The Value of Rest

(This article was published in our January, 2008 newsletter.)

This year, we’ll focus each newsletter on one or more of the International Association of Facilitator (IAF) certification competencies. This January issue focuses on the 6th competency which is called “Model Professional Attitude”. If you want to know more about how to become a Certified Professional Facilitator (CPF©) click here. I am approaching this competency by way of a personal story about my wish for more rest this year, why rest is important to all of us, and how you might approach rest. My wish is that you might also think about rest as a brilliant, unselfish act of social justice. If we all rested more intelligently, the world would be well served .

Part of being a facilitator is spending time reflecting, planning and setting new goals. I have a singularly focused goal this year: REST. My intent is iron-clad – I will rest. This is a non-negotiable goal for me. Rest is defined as “stopping work or activity, sleep, absence of movement, freedom from anxiety, a place to support and relax, getting support, pause, be tranquil, restoring strength. My goal in resting more this year is to restore strength, and most of all, to renew my ability to be present with people and for problems.

One of the qualities that I think is essential to a facilitator being of highest service to groups is to be “present”. For me, examples of being present while facilitating include:

  • Being able to listen without being distracted or triggered by our own reactions
  • Being able to be compassionate, empathetic and curious as needed
  • Being able to ask neutral and sometimes provocative questions
  • Being able to think freshly about what might be needed in every situation
  • Being willing to say “I am not sure what to do” and asking the group for help

This year I watched myself be less flexible, less curious and more anxious than I wished to be for a number of reasons I’ve shared in my story below.

2007 felt like one of those “huge” years for me. I finally had begun some meaningful and challenging work with social justice-oriented international organizations – a goal of mine since before I started my facilitation business 13 years ago. I began forging a stronger partnership with another company and cultivating several great associate relationships. I traveled for work all over North America several times (e.g., Little Rock, Winnipeg, Vancouver- BC, San Jose, San Antonio, DC). I worked on exciting and often difficult projects with about 25 different clients including facilitating and/or training with participants where translation was required. I was certified in a brand new facilitation system called OneSmartWorld. I co-trained on an intensive six day ICA Canada course called “The Art and Science of Participation”. I traveled to Germany, Toronto, Montreal and New Orleans for vacation with family.

Most challenging for me in 2007 was almost losing my husband in October due to a highly unusual blocking of an arterial artery. (He is now completely recovered.) The sudden notion that our partnership of 32 years might have ended has made me reevaluate how I want my life to be. My husband’s near brush with death happened while I was on the other side of the country co-facilitating a six day event that brought together indigenous people of the Amazon and conservation agencies. I arrived home, rushed to the hospital and then a few days later needed to be fully engaged in two more months of intense work.

I know I am not the only facilitator, leader or consultant who leads this kind of life. Consider your own pace of life. Does any of this sound familiar?

If you answered yes, consider the notion of rest and its importance to your ability to work with a group’s spirit, energy, and thinking. When we are not fully rested in the early stages of our facilitator development, it can be quite detrimental to achieving intended outcomes with a group. Once we become more skilled and can “go on automatic pilot”, we can pull off reasonable and perhaps even excellent outcomes with our groups even while tired. The toll, however, on us as facilitators, leaders and human beings begins to show if we do not pay attention. What I noticed for myself at times during the year was an increased anxiety as I approached many of my client assignments, a doubt in my ability to serve them well, and less looking forward to all my work.

For this reason, I am making some changes to my life and work that will allow me joyfully to fulfill the work I have booked already and still pursue my own renewal. For me, the changes include some of the following strategies:

  • Allowing some time before and after each travel. For example, this gives me time now to think about how I can help these clients in the future
  • Creating and monitoring estimates of projected income and expenses so that at any moment, I know whether to take on new work. This allows me to feel relaxed about attending marketing events, taking on volunteer work, etc. I can do so out of joy rather than obligation.
  • Downsizing (temporarily) regular commitments to my colleagues such as mentoring support, facilitator cafés, and coffee chats.
  • Scheduling play, exercise, daytime naps and time for contemplation on a daily and weekly basis.
  • Minimizing weekend and evening work for this year (if I like it, maybe for the rest of my life).
  • Most exciting of all to me, is committing to take off 3 months this summer to be with my family, garden, possibly write books, and recommit to improving my Spanish.

These and other strategies to take “rest” on as a serious commitment will definitely help you consistently “model professional attitude”, the sixth certification competency. It looks at our society’s addiction to “work even harder” and says “NO!”

My hope for you is that if you are also facing symptoms of over-work and/or burnout, you will find the courage to take care of yourself so that you may reemerge as the joyful, present, brilliant, curious and zestful person that you have always been. This sharing with you is not meant to discourage you from connecting with me over the next year. Rather, it is intended to let you know why I will not be doing certain things such as facilitator cafes until I feel excited about offering them again. It is also intended to encourage you to reflect on your year ahead and see what you need to do for yourself to better serve the world as a facilitator, mediator, trainer, consultant or leader.