The value of stress and rest

I’m playing catch up on my New Year’s resolutions to read a book every month and currently reading Peak Performance: Elevate Your Game, Avoid Burnout, and Thrive with the New Science of Success. There’s a bazillion books on improving performance, but I was drawn to this because it specifically mentioned burnout.

I’ve traditionally been a workaholic. Started working as soon as I legally could and for the most part, have been employed since then until I started pursuing an MBA full-time in August 2016.

Up until then, I had been fortunate to find pleasure in what I was doing and didn’t take a ton of vacation along the way. But in retrospect, there were a couple times during particularly challenging projects that I was probably burnt out but decided to double down.

Working 10 hour days 7 days a week definitely sucks, but the project will end and it’ll be fine. This was the equivalent of instead expressing feelings in a healthy way, suppressing those feelings deep inside until you implode.

Fortunately, I didn’t implode, have a panic attack, or something worse. But along the way, I let bad habits creep in. More bad food with less exercise (usually accompanied with working more hours).

The problem: too much stress, not enough rest.

Stress, both physical and mental, can be good for you. Embracing continous, manageable stress is the foundation of a growth mindset and is widely known as the way to continously improve. But going full throttle on stress without taking a beat is not only exausting, but will eventually reduce performance. Hence the need to rest.

Again, in retrospect, this is pretty obvious for anyone who has played sports or exercised regularly. You can’t push yourself 100% in one area every single day. You’ll hit a wall and/or get injured. At the risk of being too cliche, the brain is a muscle, too, so of course it would crap out if you push too hard.

Many people, even the most successful - from Bill Gates to Fred Wilson - openly admit that the work, while hard, isn’t the hard part. It’s the rest. Sure, there are some people that can push things to an extreme, but that’s not everyone.

There’s only one LeBron James. And even he doesn’t practice between games during the season to help keep his body fresh.

So as I settle into a new routine after finishing school, I’m learning from my mistake and building in time to relax.

Routines can be boring, and it’s not cool to be boring, but it’s a great way to optimize life. Plus, I’m getting old so I don’t really care if I’m cool. But maybe that actually makes me cool? Not sure how this works.