On Finally Giving Myself Permission to Disconnect as a Small Business Owner

In October, I decided to book a last minute flight to Seattle for four days. I had never been, and the city had been on my list of places to check out for a long time. When a good friend and I reconnected, I decided to take the opportunity to visit him while also immersing myself in a new city.

Only one hitch: I wanted to go off the grid while I visited, and that meant working like crazy to get all my ducks in a row before I left. For the entire week before my flight, I was working nonstop. I made sure all my clients were in a good place, all outstanding payments were made, and all emails were answered. I wrote out a to-do list for my return so I wouldn’t lose sight of anything over those long four days. As I finished tallying what I would need to do when I got back, I looked at the list with doubt; could I leave all this for the better part of a week? More importantly, could I tackle it all when I returned without feeling anxious and behind?

I’ve never given myself permission to go off the grid before. We live in a world that is technology-driven and it feels impossible to turn “off.” Since I’ve had a cell phone, I’ve always been accessible, day or night. Since Facebook and Instagram came around, I’ve always checked them daily. And since I became an entrepreneur, there has never been a day that I didn’t check my email.

Owning my own business means I can decide when I want to be on and when I want to be off, but the reality is that I am “on” most of the time. My business is growing, and my work ethic means I want to be attentive and responsive. While most things aren’t urgent — I don’t need to be responding to emails at 10 pm, for example — I do commit to doing my best work for myself and for my clients. I’ve found that giving myself permission to be off, or go off the grid, is not at all easy.

Especially in New York City, the concept of finding balance is very challenging. Earlier in the year, when I flew back from Ireland and Israel, the minute the plane touched down in New York, I felt a sense of anxiety and pressure. Even though I had been checking email over the course of my trip, just being back in the New York City bubble — where everyone is “on” all the time — made me feel as if my vacation had abruptly ended. There was no sense of easing back in. My mind was already on deadlines, work, and everything I needed to accomplish that day.

I recently watched an Instagram story of a wellness influencer who said she was giving herself permission to not work over the weekend, and instead she was focusing on self-care. She continued by saying, “I give you permission to take this weekend off too.” While I understood the sentiment, it completely rubbed me the wrong way. Yes, this person has a nice-sized following on social media but the only person who should be giving you permission to “take off” is you. You know your own goals, deadlines, limits, and necessary boundaries. Whatever your profession or your lifestyle, it’s your responsibility to determine what’s best for you, and nobody can decide that on your behalf. On that particular weekend, I was actually preparing for my own upcoming trip, which meant that I had to keep my focus and work up to my own deadline.

On the morning of my trip, I turned on my out-of-office response. I had worked hard to prepare, and now it was time to enjoy my vacation. While I didn’t cut the cord entirely, over the course of those four days, I only spent thirty minutes on work and email per day. That was another empowering decision I made — that I didn’t need to be strict about being “off,” when just a few minutes a day would help me feel more in control. After all, I’m the only one running my business.

I was able to give myself permission because that decision was on my own terms. Had someone else told me to take a break or relax, I would never have been able to. But because it was my choice, I could own it. This time around, when my plane landed back in New York, I wasn’t immediately overwhelmed by feelings of anxiety. Instead, I felt like I had the best of both worlds: I had allowed myself a great impromptu vacation, and I was ready to take on what lay ahead. It was only four days — but because I’d let myself be present for them, it felt like the most relaxing and re-energizing vacation I’d had in a while.