On a long journey, rest breaks are essential if you want to arrive safely. That’s true of your life and career journeys too.

It’s fall migration time. Millions of birds are heading south down the three broad flyways that link the breeding grounds in the north with wintering areas as far south as Argentina. For birders like me, migration is magic. You never know what may pass through. Sadly, many of today’s migrants won’t make it to their destination. The ones that do aren’t just the fittest. They’re also the ones that find places to rest up and re-fuel along the way. It’s a lesson we could all learn.

Some of our native birds travel thousands of miles on migration. But they’re sensible. Every so often they stop off for a few days of rest and recuperation, to feed up and fuel themselves for the next big push southwards.

Southeastern Arizona, where I live, is on the Pacific Flyway—the route down the west coast from Alaska into Mexico and beyond. Our summer monsoon, with its burst of fresh flowers and vegetation, creates an important flyway resort for birds from hawks to hummingbirds. At this time of year, the bird population is swelled by millions of visitors looking for somewhere they can get a good night’s rest and a solid meal of nectar, bugs . . . or migrating birds. Since our climate stays hot for all but two or three months of the year, we usually have a good supply of bugs varied enough for every bird’s taste.

Humans also need regular periods of rest on our journey through life. It’s tempting to keep going and ignore this need. There’s a barrage of advice to push ahead, show determination, get things done, and stay focused on your goals. People and problems are continually demanding your attention. But, like the birds, you need rest and fuel for your mind and body. Pushing yourself too hard causes exhaustion, mental and physical. On a long journey, doing so can be fatal if you want to arrive at all.

What’s your ideal flyway resort?

Here are some ideas to give yourself a break for some much-needed R&R in a hectic world:

  • How about taking a long weekend of total rest at a health resort or a retreat? Leave the cellphone and the laptop behind. It’s an exceptional call or e-mail that can’t wait a few days for an answer. Being available constantly is mostly fashion. It’s almost never necessary.
  • Get out in the fresh air. Walk, ride, hike, go up into the mountains or down to the beach. In a two-hour walk this morning, less than five miles from my home, I encountered more than twenty species of birds, plus lizards, grasshoppers, hundreds of butterflies—and a three-foot Western Diamondback rattlesnake, quietly slipping through the grass on its way home after a night of hunting. We live in a land of staggering beauty. Enjoy it.
  • Do something different. Volunteer to help with children or elderly people for a day—or a week. Go to a show or a concert you’d never imagine yourself attending. Make love all afternoon. Ban TV for 72 hours.
  • Lose yourself in a book. Better still, in a series of books. Forget the problems you face. They’ll wait for you. Be a detective, do some time traveling, visit lands you’ve never been to, explore ideas that haven’t crossed your mind before.
  • Change your routine. Get up earlier, or stay later in bed. Have a midday siesta. Take more exercise, or relax more. The old saying that a change can be as good as a rest is true.
  • Change your diet. Try eating more healthily and more slowly. In the non-stop rush of today, too many people bolt down their food as if taking more than 10 minutes for lunch will cause the world to end. Take time to enjoy your food. Be like the French, Spanish, and italians for a few days: have a 3-hour lunch break and spend it really appreciating what you eat.

This isn’t self-indulgence, it’s an unbreakable law of nature. A Rufus Hummingbird that tried to fly from Alaska to Mexico without stopping would collapse and die from exhaustion well before it reached halfway. A person who tries to make their life journey into a nonstop endurance event will meet the same fate mentally—and likely physically as well.

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