Juggling/Struggling

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.

Learning

This week has been interesting. Following my confession on Tuesday that I'm not good at everything (shock horror!), and that I've been struggling to come to terms with this, I've been overwhelmed by the support I've received from all the wonderful people around me.Some really interested points were raised in response to a confession from David Hood, another person I admire and respect, that he too was stretched. David and I do similar kind of work  - centred on engagement, education and collaboration for good. Though his work is mainly focused in the broader social change space, and mine in specifically in the fashion sector, I see a lot of cross over. Hence much of the discussion really resonated with me. Here's are some extracts:

 

>>> On the risks of this kind of work:

"We know the benefits of operating in open, collaborative, networked and real-time ways - are these the negative impacts? A reminder to be mindful... and create space." - David Hood

and

"I came to realise was that my greatest strength...the ability to remain open and see so many connections and opportunities that others couldnt even recognise, was also my greatest nemesis." - Annalie Killian

and also

"When the majority of what you do is live event-based I think the risk of burnout is especially high." - Tom Dawkins

These comments particularly rang true for me with the kind of work that I do. Like Annalie, one of my greatest strengths is my ability to see connections and opportunities, and also like Annalie, I find it almost impossible to leave this alone and to turn it off. As someone who is interested in everything, I'm forever coming up with new projects/collaborations/endeavours. And I have trouble reconciling the idea that they don't all need to be realised, and certainly not all right now. As David says, when we are all connected and accessible all the time, it is so difficult to know when to stop. As Tom notes too, working in live events, to concrete deadlines (where the culmination of your work is often realised in person and measured by the level of social engagement) is extremely exhausting.

>>> On personal sustainability:

"What is really useful [is] to translate the principles of sustainability on the personal eco-system." - Anni Roolf

I've written before about balance. And while I stand by my statement that it isn't the be all and end all, this comment prompted some kind of small personal epiphany in me. The idea of personal sustainability has been raised frequently in the past couple of years. But this comment from Anni prompted me to think about it as I would triple bottom line reporting for an organisation. Similar to the recommendations I would make to any fashion business looking at "sustainability", I've been thinking about this in terms of people/profit/planet. To me, this translates as mental (social and intellectual stimulation), financial (business and bank balance), and health (physical and emotional). Ideally, these things should be mirrored in the community you're a part of too - ie, you should also work on the sustainability of those around you in tandem with yourself. Give and take between these three pillars for you as an individual and in your community is not only necessary, but vital for the best outcome. I guess I am really talking about balance here, but I prefer to allow plenty of room for ebb and flow, understanding that all pillars will rarely be in perfect alignment, and in fact that is the point!

As with in the sustainable fashion world, what has become increasingly evident, is the importance of  transparency - or in this sense, honesty. This seems to really go against the grain for many, as vulnerability is not popular where personal branding exists. It is risky, from a professional standpoint. But for me, it is because it is unpopular and because it is perceived as risky that it is powerful. The very clever Kirk Bennitten has been doing some thinking along these lines...

 

>>> On limitations:

"You're loved, you're supported and you're freakin' awesome; you're also a frail, weak and limited human being and you need to come to terms with the reality of your own constraints." - Cameron Burgess

I've spent a considerable amount of time with Cameron in the last little while in his capacity as my business mentor, and board member of Sustainable Fashion Australia. Additionally, he is a profoundly intuitive person, and I learned a great deal from him beyond business strategy! His comment here is so, so valid. We are all limited, we can't achieve everything all on our own. We can only work to our strengths, be supported by others and achieve what we can.

 

>>> On being ahead of the curve:

"I've come to accept that the life of a frontrunner is a hard one, that he will suffer more injuries than most men and that many of these injuries will not be accidental." - a quote from Pele via Jennifer Sertl

and also

"Your work is not to drag the world kicking and screaming into a new awareness. Your job is to simply do your work - sacredly, secretly and silently - and those with 'eyes to see and ears to hear' will respond." - Viv McWaters

I've been having many discussions about this in recent months. There is no doubt that it is easier to follow the established path through life, rather than walk the road less travelled. There are inherent risks involved in doing things differently, but for me, like any gambler knows, with greater risk comes greater potential rewards.

 

>>> And finally, a comment on creativity:

‎"Creativity and solitude are inextricably linked." a quote from Robert Hughes via Tony Hollingsworth

I've always loved Steven Johnson's philosophy "chance favours the connected mind" which he espouses in his "Where Good Ideas Come From" talk which you can see here on TED.com (which links back to Annalie's comments earlier), but perhaps I've forgotten the vital next step when it comes to actually creating something. As Robert Hughes alludes to here, the processes of creation requires sustained focus, concentration, and drive and solitude is a great friend to these principles. All too often I'm too busy having good ideas, collaborating and sharing, to actually sit with them and work to see them realised. Reflection, analysis and recalibration have been underrated in my life to this point, but this is about to change.

 

I don't have all the answers. I haven't learned all the secrets in the past week. But Anni Roolf did offer some fantastic suggestions to work on which I've paraphrased below:

> Create areas in your life that have nothing to do with your work :: doing nothing, doing beautiful things with no aims. > Develop a personal, healthy time structure / rhythm :: we personally and also the whole (connected & global) society needs new rituals, structures, rules, borders, habits, routines to stay sane. The old ones are no longer suitable, so it's our task to create new ones. > Challenge the dominant ideology of borderless networks. > Physical exercise and nutrition. > Let go of fast :: best to let things go -- huge psychological effect. > Review your own attitude to performance. Review your life and work goals :: Why I don't respect my own borders? Why I don't respect myself? Which is my real motive to perform? Is it a good one? > Be conscious of inputs of all kinds: music, people, media usage (virtual, TV, radio), books, leisure activities. (Less is more.) > Enjoy all kind of nature experiences as often as possible / walk for hours in the nature. (Slow types of movement.)

As Paul Szymkowiak noted, "self-help" frameworks are sometimes at risk of becoming yet another thing we must do (part of the reason why I've never managed to establish a meditation routine), which entirely defeats their purpose. For me, it is more important to be aware of these things, apply them when they serve you, but don't work yourself up about it if they're not in your best interests. So that's what I plan to do. Although I've added a couple of my own:

> Read more. > Write more. > Do nothing more.

 

When all's said and done, a few things have become extremely clear to me this week.

1 > My experiences are not at all uncommon. Many very smart, very special people in my sphere are experiencing similar challenges. People I admire very much are also owning up to the fact that life isn't as rosy as they might like it to be. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that if you're not experiencing this on occasion, then you're not pushing yourself. But the key is to push yourself just the right amount so that you're reaching (rather than surpassing) your limits.

2 > I am extremely lucky. I am so fortunate to be in a position to pursue the things I love. I am supported by my nearest and dearest more than I could wish. I am given every opportunity to pursue my dreams. I have always known this, but this week has served as a handy reminder.

Thanks to my gorgeous friend Dani Sirotic for her support this week and for bringing my attention to the discussion started by David.

What should I be when I grow up?

I'm having a bit of a rough week this week.I won't go into all the reasons why, but safe to say they have made me feel like I'm failing on a few fronts.

On the whole, I love what I do. I'm passionate about the things I'm involved in. I love the people I collaborate with. BUT - I'm not good at the details. Like many of us who are self employed, I realise that most of the bad situations I find myself in are of my own creation. Seemingly small things like being lazy with invoicing, forgetting something, sending an email to the wrong person happen far to often to me. And as I'm on my own, these things seems much worse as there's no one there to trade stories with or to pick up the slack. There's no safety net.

Instead of getting caught up in the negative, one of my lovely friends, Dani, suggested I have a look at this strengths survey to reassess and remind myself of what I'm good at.

The things that were highlighted as key attributes are:

Love of learning You love learning new things, whether in a class or on your own. You have always loved school, reading, and museums-anywhere and everywhere there is an opportunity to learn.

Curiosity You are curious about everything. You are always asking questions, and you find all subjects and topics fascinating. You like exploration and discovery.
Creativity Thinking of new ways to do things is a crucial part of who you are. You are never content with doing something the conventional way if a better way is possible.

Leadership You excel at the tasks of leadership: encouraging a group to get things done and preserving harmony within the group by making everyone feel included. You do a good job organizing activities and seeing that they happen.

Perspective Although you may not think of yourself as wise, your friends hold this view of you. They value your perspective on matters and turn to you for advice. You have a way of looking at the world that makes sense to others and to yourself.

The following are particularly NOT TRUE of me:

Prudence You are a careful person, and your choices are consistently prudent ones. You do not say or do things that you might later regret.

Perseverance You work hard to finish what you start. No matter the project, you "get it out the door" in timely fashion. You do not get distracted when you work, and you take satisfaction in completing tasks.

Self-Regulation You self-consciously regulate what you feel and what you do. You are a disciplined person. You are in control of your appetites and your emotions, not vice versa.

 

None of this is particularly new to me. In fact, anyone who knows me will agree that this is dead on accurate.

I'm a big picture person, I love new ideas, challenging the status-quo, getting inside something big and finding out how it all works, and bringing people along for the ride. But I thrive on floods of inspiration, I'm impulsive and sometimes I lack discipline.

But what can I do with this information? Should I be changing how I structure my work? Should I be changing what I do? Should I change who I work with?

What careers are these attributes suited to? What styles of work or work environments should I be looking at? What kind of people would complement me?

Over to you.