Anyone who has been plugged into conversations happening online and offline in the last couple of weeks will know that things seem to be shifting somewhat of late.Many people I admire and respect a great deal, people I consider to be doing amazing things for the greater good, have confessed that the challenge has become overwhelming. This honesty and vulnerability has prompted a range of reactions from people in similar situations, and those who aren't.
I wrote about my own experiences here and here. But I'm feeling today that perhaps I wasn't honest enough with where I'm at. I've decided I need to be really clear on how I'm feeling. And I'm certainly not intending to glorify this or say that my process is any better or worse than anyone else's. I'm simply talking aloud here and trying to figure things out for myself, and I'm hoping to benefit from the insights of others who are going through or who have been through something similar. If you're sick of hearing me talk about myself, my process and my life, I don't blame you. But if you don't have anything constructive to contribute I'd respectfully ask that you quietly move on and avoid making this harder for me than it already is. I don't want to paint too dire or too self-adulatory a picture here. I'm just trying to figure some things out.
The truth is - I'm completely overwhelmed. It has hit me like a sledge hammer this week. I am burnt out. I am so exhausted from juggling competing priorities for too long. A lovely friend wrote something about me recently and said the following: "If Lara McPherson somehow acquired more than ten fingers and thumbs, there is no doubt she would be cramming them into multiple creative pies at the same time." I hope it was intended as a compliment, but the truth is I cannot keep so many fingers in so many pies.
I think I've finally figured out what has happened and how I have arrived at this point.
1. I'm an intelligent person. I have always done well academically, despite minimal effort. I'm interested in everything. I love learning, either in a traditional educational setting, or in a self driven way. I have always loved reading. Anything. I listen to podcasts - on history, social theory, business, literature, science, food, environment, wellness, travel, whatever I can get my hands on - all the time. At the gym, at work, and when I'm falling asleep. I want to know everything about everything. Or at least something about everything.
2. I'm a creative. I am constantly coming up with new projects to pursue. I thrive on inspiration but I struggle to work without it. I'm also easily bored, bad at finishing what I start. One of my greatest assets (and liabilities) is creating connections and seeing opportunities. I think perhaps this is a virtue of the fact that my interests spread across so many areas and industries. More than anything I love thinking strategically about the way things can be improved.
3. I am unsatisfied with the way things are done. I see injustices, imbalances and impracticalities with the way the world works and I instinctively feel it is my job to change things. In particular, my concerns centre on the way we consume, the way the media works, how little people think for themselves and take on the accepted wisdom, our education system and the current economic paradigm. These are BIG areas to try and tackle, on your own or with a whole heap of people. But I'm only just figuring out that I might not be able to change everything I want to.
4. I have a chronic fear of missing out and I'm prone to choice anxiety. If I have an idea, I hate the idea of hanging it off to someone else to see it realised. Perhaps that means I'm selfish. But also, the idea of missing out on a chance to learn something, to meet people, to find a new opportunity does not sit well with me. At all. So what I tend to do instead is try and do everything. But the reality is you can only juggle so many things at once. And fewer still if you want to do any of them well.
5. I also have a chronic need to please people. I'm not quite sure where this comes from - I'd say it probably has to do with my relationship with my Dad - but it feels really important to me that people like me. This means I'm likely to promise the world to people, even if I can not actually deliver it. The idea of being "too generous" seems ridiculous to me, but I'm getting my head around the fact that I am - and often. Mostly, I give my time too freely and it comes back to haunt me.
6. I'm irrationally optimistic. And for the most part I think this is a good way to be. Though as my previous point might illustrate, it actually doesn't really occur to me very often that things might not work out for the best. I always think the best of people, it doesn't occur to me that everyone isn't in it for the right reasons. I've been incredibly fortunate in my life, and I suppose I have no reason not to think this. But reality dictates that everything isn't right all the time.
7. I'm an organiser. I love people. I love bringing my favourite people together. I also like things how I like them. So rather than jumping on board someone else's idea, I'm always more inclined to organise something of my own - this applies to things like my businesses, my netball team, my running group, and a million other examples. I think it goes back to me wanting to please people. Maybe it is just that I want the pat on the back that comes with it?
8. Money doesn't drive me. My parents have always been comfortable financially, and it never occurred to me that I might not be. The idea of getting a job I don't enjoy to pay the bills feels exactly opposed to my values. In fact I've done it, and I hated it. I don't know that I could bring myself to do it again. My attitude to money means I'm good at spending and bad at saving, because I assume more will always come along - irrational optimism as fiscal policy.
9. I am always on. Because I do what I love, delineation between my work and personal life is non-existant. I'm extremely bad at compartmentalising my life. This means my work and personal relationships collide, my work and personal finances collide, my digital presence serves both work and personal functions. This makes it incredibly hard to step away from work when I need to to focus on my personal life.
10. I like round numbers. Or more specifically, numbers divisible by 5. This is actually a real thing about me. I also like lists.
The culmination of all of these factors looks something like this:
I am involved in a long list of projects, but I feel like I'm doing nothing well. I spend so much time in my head thinking about how to manage competing priorities that I am mentally exhausted. I love starting new projects, but usually I burn out or run out of inspiration before I can see any of them through to completion. I feel like I'm working my bum off, but I'm not actually illustrating my true capacity which is incredibly frustrating. I feel like I've been plugging away for a while now, but that I have almost nothing to show for it and I'm not getting to where I think I want to go. I don't have a good grasp of what my real skills are, because I'm so used to trying to do everything. I love setting goals (with the best of intentions) but I lack the perseverance and persistance to see them realised. I am passionate about many things, but I forget that I cannot be everything to everyone.
What the above list and this outline of my current situation tell me is that I need to do a complete reassessment of how I've been operating.
I'm not 100% clear on how to approach this, but I think I have a few ideas on how to get started. Here's another list.
1. Cull - aka focus. I need to get extremely selective about what I'm involved in professionally. This probably means there will be several people reading this who I may have to have difficult conversations with in the next couple of weeks. I hope that they recognise that this is probably a good thing for them, and it definitely is for me.
2. Become good at something - I think I have an inkling as to what this might be, but now is the time to specialise in it. Absorb myself completely in one thing. Just writing that now feels like such a relief.
3. Be clear about my value - I have been far too inclined to do work for free or for contra. But this is not the path to financial sustainability and it certainly won't pay for my much needed holiday. I need to get into the habit of clarifying the terms of any work arrangement I enter into before I take it on.
4. Take time to reflect and appreciate - I tend to get too caught up in the doing to spend time thinking about what I'm doing or why I'm doing it. Just starting to write things down in the last few weeks has been amazing. Sorry if you're sick of reading about it, but having it here is helping me too much for me to stop it.
5. Focus on my physical and mental health - my mind and body have taken a beating in the last few years. Stress and anxiety have wreaked havoc on my hormones, which has impacted on my weight, fitness, self esteem, mood, emotional stability, and even my sleep. (I never thought I would say that.) For too long now, I have ignored the signs of physical and mental exhaustion and managed to get by on caffeine and carbohydrates. But my body cannot handle this anymore so I need to make my health a priority to ensure I'm reaching my full potential.
Well, that's a start. I would love to hear from any of you who have words of wisdom to share. I know there is a wealth of knowledge in the community and I'm choosing now to make the most of it if it is available.
Today is the first day of spring and it is a beautiful day in Melbourne. Life is good and I feel extremely fortunate to have so many inspiring, supportive people around me.