I HAVE A CONFESSION . I WAS ADDICTED TO THE TELEVISION show 24. I watched every week and couldn’t wait for Jack Bauer to save the world, once more, from some terrifying attack that was going to kill millions of people. And he always came through, just as the seconds ticked down.
Occasionally Jack would go deep undercover. No one could reach him. There was no way for anyone to communicate with him to change or abort the mission. Once he went dark, he would stay under until the mission was accomplished.
If you remove the intensity, gunfire, adrenaline-racing action, occasional psychotic behavior, and torture, then I think there are some real-life lessons we can learn from Jack Bauer. Sometimes we also need to go dark.
Most of the time you are available. People know where your office is. They know your e-mail address. They know how to reach you on Facebook or Twitter. They probably even have your cellphone number. Perhaps they can connect with you through Xbox, Instagram, Tumblr, or a thousand additional ways that are being thought up as I write.
And there is nothing wrong with being connected in our fast-paced world. But there are times when you must intentionally disconnect. Maybe you do this by turning off your phone and iPad at eight every night and leaving it off until the next morning. Maybe you do this by disconnecting from everything one day each week.
So what exactly does going dark mean in today’s world?
The Urban Dictionary website defines it this way: “To disappear; to become suddenly unavailable or digitally out of reach for an undefined period of time.”
For me, this usually means the following:
- I don’t check e-mail.
- I make sure my e-mails stop forwarding to my phone.
- I don’t carry my cell phone.
- I don’t check any office voice mails.
- I don’t blog. I also don’t read anyone else’s blogs.
- I don’t tweet or go on Facebook (except for family stuff or pictures about my week).
- I don’t read how-to-be-a-better-leader books (like this one).
- If I’m still in town, I don’t stop by the office. I also don’t go to my church.
I don’t wait to go dark only when I’m on vacation or out of town. Instead, I plan this in advance because I know it’s important. It is what I must do for my health and sanity, and for the wellness of my soul. I don’t wait until I’m desperate—by then it’s probably too late.
Last year I planned well in advance, and by the time my going-dark week arrived, I was on the edge. A good friend looked at me and said, “The life has drained out of your face.” It had been an intense season and a long haul without much of a break. It was time to disconnect.
I’ve been asked, “Don’t you miss a lot of important stuff when you go dark?” Yep. When I choose to go dark, it means I miss some opportunities. I am not involved in some key decisions. I miss some calls and e-mails that were important. I miss some deadlines. I disappoint some people. And for an entire week, I am unavailable to my team.
But it also means that I’m back the following week in a better frame of mind to serve and lead. I have a brighter outlook for the future and more margin in my life.
I haven’t mastered a healthy life of balanced living. But I think it is worth asking yourself some questions:
- Do you have someone in your life who can look you in the eyes and say, “Dude, you need a break!”?
- Do you realize that you can’t wait for someone else to tell you to take a break? You are responsible for your health— no one else. It’s great when you work in a place that also values your health, but ultimately you are responsible.
- Do you know what fills your tank emotionally, physically, and spiritually?
For me, when I spent fifty hours in one week last year engineering, hammering, drilling, sawing, and measuring, it brought amazing healing and health. And doing it with my dad, being surrounded by my kids and wife, and having my mom around, those relationships added to the joy.
You can’t wait to take a break until the work is done or until no one else needs you. Those days will likely never come. It’s possible that the best thing you can do is disappoint someone in the short run so that you can serve him or her better in the long run.
For more helpful advice on effectively leading change on your church staff, check out my latest book Fairness Is Overrated: And 51 Other Leadership Principles To Revolutionize Your Workplace.