In 2011 I was running an international business with staff in both the U.S. and China. We hired a young Chinese woman from Chengdu, initially as a support staff for our sales manager. She was so phenomenal, though, that we quickly promoted her to oversee several projects. In fact, she was so impressive that when I sold the company a year later (which was only possible because of her efforts), she quickly became the personal assistant to the president of the new company, helping him oversee 200 employees.
This woman had a problem, though. Like many ambitious and talented young Chinese people, she believed that she needed to be perfect, and that to succeed, she needed to push, push, push. She came to work early and left late every day, working most weekends as well, and never claiming her overtime. I was not happy with her.
I remember her shock when I told her. What kind of a boss criticizes an employee for working too hard? When I do business, though, I’m in it for the long haul, and I was concerned that no human being could keep her pace over the long run. The last thing I needed from an employee was for them to expend all their energy on the daily stuff, and then when we had an emergency, to buckle under the pressure because they didn’t have anything left to give. I’d rather lose a little productivity every day than have our operation collapse in the middle of an emergency because a key person burnt out at the wrong time. That’s when real money is lost.
“It’s like Taijiquan,” I told her (if you’ve worked for me, you know that everything is like Taijiquan in my opinion). “To Fālì (发力 – use explosive force)*, first you must Xùlì (蓄力 – gather your energy).” Different schools have different words for this phenomenon—gathering, swallowing energy, coiling, etc, but the idea is the same. One must draw in before they can explode out, and that’s important, because it’s this explosive energy that gets the most impressive results. Done at the right time, it can send an opponent flying, or knock them clean off their feet.
Of course, when the masters gather it’s almost impossible to tell. To the untrained eye, it looks like they just produce force from nowhere. That’s because the masters gather at strategic times, reacting to the opponent’s movements in a way that allows them to load their leg like a spring before shooting out, or softening in the hips and chest in ways that diffuse an incoming force before expressing their own force.
Unfortunately, this employee did not heed my advice. She continued at a break neck pace without taking time for herself. A little over a month ago she had a breakdown. Her entire career was ruined, and she now has to start over again completely.
No one can expend energy forever. Even the universe, as vast and powerful as it is, existed in a gathered state before it could explode out. Humans are no exception to this natural cycle.
There is actually a lot of scientific research backing this up as well. Ernst & Young found that employees were rated 8% higher by management for every 10 hours of vacation they took during the year. Other research found that people who take breaks every 90 minutes are more productive than people who work straight through. The U.S. military has mapped in detail how much stress a human can take without a period of renewal before starting to fail at core tasks (90 days on average). At around 180 days, people become so bad that they stop caring about their own lives, a phenomenon that has been reported in other high stress environments as well, such as graduate programs.
So remember, if you want to be successful and have truly explosive results, take time to gather and renew yourself. That means taking breaks periodically throughout the day, as well as taking longer vacations from time to time to recharge your batteries. You are your greatest resource, and like any resource, it must be used in a sustainable way. I’m not saying to walk out of meetings or anything like that—like the Taiji masters, to be effective, we must learn to take these breaks at naturally strategic times, but as the Taoists say, sometimes you must step back in order to move forward. Don’t be afraid to take a step back from a high stress lifestyle from time to time so that you can perform better when you come back.
*Editor’s note – We teach you how to Fālì in level two of the Online Academy. Click here to register if you haven’t already!