Not to be confused with the three Rs of Reading, Writing and Arithmetic, I have been taught to value the three Rs of Respect, Reciprocity and Relationship as core principles in navigating this life. These shape my approach when communing with people, Country and within my work as a teacher, writer and researcher.
So if you had asked me before last year if I was honouring these principles in how I treat myself, I would have said “sure” with some confidence. It’s easy to miss the gaps in our knowledge when we are working without rest, though. That’s the thing with constantly grinding: you can race past necessary reflections that would serve you, and I have been grinding for as long as I can remember.
I was born into circumstances where there was no financial safety net, no leg up when it came to even the basics, so I began the work-study grind in childhood, and I haven’t stopped. I wanted a formal education and a family and so I grew them simultaneously.
My children are raised on university campuses, in community and in our home, where I have been known to work into the early hours of the morning. For much of my life, I have felt compelled to work without pause—to pause was to perish. That is unsustainable but I wasn’t sure how to stop even when my resources might have allowed it.
Then late last year my world was forcibly slowed down as I journeyed alongside my mother who was battling cancer. Mum was only 63 and I was with her when she left her body.
With that farewell I fell into grief so consuming that I had no choice but to stop. I hadn’t taken proper leave in years as an academic, and suddenly all that accrued time wasn’t just nice to have, it was desperately needed. In stopping, I faced what I was feeling and reflected on the finite time we have in our bodies.
I realised that I had not been considering respect, reciprocity or relationship when it came to how I treat and honour myself. I was treating my days as lists of tasks and opportunities to be productive, whether that was for my home, community or workplace.
There is so much to do, so much to fight for, that I rarely gave myself permission to rest…but there will always be more to do and—as counterintuitive as it may sound—to keep fighting we must rest.
When I think of the future, I look at my children and consider the messaging that I imbued into their cells when creating and raising them.
I ask myself what role modelling I provide. At 35, with three university degrees, including a PhD, a career and a newly published book, I have come to the conclusion that the area in which I am most at risk of having failed my children is the fact they have rarely seen me actually rest.
Rest is a right, not a luxury or privilege that you need to earn. It is fuel and should be respected within this brief time we have in these bodies. My children and those of the future need to be raised with a fourth R: they need to know Respect, Reciprocity, Relationship and Rest.
We are more than our ability to produce within capitalism, more than the families we raise and contribute to, more than the works we may leave behind. We are stardust and magic and a moment that will never come again, and that is why I will fuel my fire by choosing rest.
This story originally appeared in the march issue of Marie Claire Australia.