On Taking a Break

July 08, 2019

On Taking Breaks

After ending my tenure with ShopWith, the most frequent recommendation that I got was to take a break. Interestingly enough, people in other industries that I talked to gave me the prevailing message that I was too young to stop hustling. Hmm, sample size error? Or is it indicative of another weird aspect of the technology sector

Taking an extensive break has been something that I haven’t done since the summer school after high school. It was extremely hard to do because I’ve always found my studies or my work to be the bedrock of my identity. Not getting busy with something put me in a state of purposelessness. It seemed like it would just be wasting time.

But, I was physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausted from a rough year. I had put on roughly 15 pounds of weight (I’m sure I had lost a ton of muscle mass too), and could no longer run a mile at a time. There was no better time to experiment with taking a break — who knows, maybe I would learn something from doing so.

Fast forward a couple of months…

I now have a set start date for my next position on 7/17, which means that my break was roughly 3 and a half months long.

In the first month, I struggled with starting another technical project that could become a potential future startup idea. I also resisted starting contributions to open source projects that I found interesting. It was really difficult, but when I managed to shut off my laptop and find other ways to spend my time, things got really interesting.

Here is how I ended up spending my time:

  • Reconnected with co-workers and friends. Had a lot of interesting conversations.
  • Met a couple of awesome teams through the reconnecting … I’ll be joining one of those teams on 7/17!
  • Spent a ton of quality time with my significant other.
  • Did a ton of reading. Mostly self-help books and technical books. This was surprisingly satisfying, and I’ll have book recommendations at the end.
  • Figured out and scheduled renovations on my condo.
  • Decided I was going to move out of my condo and move out of state.
  • Decided I wasn’t going to move out of state anymore and I was going to stay in my condo.
  • Caught up on movies and shows that I’ve been hearing a lot about.

Here are things that I failed at:

  • Getting back into shape. I’m always surprised with how ridiculous how difficult it is after falling out of shape. This is still a work in progress.
  • I ended up starting a couple of exploratory side projects that will likely end up dying.

Here are some of the surprises:

  • I still think taking a break isn’t always a great use of time. It really sucked watching everyone else and the world go by while I had nothing to do.
  • After getting over the fact that I wasn’t working, I realized how bad I was at self-care. Once I start getting busy again, building self-care routines into my life beyond exercise is going to be a top priority in my life.
  • While I don’t feel like I’ve produced anything — I definitely feel like I’ve improved a ton in ways that I fully believe will compound over time. That was partially through conversation with people and partially through reading.
  • Despite not losing any weight yet, I feel a lot healthier now that I’m sleeping a proper amount. It’s apparently very noticeable to others as well — I’ve gotten a ton of comments that I’ve slimmed down or look more energetic.
  • I’ve found time to simplify small aspects of my life (clean a room, organize my kitchen, go fully paperless, simpler eating habits, simpler spending habits, etc. and it’s amazing. I feel like I have a new level of control over my life.

Taking a break was interesting for me — on the one hand, I’d be totally find if I never took a break this long again, but on the other hand, it was a surprisingly valuable thing for me to have done. Maybe because this was the first break that I’ve ever taken where I stayed close to home and focused on thinking about and improving very standard aspects of my life instead of trying to run away from it by leaving the country.

Yes, that has to be it. It was the first time in a long time that I was full time working on me.

I promised a book recommendation … here it is:

If you are interested in communication with other people through the English language (or even programming languages — this might require a future blog post): A Sense of Style by Steven Pinker.

Written by Lewis Chung. Founder @ ShopWith. Previously: Coursera, Amazon. Writes about technology, products, and life.