I'm calling myself out. For the past several weeks—months—I've been telling people that I just don't know where my time goes. As a coach, I know better than to say "I don't have enough time"; there's always enough time, and overwhelm is the result of either distraction or lack of prioritization. Overwhelm is an emotional state, not a circumstance. It's the manifestation of our thinking, or more precisely, our lack of deliberate thinking. A symptom of what we value, don't value, pretend we value, deny we value, wish we valued, and our beliefs about what we can and can't do.
And so on.
I know this well, because I teach it every day, and watch client after client transform her life as a result.
So why do I find myself feeling perpetually behind? Feeling, to be honest, a little like a fraud?
Because, I realized, I've learned how to trick myself.
Here's what I do:
I write down my goals at the start of every month, and then my weekly goals on Mondays. Most days, I write down my to-dos every morning on post-it notes that I stick on my journal, or my computer, to the kitchen counter.
My list always includes The Biggies—like booking my next speaking gig, developing an online course, writing my next book; putting myself out there in ways that will enable me to reach the people who need this work and the guidance to see it through. My lists also include The Littles, like confirming retreat details, invoicing, grocery shopping, shuttling to and fro kids' activities, responding to emails, social media posts, etc.
I use a calendar, and often a white board, to chunk out my days, inserting my Bigs and Littles throughout the week in do-able slots. My calendar is a beautiful thing. It looks great. Sometimes I walk by it just to admire it.
And then I get to work.
I wake, make my tea, journal for ten minutes, meditate for twenty, work out, and launch into my day like a comet. I get a ton done, and I keep going. When I don't have my kids I will sometimes work several 15 or 16 hour days in a row, with nary a Scandal episode to break my flow.
And then the fruits of my labor start appearing: the blog post I'm super-excited to have published garners enthusiastic feedback. The Breakthrough Session I conducted that morning results in an amazing new connection with a woman who feels, for the first time in years, possibility ahead. The women's group I contacted is excited to chat next week about the talk I proposed to them. A client has a major breakthrough.
And then I stop.
I stare out the window from my couch and imagine what it will be like when I'm giving my TED talk.
I imagine myself on tour with my new book, giving readings, signing copies, completely in possession of my message, my process.
I imagine the sun on my face while hosting week-long Hawaiian retreats.
I feel the excitement thrumming through the thousands of women who've come together around this work, the dynamic tribe of movers and makers and visionaries who co-create and celebrate and do the work of making this world a more just, vibrant, compassionate place.
And pretty soon, hours have gone by.
I've abandoned my white board.
And because I've abandoned that, I might as well abandon The Biggies, because I like to feel productive, and The Littles are easy.
So I decide to make homemade veggie sushi for dinner, which means I'll need to go across town to the Japanese market to get the goods.
And I decide my little dog is sad, so I take him for an extra-long walk.
And I note that my car is littered with napkins from Tony's Tacos and empty cans of grapefruit San Pellegrino, so I decide it needs a thorough cleaning, now.
And on I go, creating and completing new Littles in order to distract myself from the Biggies that feel, well, too big. Too important to stuff into the small slots of time I have because, well, I'm behind. Plus, the Biggies are big! They're not going anywhere. I'll get back to them. Next week.
But next week comes, and they're still on my list.
And the next list, too.
And so on.
Until urgency hits—an unexpected bill, the end of a program I've created, contracts coming to a close—and I feel the push well up inside. And I start all over again.
So, what's the problem, you might ask. After all, I'm getting things done, albeit in fits and starts, but hey, my starts are intense. I keep the ball rolling. My clients are super happy. I pay my bills. I spend time with my kids, who appreciate my homemade sushi, and my dog loves me like there's no tomorrow.
Well, the problem is that The Biggies are left untouched. Each time I rewrite my whiteboard, I repeat my Biggies. Week after week. Month after month.
As soon as I feel progress en route to a Biggie, I get elated, and I ride that elation right out the door into a crowd of noisy Littles.
In other words, I'm playing small.
And I can get away with it, for a while, because things look pretty good. And I'm awesome at convincing myself that what looks good is good enough.
But it's not.
Not because I'm not good enough, but because I am enough.
This thought, that I'm good enough, is something I've needed to learn to believe. Odds are, you're working on it too.
Because that's what all of this is really about. I'm afraid. Actually, I'm terrified. When it comes right down to it, I'm scared to death of that TED talk. Of the book that's going to bare my story to the world. Of claiming once and for all my message, not only the message I now preach but the message that's calling to me, that's urging me into and through the maw of uncertainty to where I haven't yet been but want—need—to go. Of creating so much momentum and energy around what I'm doing that daydreaming for hours on end about what I'm not doing is no longer an option.
Why? Because it will take owning all of who I am to see my dreams though.
Because I will have to be completely vulnerable.
Because I will have to risk—no, I will have to endure—rejection.
Because I will have to let go of my cherished distractions in order to get there.
Because I'll have to learn how to be present to, rather than run from, the anxiety that lurks behind the distractions I no longer indulge in.
Oh, that last one is tough.
I like my distractions. They feel great in the moment. They feed the hungry throat of my moment-mind. They keep me buzzing, hopping from one thing to the next without getting my feet too wet, too cold, too hot, too sore.
I like bargaining with myself, and I'm good at it.
But the fact is, I want those Biggies. I really do. I have something to say and express and teach in this world, an ability to see peoples' innate goodness and gifts and to help them see these things for themselves. And this matters. Because if we as women can tap our collective creative powers, this world will be a better place. If I don't reach for what I'm scared of, I'll sell out on all the women I could have helped and the good I could have done and leave this earth with profound regret.
So, I decided this morning to call myself out. No more playing small. No more half-way. No more sometimes.
Because I want to help YOU do this too. Not just 50% of the way, or 75% of the way, but ALL the way. Into the farthest reaches of your being, the deepest reaches of your soul.
So, I'm ditching that story about time. I have plenty of time.
Tomorrow? I'll get on those Biggies. I know exactly what they are. And I'll get on the Littles, too. And when I start daydreaming about the future, I'll gently nod, and say "Yep, great, now here's how you get there. Do the work."
I texted my best friend today, who's also a coach, and said: I'm calling myself out. I need you to help me stay on track.
Her response: Get to work.
It's going to feel GREAT.
Want to join me?
Want to commit to your own Biggies but are scared to death of doing so or don't know what they are or don't know how to start?
Here are three things you can do right now that will help you get out of overwhelm, take action, and feel less like a fraud:
• Ditch the Myth of Balance: The pursuit of balance in your life is more often than not a sure road to mediocrity: feeling like you’re doing a lot of things halfway, and nothing really well. “Balance” is usually a euphemism for settling. Instead decide what really matters to you. This takes us to prioritizing—the next step.
• Prioritize: Instead of balance, think priorities. Take 15 minutes to write down your top five priorities for the next month—drawing from all areas of your life (personal, relational, work, etc.) Really think about this. What matters to you? Why does it matter? The more specific you can be, the better. For example, “Spending time with my kids” might become “Saving to take my kids on a special week-long vacation,” or “Making time every week to spend special uninterrupted one-on-one time with each of my children for at least an hour, doing something s/he loves and learning about her/his interests.” Once you have all five priorities written down, take time to think about how you will enact those priorities: what are the actions you need to take in order to realize those priorities? For instance, “eating healthier food” might yield “deciding the week’s meals ahead of time; shopping for healthy food so that I eat out less; packing lunch every day; eliminating sugar, alcohol, or most processed foods,” and the like. It’s important to get clear on what steps you can take in service of honoring your priorities.
• Time Inventory: Finally, take a look at how you are spending your time right now. Carry around a little notebook or a journal with you for three days. Every day, at noon, at the end of your work day, and before bed, write down how you have spent the last several hours. Include things like emailing, scrolling through FB, etc. Be curious, not critical, about how you spend your time. You are gathering information in order to take charge of your life and feel better. This isn’t an exercise in self-shaming or blaming. Once you start judging yourself you literally shut down the capacity to see yourself accurately. After three days, look at your inventory. How are you spending your time? What surprises you? And most importantly: is your time inventory an accurate reflection of your priorities?
If not, it’s time to make some choices. This is where saying no becomes essential—no to the distractions. No to the things that you might value, but not as much as you value other things (The Biggies). Making decisions along these lines is all about owning what matters to you, which also means letting go of the things that don’t. It's also about saying yes: yes to the discomfort of being uncomfortable. Yes to feeling (instead of avoiding) the feelings--anxiety, emptiness, uncertainty, loneliness, insecurity, self-doubt--that your distractions protect you from.
If you struggle at times with feeling like a fraud, with any variety of overwhelm, self-splitting, or feeling perpetually scattered, chances are you also struggle with boundaries. Chances are you also have some deeply-ingrained buffering habits. I know these struggles well, and can help you overcome them. If you’d like to talk about this more with regard to your own life, I invite you to sign up for a complimentary Breakthrough Session with me, here:
Let's do this. Let’s get to work. Let's get real.
It's one of the best things you can do. For yourself. For those you love. For the world.