Forgive me, friends, for I have sinned.
It’s been (mumbles) days since my last blog post and (mumbles) weeks since my last newsletter.
But it’s been at least 100 days without a workplace injury! (small victories!)
The truth is, I’ve been a bit stuck. It happens to us all. Back in June, my friend and colleague Sophia Dembling contacted me to get my input on a post she was writing about pushing past creative burnout. Her timing was good; I was feeling on top of my game. My creative energy was flowing.
Fast-forward a few months to today: I feel like I’m now where she was then. Burned out. Depleted. Out of bandwidth.
It took me a little while to realize what was going on. Maybe you’ve experienced this, too: general lethargy, enough energy to do what’s required but not much more. Ideas bouncing but not sticking. Overwhelm because too much is happening and not enough is happening.
Lethargic bouncing overwhelm… I get a little nauseous just thinking about it!
My initial diagnosis? Shoulditis.
It’s that terrible disease that sets in when we obsess too much about what we should be doing, rather than focusing on that which works best for us.
That nervous twist in our stomach because we feel like we’re never doing enough, and everyone else is somehow doing it all.
That anxiety in our heart that we’re missing out, messing up, melting down.
For me, writing this post is part of the cure. In processing through the situation, a few other antidotes have bubbled up for me. If you’ve ever felt like you’ve been overtaken by the “shoulds,” here are three ideas that might get you re-centered in yourself and your truth.
Identify the shoulds, challenge EVERYTHING.
Where in your business and life are you saying “I should be…”? Take an inventory. List every “should” (“I should be going to networking events every week. I should be charging more. I should be making cold calls. I should hire an assistant…” You get the idea.)
Item by item, challenge the shoulds. What’s really true? Someone once told me that saying “I should” is a thinly disguised “I don’t want to.” Ask yourself if each should is true by taking the statement and changing it to “I want to.” “I want to go to networking events every week. I want to be charging more. I want to make cold calls. I want to hire an assistant.” Does that feel honest? If so, shifting your language and motivation from “I should” to “I want to” can put you on the road to recovery from Shoulditis.
If the truth is really “I don’t want to,” it’s time to challenge everything. Look at all of your assumptions about how you work. The whole kit and caboodle. For instance, I’m taking a close look at how I do my blog, podcast, newsletter, book promotion, coaching programs, social media, scheduling, and presentations.
As a result of this close examination, some things will change, others will stay the same. The point is to question each process. You can change what’s not working and recommit to what is. Being on auto-pilot for too long can contribute to Shoulditis… it’s more about “have to” than “want to,” and you forget why you’re doing it that way in the first place. By shifting into manual gear, you’re forcing yourself to look at each aspect of your business with fresh eyes. You can see more clearly where you’re letting the shoulds take control. And even that simple awareness might be enough to re-energize your thinking.
Give yourself Introvert Time.
You want to feel better, right? If you treat Shoulditis as something that has compromised your normal operating system, then we know what works: shut down, rest, and restart. This might seem to go without saying, but we can forget that it’s non-negotiable. Give yourself space to clear your head. Turn down the volume on everything. Do this for however long and as often as you’re able (5 minutes, 5 hours, 5 days… your schedule, your rules). If you’ve come up with some new strategies and action based on your “should/assumptions” inventory, acknowledge yourself for that accomplishment, then let the work go for a little while. Trust that you’ve collected and documented your plans, and they will be waiting for you when you go back on the grid.
Conversely, notice if you’ve been too isolated. Maybe you need a healthy dose of extrovert time! For me, sometimes it’s as simple as working in a coffee shop or library, in “communal solitude” as Jennifer Kahnweiler puts it. Other times I might choose to do some intentional networking, or set up a Skype date with a colleague. Consider the amount and intensity of interaction that feels right for you, and make it happen.
Break the spell.
It doesn’t have to be a brilliant idea, work of art, or even half-way decent. Once you’ve given yourself some recovery time, do something, anything, to disrupt the rut. As I mentioned, this blog post is part of shifting my energy. What will it be for you? Keep it simple, low risk, and something you can do from start to finish. It’s good to have small victories and a sense of accomplishment when you’re trying to shake the shoulds.
One final point. I opened this post with a confession, and that’s part of the process: admitting you’re listening to the shoulds more than you’re aware of your inner wisdom. That there’s something going on, it feels counterproductive, and you want it to change.
Be compassionate with yourself. Don’t beat yourself up and say you “shouldn’t” be feeling this way.
You do, so feel it.
Then choose to move through it.
Invitation: What are the strongest “shoulds” that show up for you in business? When you challenge them, what happens? What helps you to shift the energy? Please share in the comments!
PS: Sophia’s original post had an equally wonderful follow-up post that’s worth the time to read and consider: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-introverts-corner/201506/taking-action-against-burnout-first-steps Both posts include thoughts from me and wise words from coach Val Nelson.