One of the most challenging realities that UX professionals have to reckon with is that our work is embedded in systems within a profit-driven world.
Many of us are drawn to the field of UX because of the values and ideals around human-centricity. Yet, the systems and values that keep us striving to do more, faster and more cheaply were not intended to make us whole, happy and balanced humans.
It can feel discouraging to work in environments where speed and volume seem to be more valued over the responsibilities we have to elevate the humanity of those who engage with the experiences we help to craft and design.
Breaks are usurped for slacking, not for the slack that you built into your day to accommodate poor project planning, meeting overruns and unrealistic expectations driven by profit.
Many of us are unconsciously encouraged to systemically underrate the value of rest, silence, and hobbies in our lives—and it’s hurting the UX professional and our ability to show up in ways that are meaningful in both our personal and professional lives.
In this piece, we’re going to unpack why it’s imperative for us to discuss the systemic under-rating of rest, silence, and hobbies and how we as UX professionals can overcome it.
Between pain and profit
The systemic underrating of rest, silence, and hobbies is often rooted in societal and organizational notions that value doing over being, that foster competition and demand success at all costs.
This can cause us to over-ask, “What does success look like?” and under-ask, “What does health look and feel like to me?”
Our work is often built on the conviction and responsibility to advocate for our company’s customers, to make their experiences with the tools and services we design as helpful and experientially supportive as possible.
You’re accountable for deepening your intellectual and emotional understanding of your customers’ pains to minimize them and translate that understanding into design solutions. Implementing the best solutions often requires you to persuade stakeholders focused on profit to give you the time and resources to deliver on the promise of UX.
Stuck between the needs of your customers and the demands of your stakeholders increases your stress levels as you deal with your customers’ suffering, your reactions to their pain, your own pain that is part of the human condition, and any trauma you carry: inherited, past/present, and unresolved.
Denying or suppressing emotions causes us to miss important cues for the need to take care of ourselves.
About trauma: If you are experiencing a high level of trauma currently, it is important to seek help from a trauma-informed professional. Please take care of yourself.
Acknowledging your pain and being aware of your trauma enables you to connect more deeply with those you are trying to serve but this work is not easy, and over time it can take its toll.
Compassion needs self-compassion
We need compassion to be human-centered, but many people in “helping roles” fail to practice self-compassion, allowing our compassion for our customers to over-shadow our own need for self-compassion.
Some of us respond to overwhelm with rigor, doubling down on our efforts to deliver perfect solutions, ignoring signals from our bodies that we need rest, ultimately leading to compassion fatigue, overwhelm and burnout. Maybe some of you do take care of yourself when you have the time.
I advocate that you do whatever is necessary to prioritize your well-being, because if you don’t nobody else will and you may end up hurting the ones you serve at work and the ones you love at home.
You cannot do self-care without self-awareness
Yes, really. I want you to pause, take in a breath and be silent. Ask yourself, am I…?
Hungry – Angry – Lonely – Tired (HALT)
If you answered yes to any of these it’s time for a break and a remedy.
I learned this simple but effective acronym in a Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction course [MBSR] I took in 2020 because as one who is in a helping role I realized that coaching requires me to focus my energy on the well-being of others.
Plus, in a world that has grown increasingly complex and challenging, I need to periodically turn my focus inward and take care of my own needs in order to show up with full presence and avoid unintentionally harming those I’ve committed to helping.
Denying and suppressing your needs or emotions causes you to miss your body’s cues that it is time to give yourself some care. Running on empty increases the likelihood of making a poor decision or hurting another with “short-fuse” communication.
Learning to check in with yourself is a first step in creating your own system for valuing your health. An important new habit to form is to regularly ask yourself, “What do I need right now?”
Let’s get intentional about rest, silence, and a hobby
Work-life balance is a delusion when we’re expected to always be on. Projects define our pace and organizations define us: your job = your identity.
The self-care hype makes companies feel like they are supporting your well-being with a gym membership you never have the time or energy to use and the annual team-building activity that cannot counterbalance an entire year of high-stress living.
You must get intentional about prioritizing your own needs in the workplace and at home.
Rest to replenish
According to any study you will find, adults are not getting enough sleep. Do you feel rested when you awaken or is the quality of your rest impaired?
When rest is an after-thought and not a systemized and prioritized method to re-fuel, we are in danger of negatively impacting our health, our work product, our relationships with colleagues and our personal relationships.
Rest at work
- Begin to carve out time to periodically step away and rest your mind and body. Take a quick walk or find a place to stretch away from your desk.
- Keep something at your desk that brings you joy and makes you smile.
- Daydream/visualize a relaxing scene.
- Listen to a favorite song.
If you make this a habit, you may notice that your return to tasks comes with fresh eyes and new alertness.
Rest at home
- Create a ritual that signals the end of your workday and another to end the evening.
- In remote/hybrid work environments you need a physical break from the office. Changing rooms or sitting on the floor or in a different chair tells your body that work has ended.
- Get to know what relaxes you and ease into those activities before bedtime. Reading, listening to music, drinking water/non-caffeinated teas, and meditation can usher you gently into dreamland.
- Set boundaries for your accessibility. I mean it!
Silence—the absence of noise, whether audial or psychic, provides weary minds with space for meditation, self-inquiry, and a rest from over-thinking.
Silence gives you a blank canvas for ideas to arrive, germinate and grow.
Silence—or an absence of stimuli gives you space to reflect, which is key for rest and also for innovation.
Turn-off alerts when you are not “on.”
If you work in an office that is an open workspace, take breaks in your quiet areas or invest in noise-cancelling headphones to achieve some relative silence in our noisy world.
It’s high time for a hobby
“What do you do for fun?”
Has become my favorite networking question. We were raised to ask, “What do you do (for a living)” but I have moved on from the “You are what you do” mentality and want to get to know the whole person before me in the time that I have with them.
We are so much more than our roles, and the sweetness of life is in the fun times we allow ourselves to enjoy.
Is there enough space in your life for you?
You cannot have a self-care regimen without including activities that are done purely for the fun of it. Our spirits need it and we deserve it.
If you are so far removed from the idea, take a walk back through to an earlier time…what did you do for fun as a kid? You may want to revive an old hobby to get you started.
Answer the question: “What is one thing you’ve always wanted to try but haven’t done yet?” a new experience may spark an idea for a new hobby.
There are classes, meet-ups, communities, and more that are doing fun things you may want to get in on – in-person and virtually. If you’ve neglected to have fun, acknowledge that and then take the initiative to bring fun back.
A complete self-care regimen includes eating healthy foods, drinking water, sleeping enough hours, exercise, and Rest – Silence - Hobbies to replenish your energy and soothe your soul. Put yourself on the road to greater health, fulfillment at work, and increased joy for this one, luscious life that is yours to live.
Cindy Lamar is a Transformation Coach, former software trainer-amateur UX enthusiast who develops learning experiences and communicates through writing, song, and her hobbies.