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25 January 2024

Recess for Adults

Written by
Fred Jones

You are, let’s say, eight years old, sitting at your school desk. Yes, that desk: the one that confines you in your chair, the one sitting in orderly roles, where you are supposed to do, well, whatever, with self-control and, above all, without causing trouble. Getting things done, under the teacher’s gaze. The bell rings. You are overcome with adrenaline-fueled excitement. It’s recess. Let’s go out to the playground. Doing something else.

Now, as adults, we could say: change the energy, mix it up, stop working harder or smarter and change the game. More is less. Different can be more. 

Ring the Bell

Ring the recess bell, since no one will do it for you.

Recess is, for me, a metaphor for sustaining practices that keep me going. A day without recess? A week? Some adults go months or years without a real sense of space and time for different that leads to more, the kind that a bell might set in motion. And after which you might say, “Yes, I needed that.”

Let me organize recess for adults into a few small, everyday (or weekly) versions of sustaining practices that you can try out. Below are some possibilities, followed by a longer form that you may need at key points in life when you sense you’ve lost your way and need to find yourself again, or when simply sensing that you are at crossroads involving transitions from something to something else.


Let’s start small. 

Reflection. As you get closer to ending the more active portion of your day, stop for 5-10 minutes,  look back, and note what’s left undone. You may have failed to get to something, or something new popped up that you hadn’t accounted for. The point here is not to get “doing” again, but to find a place for these things in the future and to avoid distracted attention as the day closes around unfinished business. This can include a pause to consider more about the importance and priority of each, and what kind of effort it deserves. You can do this at the start of the next day, but it may settle you better in the evening and into sleep if done the day of. 

Before moving on, let me mention a format that I call the “weekly review.” I imagine it best done at the week’s end. It supports looking back and then ahead in a way that enables you to catch up with yourself and make adjustments. It might help you salvage a weekend that is unlike the other days. You can do it with a friend or group of friends. Email me (fred@meanwhile.studio) if you would like me to share the format.

Recovery. While you are closing down your day, you also can do what I call “love it and shake it off.” What good happened today? Let that sink in, with appreciation, enough that it may affect your state of mind. What didn’t go as you hoped it would? Can you take that bit of regret, practice some self-compassion and add perhaps an ounce of wisdom for the future. And then let that disappointment go.

Renewal. On any given day, don’t let singular or continual focus (even if split across a series of meetings) continue. Do something differently. Shift your state, energetically. This might involve movement, such as a walk. Or different mental stimulation (social media scrolling is not recommended here). A conversation, however casual, with a human about something, well, human. As for weekly, design something in your calendar that gets you some kind of fresh input, experientially or otherwise. Go somewhere new. Or slow something down so that you take it in more fully. Really connect with what’s happening; don’t rush through.

Bigger and Longer

There are times when we sense we either have lost our way (it happens!) or are at some kind of crossroads. How we thought life would be by now isn’t so. The maps we were offered don’t hold up well. We need to true up. Catch up. We need a bigger, longer form of recess. Some know these as a sabbatical, which can include slowing down and making room for a season (think: months) for special moments of reflection, recovery, and renewal. This might include consideration of what’s in the portfolio of things that make up your life and what you want to pursue going forward—along with the adjustments you may need to make for that to happen in a sustainable way.

Believe it or not, you don’t have to stop life or work as you know it to create such a season, or what I’ll call a quest. I call it a “quest” only because such a period can hold emerging questions without quickly seeking answers, much less easy ones, and with room, so those questions themselves can change as you tune in better to yourself, your life and work, and the world around you. While it may be more difficult to work this in while also keeping up jobs, family life, and more, it is possible with enough structure and the support of others. 

I provide formats and personal guidance to help people take on such a season. One version, a cohort format, is starting up in February 2024. Its strength is flexibility so that you can set the pace of what you engage and the kind of engagement with others that suits you. [Check out The Meadow or email me for more.]

Back to the Bell

The bell may be ringing for you. It likely has been doing so for a while, and you’ve been stuck at the proverbial school desk for too long. Let’s stand up, honor the bell, and find a way to make room for what you need, in the moment and in this season of your life.Fred Jones, a colleague with Cultivating Leadership, is the creator and curator of Meanwhile Studio (www.meanwhile.studio). This includes a set of guided and self-paced quests for adults who are in transition or wanting a more sustainable way to live their lives. See this opportunity on The Meadow for one version of a guided, sabbatical-like experience that doesn’t require stopping everything. Fred helps individuals and organizations sort out what is becoming important to them and take action, accordingly.

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