I have work-a-holic tendencies. Most of the time working hard isn’t a problem, but at times it gets out of control.
Back in my 20’s I interned with Procter & Gamble. It was my dream company, and I got the job! I admired their rigor and results. I knew they operated in a best in class fashion, and I was determined to live up to that standard.
My internship was in Cleveland, where I didn’t know anyone. I also didn’t have any compelling hobbies. My boyfriend (now husband) would come to visit on some weekends, but most of the time there was nothing to distract me from work.
That was the problem. Left to my own devices, there was no reason to ever stop working. I could always do better. I was determined to get a full time offer. By the end of the summer I was so burnt out that I became depressed. I wondered if it was even worth getting an MBA because I didn’t want this kind of pressure or life!
Take a look at your life and career. Have you ever started to run with the best of intentions only to end up feeling like you were being chased and couldn’t stop? This is a very common trap for high achievers, and it can show up in any area of life: career, raising children, hobbies, even when planning parties for friends!
What drives this behavior and what are the consequences?
One driver is our own high expectations. This drive towards excellence enables us to
achieve great things! However, it can also turn into a cruel task master where it can feel like we can always to better. We can start to discount or ignore our achievements, thinking they are nothing special because it was expected after all.
Another driver can be our ambitions. If achieving our ambitions is dependent on others, such as if we want to promoted, we can let ourselves become enslaved to the expectations of others. We may have a hard time pushing back at work because we fear it will negatively impact our career trajectory. Even if in reality we’re a stellar employee that the company wants to hold onto.
A third driver could be our ability to focus intensely. We can get lost in our “work” and other areas of our life may shrivel because we don’t devote time to them. For example, when my children were young, I spent so much time with them, my husband started to feel neglected.
Another consequence of intense focus is we may not recognize when our productivity starts to slip: when we’re spinning our wheels. If we could recognize this and shift to a different activity, we could actually achieve even more!
The good news is the following strategy can help us lower our stress and get our passion back.
1. Pay attention when that voice inside you says “this is just too much.” Notice your attitude. Has your excited passion turned into obligation or overwhelm? If so, you’re probably caught in the fight or flight stress response, which makes us more reactive, more impulsive and less creative. Try to identify all the different things that could be contributing this feeling.
2. As soon as possible or at least before going to sleep, take some time to decompress. Take a walk, get in nature, take some deep breaths, take a bath, meditate, listen to relaxing music, take yoga class. Do whatever helps you to get grounded – even if you only have 10 minutes to devote to this! This shifts our brain activation, giving us more access to our creativity and intuition. By the way, this can also help break the cycle of spinning your wheels.
3. When you feel relaxed, ask yourself “What do I need? What’s missing?” Allow yourself to really hear the answer. Don’t worry if you don’t know how to get there yet.
4. Playfully brainstorm some possible ways of meeting those needs. Don’t analyze how realistic they are, just allow yourself to play with the ideas. Generate as many ideas as you can in the time you allocated to do this.
5. Finally, choose one or two ideas that you want to put into action and develop a plan for doing so.
I encourage you to experiment with working through these steps with a trusted friend, coworker or family member. When I do this work with my coaching clients, and the energy and confidence they feel at the end of sessions is palpable. Over time, this process becomes so ingrained that they spend more time in passion and less in overwhelm. If this type of training would serve you, my coaching or Positive Intelligence program could help with this.
For now, celebrate this tremendous strength of yours. It’s one of the things that sets you apart!