It was 6:06 a.m. on a Friday morning. The day before we had travelled to our “Cape Breton home away from home” to spend a few days. My partner had been sick all night and I woke up with a sore throat. I sat down hoping to write a draft of this post before anyone else got up. That allusion ended when my daughter cried out for me at 6:09. We were expecting my parents that day for a weekend visit, I had a Calgary client to coach via phone and we had the house to clean. The whole scenario had the makings of overwhelm had I let it go that way.
At 6:40 I had the above paragraph written, a girl beside me watching Batman on Netflix and nothing of value written for you, dear reader.
It’s now a Sunday morning. This post has been rolling over in my mind on and off for at least a week. Brigid Schulte calls this “contaminated thinking”: not being present to what’s going on right in front of us and instead being caught up in list making, planning, worrying etc. I’ve been reading her new book Overwhelmed: Work, Love and Play When No One Has the Time. I read it for my clients (three this past week alone used overwhelmed to describe themselves). I read it for me. Even though my life as an entrepreneur is surprisingly less overwhelming than my prior life as a Director of Sales, I feel it bubble up often enough.
Reading about overwhelm was…well…overwhelming. I am not a woman who has felt a glass ceiling. You won’t have heard me say “it’s a man’s world”. And yet, now as a mother, it angered me to read study after study about working women still doing 3x more housework and childcare as men.
I was frustrated that Schulte spent ¾ of her book on setting up the problem versus offering the solutions. Ironically, I want to do the same. There are so many reasons for our overwhelm. For me, it all comes down to one word: ideal. Our workplaces want us to be ideal workers. Society wants us to be ideal mothers/parents. And we’ve bought in hook, line and sinker.
Being busy makes us feel productive and important. We compete about being busy as a status symbol. Admitting to leisure can be a show of weakness. Many people don’t even know how to relax. Or they feel guilty if they do. This extends to “to be idle= to be irrelevant”.
Psychologists write of treating burned-out clients who can’t shake the notion that the busier you are, the more you are thought of as competent, smart, successful, admired and even envied. They go further and say the rush of busy is a high for many.
So what can we do to face our overwhelm? The final chapters of Overwhelm offer a wide range of ideas. Workplaces can become more progressive in their policies and expectations like in Scandanavia. Partners can move toward more equity in how they share the workload at home. We can move toward time serenity by practicing mindfulness. We can get more clear on what is really important to us and learn to let go of the rest. The dying never say they wish they had worked more. They do say they wished they hadn’t lived the life that others expected of them.
The bottom-line for me is the that we need to change our relationship to ideal. As long as we run our internal operating systems with some version of to be is to be liked, smart, and/or productive at all costs, overwhelm will have us in her grip.