How to Make What Matters Most, Matter Most, This Summer

career high expectations what matters most

Summer is the season that beckons us to unwind, let go of our worries, and come alive. We long to embrace the sun-filled days of joy, wonderment, and adventure. As it comes upon us, we envision ourselves stepping back and taking a break from our stress-filled lives, hoping to make time for the rest, relaxation, and restoration we know we so desperately need.

The summer season that is meant to be carefree and come with ease also comes with high expectations. We know that many people feel a tremendous amount of pressure to relax and make the most of the summer months. We are constantly bombarded with images of extravagant vacations, perfectly curated posts on social media, and an idealized version of what relaxation should look like. 

This idea that we need to live up to society’s expectations about what a productive and fun summer looks like can create a different kind of stress that undermines the very purpose of rest and relaxation.

Expectations . . . and more expectations.

In our fast-paced society, being busy has become a normative way of living life for many of us. Winding down is hard. When you do, you may be hit with a wall of emotions, so you just keep going. You begin cramming your schedules with endless plans and activities. From travel plans to social obligations, this pressure to constantly be ‘productive’ can leave us feeling exhausted and deprived of genuine rest. This relentless pursuit of relaxation can become counterproductive when it transforms into a relentless pursuit of productivity.

I recall that for a very long time in my life, the only two emotions I allowed myself to feel were ‘productive’ and ‘exhausted’. As you might guess, that was not sustainable. The reality is that many of us don’t actually know how to listen to our bodies and give ourselves time to genuinely slow down. This seemingly elusive idea of relaxation turns into just another item on our never-ending-to-do list.

to done list

With the extreme pressure put on us by society to do more, be more, and make the most of every moment, I invite you to approach this summer season with gentleness and intention. We need to reclaim relaxation and make it on our own terms. We can find kinder and more authentic ways to unwind that align with how we want to show up for ourselves and those we care about.

Here are some tips to help you remember what matters most, challenge the pressures and find authentic ways to relax and unwind:

Let go of what you should be doing, ought to be doing, and could be doing

There’s always going to be outside pressures and something else we could be doing with our time. Remember that social media is a highlight reel that can leave us feeling like we’re not enough and what we’re doing isn’t enough. Rather than feeling pressured to have a picture-perfect summer, we can design a summer that is uniquely meaningful and restorative for us. One that reflects what brings us joy, fulfillment, and a sense of purpose.

Set expectations

By gaining radical clarity on what it is that we hope to achieve this summer and setting expectations about what is practical and realistic, we can start to think of behaviours and practices that will help make that happen and match how we want to be feeling. For example, is it important for you to be present for your children? Can you loosen the rigidness of your work schedule? Will you be able to set boundaries and say ‘no’ without feeling guilty?

Decide what matters most

What is it that you value most about the summer months? Is it connecting with others, time alone, rest, family time, travel, or some other goals you’re working toward? Decide what matters most to you this summer and make this the priority. I also recommend picking a theme word for your summer. Perhaps something like EASE, STEADY, GENTLE, or SOFTNESS, and then when you are planning your day, ensure there is something related to your theme in there too!

Yes Or No via pixabay

Active recovery practices

Simplicity is often overlooked when we are in constant ‘go’ mode, yet we can build active recovery practices into our daily lives that allow us to find solace in the mundane. We can prioritize our wellness and make these practices part of every season of our lives. Maybe you can find opportunities to move your body and get outside. Try bookending your days by beginning and ending them with something you enjoy or find worthwhile. Pre-load your self-care at the beginning of the day, intentionally. Then at the end of the day, choose a way to unwind.

Recognize if you’re moving back into busyness

Doing what is familiar is sometimes the easy choice. Throughout the summer, you may find yourself moving back into a state of busyness, filling your schedule, or saying “yes” to everything. Make note of feelings of overwhelm and stress. Emotions are vital tools; they may be telling you that you’re taking on too much. You may even have to say to yourself: “It’s OK. You can slow down now.”

I think that we each need to redefine what it means to make the most of summer, and let this summer be a time to refocus, rediscover, and reconnect – with ourselves and with what truly matters. Once we reevaluate what relaxation means to us personally, we can focus on what truly brings us peace and joy. We can align our actions with our core values and intentions to create the space for true rest, relaxation, and rejuvenation. 

I believe that brighter days are ahead for all of us this summer – in whatever way that looks and feels like to us.

What can you do to make what matters most, matter most, this summer?

This guest post was authored by Dr. Robyne Hanley-Dafoe

Described as one of the most sought-after, engaging, thought-provoking, and truly transformative international speakers and scholars in her field, Dr. Robyne Hanley-Dafoe is a multi-award-winning education and psychology instructor, author, and resiliency expert. She specializes in resiliency, navigating stress and change, personal wellness in the workplace, and optimal performance – both personal and organizational. With over 18 years of university teaching and research experience, and as a two-time TEDx Talk speaker, Dr. Robyne continues to create accessible and relatable materials while offering practical strategies that are realistic and sustainable. 

Dr. Robyne recently joined a group of highly esteemed authors from around the globe as a 2022 Nautilus Award recipient with her debut book, Calm Within The Storm: A Pathway to Everyday Resiliency. Her newest book, Stress Wisely: How to Be Well in an Unwell World was released June 20, 2023. 


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Ms. Career Girl was started in 2008 to help ambitious young professional women figure out who they are, what they want and how to get it.