My latest reading of Richard Nixon’s 1962 book, Six Crises, was about Nixon’s controversial fund, which became an issue in his 1952 run for Vice-President and inspired him to give the Checkers speech on national television. While Nixon was accused of employing this fund (which came from business-people’s donations) for his own personal use, Nixon insisted that the fund was purely for political purposes—-for such things as travel to and from political events, and mass mailings in which Nixon informed constituents about the work that he was doing in Washington.
In this chapter, as in other parts of the book, Nixon reflects about how he and others deal with crisis. Nixon states on page 105:
“…it has been my experience that, more often than not, ‘taking a break’ is actually an escape from the tough, grinding discipline that is absolutely necessary for superior performance. Many times I have found that my best ideas have come when I thought I could not work for another minute and when I literally had to drive myself to finish the task before a deadline. Sleepless nights, to the extent the body can take them, can stimulate creative mental activity.”
Nixon acknowledges that taking a break and relaxing may be helpful after a “period of intense concentration and preparation [that] stretches into months rather than days” (page 105). Indeed, as I read in Stephen Ambrose’s Nixon: The Education of a Politician, Nixon sometimes took vacations, as when he spent time with his friend Bebe Rebozo. But, in law school, in his work on the Hiss case, in his 1960 race for President, etc., Nixon worked hard, even sacrificing hours of sleep to his work.
On the issue of taking breaks, I think that there are times when I should discipline myself and keep on working—-staying the course, if you will. If I’m continually taking a break because I’m doing a task that I don’t particularly want to do, then I’m not getting the task done, and that’s not good, particularly if the task is important. But there are also times when taking a short break—-particularly a nap—-can energize me for my work and can perhaps allow me to return to it with a fresh and creative perspective.
In terms of vacations, however, I find that I don’t take them that often. I prefer to set aside time each day to relax, rather than to set aside weeks for a vacation. I don’t like prolonged periods of not doing anything, in short. I like to structure my days so that I’m accomplishing something. But that’s me.