Last summer, I got empty.
Sensing the imminent arrival of burnout, I spent 10 days turning everything off. I didn’t do anything on social media. But do you know what that felt like? Every day of 2003. And also every day of the first 30 years of my life. (The pats on the back we give ourselves for not using social media for brief moments of time are ridiculous.)
The biggest thing I did was turn off my ideas. For years, I believed I was an idea guy and coming up with new ideas was how I relaxed on vacation. I’d use time off to brainstorm, focus on new plans for the future, read a ton of self-help or business books, and get ahead on any projects I was working on. Then I’d return from vacation completely exhausted and wonder why.
But this time, I spent those 10 days reading nothing but fiction. I put down my journals and my iPhone. I built sandcastles on the beach with my kids. I had long conversations with my wife. I tried not to write horrible poetry about ocean waves.
It was awesome, and for the first time in years I came home empty, but full of life.
A week later, I told my friend Al Andrews about the experience. He smiled and said, “Wow, that’s great! Now how do you do that next Tuesday? How do you do that next month without a beach? How do you make sure you don’t kill yourself for 50 weeks of the year with the hope that you can make it to those two weeks of vacation?”
I told him I didn’t know.
Without missing a beat, Al said, “You need to build your own Central Park.”
Now Al is one of the wisest, most amazing people I’ve ever met. He’s given me some great advice over the years, so I asked him what he meant.
“Well,” he said, “if you fly over New York City, Central Park kind of looks like this wasted green space. There in the heart of this bustling city is this lump of grass. Imagine all the buildings and commerce and innovation we could put on that space! But New York City knows that, without Central Park, it would combust. It would implode and collapse on itself without that space, that sanctuary. The problem is that most people have put buildings on top of every part of their lives. They have no Central Park in their day or their week or their month. That’s how you’ve been living, Jon. It’s time to knock down some buildings. You need to cultivate your own Central Park.”
That conversation and challenge changed my life. I started building my own Central Park. I started going to a botanical garden in town. I started taking regular fiction breaks where I don’t read non-fiction. I started running more. I started to knock down some buildings.
I don’t know if you feel too busy. I don’t know if you ever feel exhausted or out of time. I don’t know if you’re headed to a burnout or in the middle of one right now.
But I think everyone needs their own Central Park. And I’d encourage you to think about the first building you might need to knock down in your own life.
P.S. I’m thrilled that on September 21 I’ll get to introduce Al Andrews to everyone at the Quitter Conference. He’s speaking on Friday night, and I promise you’ll be blown away by what he has to say. Don’t miss it!