outs of what's happening for you. A short statement is all that's required. Something like; 'I have some family matters to attend to which are taking me away from the business at the moment. As a small business owner I don't have a big team to cover for me, so I won't be around for the next month. I look forward to reconnecting when I have more capacity. In the meantime you might want to check out some of the resources I've released this year.'

2. Recognise the leadership development opportunity

While taking a pause is often a necessary mental health break, it's also a leadership development opportunity. It can be critical to you becoming the leader you're in the process of embodying.

As you learn to hold space for yourself in difficult circumstances, you learn to hold space for others. Which means that your decision to pause will often have a direct flow on effect to the quality of your interactions and the way you manage your community.

See if you can switch your thinking from judging yourself for needing time out, to embracing your decision to create some time out, as being critical to growing your capacity for leading others. In so doing, you'll learn the lessons showing up in your pause and when you do step back into being more visible, you'll return wiser, more self aware, and more present to the people and environment around you.

3. Understand that you're not the only human in the room

Every human needs a pause from time to time. Pretending that's not true creates toxic workplace cultures where people can only be partially themselves, masking their true needs and distancing people from one another.

In a community space, the facilitator's behaviour determines the behaviour of the group. If the facilitator never stops, there's no permission within the group to stop. If she denies her own needs, she sends a signal to the group that that's what's expected of others.

But when you take the time to be human and acknowledge; 'I'm going through a hard time' you give permission for others to do the same. You create an opportunity for deeper connections to be made through vulnerability. Which is a huge gift you can offer your community.

4. Know when you absolutely must pause

Recently I took a social media pause after the results of the referendum in Australia on granting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people a constitutionally guaranteed voice to Parliament.

Referendums are notoriously difficult to pass, but I was quite hopeful that it would.

It didn't.

And when I went to jump back on social media afterwards, I realised that I was incredibly angry. Livid with the injustice of not being able to pass something that was so simple and so inconsequential to the average non-Indigenous Australian.

I considered whether the intensity of my anger and realised that if I stayed online, it was likely that I'd spend the week arguing with people.

So I took myself out of the game.

The Yes Campaign had called for a week of silence and mourning and that was exactly what was needed. I went out in solidarity with them, grieved and raged, offered solace to my Aboriginal friends, focused on my family and on my work, and re-centred myself.

(I feel like many people could have made that same decision at any point during the Hamas/Israel conflict and it would have been collectively beneficial. Unfortunately that hasn't proven to be the prevailing approach of the day.)

Each time you:

  • know that there's nothing productive to come of speaking up right now, or
  • think you might behave in ways that you know you'll come to later regret, or
  • think you'll lash out indiscriminately,

is a good time to institute Le Pause.

It takes self control. It takes a willingness to sit with your anger rather than spew it out in the comments section of someone's post. It requires you to wrestle with your ego and its insistence that it be seen when it's hurt and angry.

It takes a willingness to be humbled by grief, and to sit quietly waiting for words that want to be spoken, rather than formulating words that the ego wants to impose on others.

5. But... I'd quite like to pause all the time

Worried that you might pause and then really struggle to get back on the wagon? I hear you.

In the first noughties I took myself out of the workplace entirely for a number of months. I had finished up one job and wasn't sure what I wanted to do next. I was single, without a mortgage, and because I had some savings and a friend of a friend had rented out his flat to me for a very low price, I was able to take some time off.

It was heaven. I did very little because I asked very little of myself. Some days I walked around Bushy Park (one of the Royal Parks in London). Some days I wrote poetry. Some days I watched movies. Some days I scrolled through the internet reading blog posts.

I journaled a lot and wrote this reminder to myself; When challenges arise, stop. Rest. Know that the answer has already been conceived. There's nothing to do. Just rest in yourself. You will be taken care of. Learn to accept what others are seeking to give. Your needs will be taken care of.

This was how I lived; accepting what was right in front of me and being grateful for that. Not wanting what wasn't there. Appreciating what was.

Eventually I started to feel a pull toward something new (as opposed to feeling forced into taking action). I felt some enthusiasm to get back into the world. I decided to start writing a blog. I offered 1:1 services. I taught yoga classes.

All formed the beginnings of the business I have today.

I don't think it's a stretch to say that had I not taken that break, I may never have started my own business.

Pauses open doors. They give us the space to become someone new. And when that has happened, we don't want or need to pause anymore.

Don't ever worry that if you pause, you might never start again. The problem for 99% of the population is not taking the time to pause at all, rather than pausing too much.

Of course, not everyone has the capacity to take time off in the way that I did. What I have learned since, is that it's not necessary either. As long as you can build a pause into your week.

For me that now looks like two things:

  1. Doing very little most Saturday afternoons. Simply lying on an oversized beanbag in my garden and looking at the canopy of the trees and the clouds in the sky. No phone. No music. Just nature. An absence of noise and electronics. The space to let my mind roam without purpose. The cessation of information flowing in for a good period of time.
    Eventually I might pick up a book and read for a bit. Or I might sleep. The only real agenda is to experience an extended pause.
  2. I also sleep most days for about 25 minutes in the middle of the day.

Saturday afternoons are my weekly reset. My weekday sleeps serve as a daily reset.

They both provide opportunities to restore and refresh. I'm able to reconnect with the silent wisdom that resides within, reduce the noise in my mind, and come back to the day or the week, with greater clarity of mind and purpose.

Like meditation (which, now that my kids are no longer toddlers, I also do most mornings), these pauses place honouring myself right at the top of my priority list. They train me away from reactivity and toward neutral observance. Which is a skill I use every hour of the day in my business and life and which helps me to show up, to be visible, to be creative and constructive in the ways I use my time.

Hourra pour la pause!


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