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Lessons In Self-Care From Stained Glass Class

Written by: Alice Sullivan, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.

Executive Contributor Alice Sullivan

A few years ago, I was chatting with my business coach, when I blurted out, “I never want to work again.”

Man meditating on a tree log

She leaned in, looking concerned.

“And I never want to write again.”

She raised her eyebrows. I’d been seeing this business coach for a while, and she knew that I was a hustler: Self-starting, determined, and prolific, with twenty years in the book publishing industry. This confession must have caught her by surprise.

“And why is that?”

“Because I feel completely burnt out. I sit at a desk all day, telling other people’s stories. They’re out living their lives, and I’m staring at a screen, instead of living my own.”

She nodded her omniscient Yoda nod. “Well, what would it look like for you to live your life?”

I pondered this. When most people think about really living, they imagine jumping out of airplanes (which I’ve done) or taking a trip to Tahiti. In truth, many of my clients do have wild, fascinating lives that make my pulse race just writing about them. I, on the other hand, evaluated every minute of my day in terms of the money I’d make by working. Why would I go get a massage if I could be hammering out new chapters? What was the point of hot chocolate with a friend or a lazy two-hour lunch break if I could be persuading a potential client to hire me?

These beliefs were so ingrained that I knew I needed to start small. So, I signed up for a stained glass-making class. It was three hours every Thursday from 12 until 3 pm for nine weeks, which meant I’d have to leave my house, my desk, and my emails during the workday. Gasp!

I chose this class, in part, because it was something that I had to pay for. I couldn’t just cancel because I “had too much work to do.” That was always going to be true. But if I paid for it, I knew that I would show up.

On the first day of classes, I sat at my desk and glanced at the time, waiting until the last minute to pause my current writing project. When I stood up, I felt a gravity pulling me back toward my computer. It was only 11:00 in the morning, after all. Should I be leaving work right now?

Living, I said to myself, inhaling. The goal is living. With that, I walked out the door and into the real world.

I was hooked by the end of the first class. Choosing patterns and colors and shapes, spending time cutting and grinding glass–these were activities I could do with my hands while my busy brain took a break. I wasn’t concerned about how many emails I still needed to send. Instead, I was sifting through boxes of colored glass, choosing the pieces that made me smile, and then positioning them to create something lovely.

This class has become a habit–or maybe even a spiritual discipline–in that it forces me to show up week to week and think about color, light, and balance. It doesn’t line my pockets, connect me with clients, or pad my resume. It’s purely for pleasure.

Sometimes a client will ask me if I can meet during class time. Before, I would have canceled the class immediately and accepted the meeting. But now I tell them that I have a prior engagement or will be out of the office. I don’t need to justify how I spend my time. And neither do you.

Have you heard the story about the two lumberjacks? Two lumberjacks were chopping down wood, but the first kept taking long breaks. The second lumberjack worked without stopping. Somehow, by the end of the day, the first lumberjack had cut down far more trees than the second.

“How did you do that?” said the second lumberjack. “I worked much harder than you! You took so many breaks!”

The first lumberjack shrugged and said, “I was sharpening my axe.”

I’m now on my fifth series of stained-glass classes and my mother and sister have even joined in the fun. I’ve gone on incredible adventures, including taking golf lessons at St. Andrews in Scotland, cooking courses in France, and I am preparing to go on a safari in South Africa. I get regular massages. I go for several walks each week. And my work still gets done.

So, here’s my reminder to you to sharpen your axe. Incorporate small acts of beauty, fun, and rest into your life, even if it’s taking a walk or a bath. Figure out a way to hold yourself accountable, whether by paying for a class or enlisting a friend to join you in your self-care practice.

The truth is that carving out time for self-care will likely make you more productive, more profitable, and better at your job. But the goal at the end of the day, of course, is living.

Follow me on LinkedIn, and visit my website for more info!

Alice Sullivan Brainz Magazine

Alice Sullivan, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

Alice Sullivan is an award-winning ghostwriter, collaborator, and 11-time New York Times bestselling editor. A natural-born storyteller, she’s written 60 books and edited over 1,300 titles. She specializes in nonfiction—specifically memoir, self-help, and personal growth. She helps clients identify their goals and messages while creating engaging content to connect with their target markets. Her favorite projects are those that challenge her point of view and expand her knowledge.



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