Years ago when I was climbing the corporate ladder, working non-stop, spending countless hours in the office and neglecting my personal life, a caring boss once took me aside to offer a ticket out of my self-inflicted prison. He said,“You know, you don’t have to work 80-hour weeks to succeed; it doesn’t have to be that way.”
Dumbfounded, I asked, “But why wouldn’t I want to?” I was pursuing my passion. I had no spouse, children or even goldfish to feed. I had all the time in the world to dedicate to work, and I truly enjoyed what I was doing. Work for me was fulfilling. Moreover, I believed that the quality of my work reflected my professional caliber. To me, it was a no-brainer:
Why wouldn’t I work overtime if I could increase productivity and improve the quality of my work?
Going in early and staying late allowed me to get a head start on projects and recover time or lost opportunities. So, I ignored my boss’s warning and spent every ounce of energy on increasing revenue and market share.
Once I left the corporate world to become my own employer, my approach to work intensified. After all, if I could work that hard for others, wouldn’t I do the same (or more) for me? Then I decided to develop my signature system and charged uphill at top speed for a full seven months.
I succeeded in my pursuit but subsequently, I failed to take downtime. That’s when the bottom dropped out.
The pressure and the stress of the interminable workload came crashing in on me. My only forewarning was a swelling sense of foreboding: silent, insidious, and implacable burying me like an avalanche under tons of expectations and to-do debris. Once it hit, I was paralyzed with third degree overwhelm.
Patience turned to terror as my grace period went from a weekend to a week to a full month, with no signs of recovery. Whenever I made any attempt to resume work, I suffered a recurring sense of anxiety. My only choice for action became inaction.
I caved in giving myself permission to not work.
How do you fill your days when you’re incapable of working? How do you placate the terror and panic of losing control? Where do you find meaning and perspective to make sense of it all? Above all, how do you get back in the game?
Armed with a notepad and pen I headed under the walnut tree in our garden to ponder the benefits of overwhelm: How did being overwhelmed benefit, contributeand serve my highest values, the different areas of my life, and what I aimed to achieve by the end of my life? I came up with 10-20-30, even 40 benefits. I stretched and reached 50.
In awe, I stared at my findings line after line only to realize that I had discovered the gateway to freedom. Simple and eloquent, it was the path of least resistance. And it was reflected in those benefits, where I find meaning.
Not in 100 years would I ever have opted for not working as the solution to overwhelm. How counter-intuitive. If being overwhelmed comes from having too much to do in too little time, deliberately going on strike couldn’t be the optimal solution.
Nonetheless, my obsession with getting back on track was over because it wasn’t the path that was wrong but my approach to the path that was off target. In saying “no thanks” to life’s complete package, I had declined re-creation which was the secret half that actually enables us to re-create.
Giving myself permission to not work optimized the benevolent effects of overwhelm in three important ways:
- In search for meaning, it helped me find the path of least resistance as the best and most rapid road to recovery.
- It realigned me with my passion and core values ultimately resulting in greater quality work and better results.
- And it increased my awareness and appreciation for the importance of life balance in achieving performance excellence.
Should the need ever arise, kick back, relax, and find 50 benefits of being overwhelmed. You too will access the key to instant recovery and your secrets to reaching new heights in personal creativity by reinstating equilibrium for optimum performance, self-mastery, and joyful living.