Taking a Pause
by Katrina Dizon Mariategue
For as long as I’ve been in the workforce, I’ve prided myself in my ability to take on a lot of work and move it quickly. Being productive and efficient has always given me a sense of accomplishment: the more I could check off of my to-do list in a day, the more fulfilled I felt. I rarely took any time off in my first few years at SEARAC. When I hit my four-year mark and started accruing more vacation days, I had more days off than I knew what to do with. Then COVID hit, followed by civil unrest across the country brought on by the murder of George Floyd and the 2020 elections. It was during this time that I also stepped in as SEARAC’s Acting Executive Director for six months. Behind the scenes, I also struggled quietly with two pregnancy losses.
I didn’t know it then, but I was burning out physically, mentally, and emotionally. I qualified for a 10-week paid sabbatical due to my years of service at SEARAC at the start of 2021, but I decided to hold off until the end of the year to help the team get through major programming first. Suffice to say, I didn’t make it that long. By the summer, I requested to start my sabbatical in August.
Given my workhorse personality and my inability to stay still, I was nervous at first. Would I get bored? What would I do with all that free time? Did I need to take up a hobby? These questions were just made worse by the fact that I couldn’t really travel anywhere due to COVID and my daughter not yet being vaccinated.
But as I started my ten weeks of freedom, it was like I rediscovered my humanity and my identity outside of being a working mom. For the first time in years, I allowed myself to take a pause, reflect, and heal. I took short road trips, reconnected with family and old friends, took myself out to solo lunches, went to therapy for the first time, took daily naps, and learned about “fun” things like financial literacy.
It was liberating to live each day as I wanted, not bound by the work clock, anxiously jumping from meeting to meeting, cutting lunch short with loved ones to hop onto yet another Zoom call. I also spent quality time with my husband, daughter, and our pandemic puppy. People say it all the time, but I had to live it to remember that there truly is more to life than our jobs and our work productivity.
But as I started my ten weeks of freedom, it was like I rediscovered my humanity and my identity outside of being a working mom. For the first time in years, I allowed myself to take a pause, reflect, and heal.
I used to tell my husband that I dreaded retirement because I would be bored. During sabbatical, I came to the humbling realization that I have close to 25 years left in the workforce. It forced me to really think about what sustainability looks like in this movement. It was with a sense of pride that I realized how SEARAC is truly leading the way in modeling non-profit worker sustainability through:
- Our culture of holistic care for staff and their loved ones
- Our revolutionary 32-hour / 4-day work week
- Our ability to advocate with stakeholders (including funders), not only for our communities, but for ourselves
- Our generous paid sabbatical policy for all staff
After almost seven years at SEARAC, I am constantly asked: “What’s next for your career?” This belief that we need to keep hustling and looking for something better is exhausting and quintessentially DC culture. But when I reflect on how healthy the workplace at SEARAC is, I am so grateful to be able to work at a place that fights for civil rights and racial justice externally while living our values internally. Right now, I can’t really imagine another organization that would nourish me quite as much for the next 25 years.
Katrina is SEARAC’s Deputy Director. You can email her at email@example.com.