A couple of weeks ago, I got caught telling a whopper set of lies.
I was waiting for my daughter to get out of school, when another mum asked, “How are you doing?”
“Good,” I said breathlessly, “but crazy busy!”
(Lie #1: I certainly was busy, but I was not well at all. My back pain had returned in spades and the stress was so bad I’d started getting recurrent cold sores in my mouth.)
“I’ve got a launch coming up, I created a new product, and I’m wrapping up the book chapter I’ve been writing on contract. And of course the hubby’s been out of town a lot, so doing most of the child care. But,” I sighed, “I just have to get through April and things will slow down.”
My friend cocked her head and asked, “Haven’t you been saying that since October?”
Lie #2, that I thought everything would “slow down next month,” was the worst of all, because at least part of me believed it. Indeed, I’d been engaged in a vocational sprint for more than six months, where the finish line always remained just a few steps ahead of me.
In my last update on my no goals experiment, I shared 3 strategies for de-cluttering your commitments. I’m here to say I tried juggling and failed. It was a good experiment, but at least for me, I couldn’t make it work.
I decided the only real solution was to remove all work commitments and start completely over.
For many of my clients, the thought of starting over is one of their biggest fears. There were certainly days I just wanted to curl up and hide in my room. I was so stressed about the how: how to break ties without burning bridges, how to throttle back without losing momentum, and how to focus on the work I love without burning out.
In this post, I’ll show you how I’m addressing all three of those concerns and how you might do the same.
Breaking ties without burning bridges
Last year I accepted a part-time job to write thought pieces on the topic of human performance enhancement. It’s been a great gig, but the time commitment turned out to be a lot greater than the client or I anticipated.
It became apparent back in November that I wasn’t capable of juggling this project and my business while preserving my sanity, but I couldn’t see a way to back out without hurting my relationships or reputation.
The key to making a clean break was to combine honesty with empathy.
Instead of spending a lot of time worrying about how to do everything, I looked for an exit point that served us both. It’s less than we originally planned on, but it doesn’t leave them in the lurch either. And just having a clear end date to the project reduced my stress, making me more effective for the time I have left.
Throttling back without losing momentum
I just wrapped up the latest launch for the No Regrets Career Academy, my most successful ever. My goal-oriented, over-achiever tendency would be to celebrate by starting five new creative projects. Simultaneously.
Thankfully, the voice in my head that thought it was a bad idea didn’t back down this time.
Of course, I didn’t want to clear my commitments and keep them cleared. I just wanted to add back activities more intentionally. I’m calling it a “working sabbatical.”
I know from experience that working with new clients is an energy-producing activity for me. It’s something I look forward to and it’s the first thing I’m putting back on my professional shelf.
Everything else will be added back once I’ve established a pace I can manage. Many of you know I usually take a blogging sabbatical in July and August. This time, I plan to start that break immediately, but unlike in previous years, I won’t stop writing completely. I’ll write when the desire strikes, but blog posts will be more sporadic between now and the end of August.
The key to throttling back was experimenting with sabbaticals before I needed one.
Prior experiments gave me the confidence that stepping away not only wouldn’t hurt my business, but would be good for it. Real momentum takes the long view.
Doing what you love without burning out
You’d think that once you found the work you love, the issue of burnout would go away. Instead, it just changes the nature of the problem.
I’ve even considered I might be addicted to flow. Maybe my next project should be a 12-step program for creatives (I’m kidding–mostly).
But I only have a little over a year left in London and I’m determined to enjoy it. This means in addition to making more time for work I love, I want more breaks to explore this awesome city and Europe in general. I also don’t want to approach my time off like another achievement checklist.
In the past, I’ve been terrible about this. I actually stress about how many places in Europe I haven’t visited yet, while simultaneously telling myself I don’t have time to be taking vacations!
The key to reducing burnout is to get clear on what provides real relaxation, and then scheduling time for it.
To start, I booked a weekend getaway for the family to Versailles. We’ll stay in a hotel right on the grounds of the palace, where we can wander through the gardens to our hearts’ content. I’m also booking lunches with friends, an afternoon at the butterfly exhibit, and a day to draw inspiration at the Tate Modern over the next several months.
The other big change is I’m returning my weekends to their rightful place: with family and friends. Running a business necessarily means some hustle, but no one works their best when they’re working 7 days a week.
To new beginnings…
The more I thought about getting rid of my commitments and only adding back the ones I really wanted (and could handle), the more excited I got.
I started asking myself, what if my life was driven by joy alone? Not ambition or obligation or fear. Just joy.
This is fundamentally what the no goals experiment is all about.
It doesn’t mean you don’t take on challenges or avoid activities that are hard. Those things absolutely bring me joy.
But I can let go of expectation, ambition, and envy.
Because I don’t need them. I’m lucky to already have everything I need.
Now I intend to enjoy it. Slowly.