I have a hard time deciding when to end my day. Why? Why does it matter, is it a problem, and is it a problem worth solving?
I began my self-imposed challenge wondering how it is that we lose the courage to show up real, to be who we are. What are the forces that erode the natural energy and naive invincibility that we come into the world with?
Where do the voices come from? I’m fortunate to have worked with counselors and coaches over the years and had great experiences with them. One of my counselors recommended Richard Carson’s book, “Taming Your Gremlin: A Surprisingly Simple Method For Getting Out Of Your Own Way.” So “gremlins” are my nickname for the horde of cunning, devious, vicious, voices that murmur and mumble, chatter and chant, and whisper their way through my day. Which might be manageable if they didn’t also slink their way into my sleep, and lie in wait for the witching hour: four in the morning (about which more another day).
The messages that hammer away relentlessly, telling us we are less, we are not enough? I know it’s not just me, but does everybody hear them? My husband is very familiar with these voices but I think only by reputation, because he’s the one who dispenses the hugs at four in the morning when I wake up too anxious to fall back to sleep on my own.
He’s utterly unequivocal about the voices.
“They lie,” he says flatly.
I just realized he might be one of those people who doesn’t actually hear such voices himself. I wonder whether some people have such a strong sense of self, or a vision of the purpose for their lives, or internal guiding light, that the internal critical voice that sows self-doubt year after year in many minds including mine finds no place to be nurtured in theirs.
I mentioned a chorus of voices. They have specialties. One of the oldest voices is “not good enough.” And I’m tired of it. Literally exhausted.
Where did that one come from?
In pretty much every part of my life, my interests range widely. I like to adventure, to explore. While I like to be good at everything I do, I love learning enough that I am willing to try something new and be terrible at it when I start because that’s where learning begins.
One of the biggest apprehensions I had about starting a business was that I struggle to know what “enough” looked like. My parents wanted the best for me and all their kids. Being raised by parents who had struggled through the Depression of the 1920’s, my sense was they were driven to encourage their kids do better than they and their parents had done, to strive to achieve. Whether that push was overt, or something I just absorbed by osmosis, somewhere pretty early in life I inherited one of my oldest gremlins: the one that says, “Not good enough.”
For most of my life, I’ve placed a high value on productivity — particularly my own. A good day is a day when I get a lot done.
That’s where the slippery slope begins.
If a good day is one where I get a lot done, then surely a great day is one when I get more done, right? Workity workity workity workity work! More work got me promotion and recognition and opportunities and credibility and the chance to explore and lead fun projects! The possibilities were endless. The harder I worked, the more I opportunity I found to… well, really, work harder. I hit the salary cap. I wasn’t really working for the money. I told myself I was giving my all to serve my country, as a Trade Commissioner for the Canadian Embassy, helping thousands of Canadian companies who wanted to win U.S. Federal contracts.
And, yeah, I was doing that. But, looking back, I was also deeply hooked on trying to satisfy the voice that kept whispering, “not good enough.” There wasn’t any line that I could draw that I believed would be the point where I could say I’d given enough to serve my country. What I thought of as my sense of duty was endless.
Then came the time, in 2003, when I started my own business. Then, I didn’t have the motivation of patriotic duty. There was the lure of working hard enough (or maybe smart enough) to make endless amounts of money.
Ah, the lure of the American dream of entrepreneurship.
So, fast forward nearly twenty years. It’s 4:30. The time I told myself I was going to stop doing tasks, and organize my lists for tomorrow.
Pandemic has been kicking the stuffing out of all of us for almost a year. I know intellectually that I just can’t expect to try to get as much done in any given day, but apparently that’s a hard habit to break…until it’s really started breaking me.
I. Am. Tired.
Today was the end of Wednesday. There were three proposals I had promised to people in the conversations I’d had today, and one proposal that I hadn’t gotten around to sending out that I’d promised last Friday.
It wasn’t like I got paid for that time. The work I was doing was all directed toward winning business. I spent my afternoon in a flurried cycle of conversations and follow up proposals. That’s a pretty good way to spend time: if I talk to enough people, some of them say yes, and then I do have the chance to get paid for my efforts.
No proposals, no responses; no responses, no yeses; no yesses, no contracts; no contracts, no income, no business.
Oh my. Just look at that narrative: the downward spiral. “For want of a nail, the horse was lost,” begins the story. Clearly, four proposals were the only thing standing between me and the abyss. And they all take longer at the end of the day when I’m tired. But surely it’s a better day if I get more finished AND push myself back from the abyss, right.
Wait: who put the abyss there?
Who promised those proposals? Who set that deadline?
Ah, but what is that “more” costing me? Or, put another way, what am I getting for the 90 minutes I decided (for it is my choice) to work past the time I promised myself would be the end of the day?
Mostly what I got was just breaking my promise to me. And gave another win to the “not good enough” voice.
So starting tomorrow (less than two hours from now), I can make a more realistic — more humane — promise of when I will get things to people. So that I’m taking better care of me so I can take better care of the other people in my life, including my loved ones and friends as well as my team and clients and prospects.
What do I get when I make a different choice than workityworkitywork?
I get more time to be in places like the image up top.
You know what else?
I’m grateful for all the I learned today, including in reflecting as I write this.
And grateful to have another day tomorrow to try again.