The Art of Backing Off

by Gigi Griffis

“I just have to kill myself for six more months to get these two books done. Then it’s real vacation and after that my schedule should become more reasonable.”

I was talking to my therapist and she was shaking her head, so I paused.

“Did you hear what you just said?” She asked.

I nodded. I had accidentally used the phrase kill myself to describe how hard I was pushing my limits with work. And I wasn’t being hyperbolic. I hadn’t said it to make a point. It just slipped out. And as soon as it did, I knew I believed it. I believed, deep down, that I was pushing too hard, that I was doing myself harm, that I was literally taking years off my life with the stress.

I was going to explain why here–but does it really matter? Sickness and financial worries and an unhealthy (and unnecessary) dose of fear about the future had snuck their way into my life and I had responded by pushing myself past the limit.

It actually took me a couple weeks after that conversation with my therapist before I really got it. Before I said enough. Enough. ENOUGH. Enough worrying about my to-do list. Enough working seven days a week. Enough.

And so finally, when I arrived in Toledo, I took a deep breath (and then another, and then another) and made a commitment to stop killing myself with work.

Because the truth is that I’m not going to starve or become homeless if the France guide comes out in late August instead of early. And I don’t need to pitch 10 new publications every month. And no one is going to die if it takes me a week to email them back.

And so this first week in Toledo I have been slowly letting go. I’m still working, but I’m no longer pushing myself. When I want a break, I take a break. When the birds are twittering happily outside, I take a walk. When it’s lunchtime, I make a real lunch and I don’t eat it in front of the computer.

lunch on the almost-balcony
Lunch without a computer.

Yesterday, I sat for an hour on my kitchen floor in front of the open balcony doors just staring at the uneven terra-cotta roof tiles and the powder-blue sky while listening to an audiobook. This morning, Luna and I spent two hours wandering town. And because I’ve given myself permission to push my book deadlines and not answer emails promptly, I didn’t feel anxious to get back to work. I didn’t feel stressed. Instead, I finished my Swiss book edits and felt a sense of satisfaction. And then I promptly returned to doing something other than work.

I know this is no big revelation. We already know that working too hard causes stress and stress causes health problems. If you have anxiety (as I do), you know that stress makes it worse. We know intellectually what’s good for us.

But sometimes we get caught up in bad habits, we give in to our fears (that we won’t make it, that we’re failing, that our finances will run out, that luck will run out).

And that was my March.

Unbalanced from two months of seemingly endless health problems, behind on the books in a big way, I had let my fears–of missing deadlines, disappointing people, and not having enough–take over my life.

But no more.


I didn’t choose this unconventional life so that I could work 12-hour days. I chose it because I want to live. I want to sit in the doorway and look at those terra-cotta rooftops. I want to walk the pretty footpath all the way around Toledo’s walls. I want to make homemade bread pudding and spend my lunch listening to audiobooks. And I want to write, but not to the point of doing myself harm.

That rooftop view.

So it’s a simple declaration, but one I need to make now.

I am finished killing myself for work. And I’ve circled back to the place I want to live in–a place of balance between my creative projects and the unconventional life that drives them forward.


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Ali April 16, 2015 - 2:07 am

Unfortunately it’s entirely too easy to get a warped view of our own lives & think that we must push, push, push or it will never be good enough. I’m glad you took a step back & gave yourself a break. One of the benefits of your lifestyle is that you get to see & experience so many different places, but you can’t enjoy that if you’re in front of your computer all day every day.

gigigriffis April 16, 2015 - 9:46 am

Amen, sister.

kyenne williams April 16, 2015 - 8:22 am

been reading the ramble some time now, and SO happy you’ve reconnected with why you do what you so. a recent death reminded me again: we are here a short time, make time for delight and joy and gratitude.

gigigriffis April 16, 2015 - 9:47 am

Yes. I was just talking to someone about that today. How death and grief also remind us of how we should live.

pj April 19, 2015 - 4:57 pm

Insipring. Thank you!

georgette April 23, 2015 - 9:37 am

I’m proud of you Gigi, I have been so very overwhelmed lately which takes such a toll physically as well as mentally. Sometimes you just have to say no and take a breather. I loved this post!

In Which I Share Some Travel Links…& Ask For Your Help | The Ramble June 28, 2015 - 12:57 am

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