As the year is winding down, I’m pushing myself to follow the slower rhythms of life. There is some hubbub and chaos related to the holidays – of course – but work has definitely hit a different cadence.
Now, I know for me this isn’t solely due to winter or a focus on family and holidays. I feel like I’m moving into a slower season for my work. I’ve taken some big moves to free up space (you can listen to this podcast episode to hear one of them), but I’ve made the bold choice to try not to immediately fill that space in. Which is new for me.
I’m reflecting on the times when I’ve shouted from the roof tops about making a bigger impact and the importance of mission-driven work. I still agree that meaningful work is important, but I’m working to ensure that I’m not part of the message that work and what we achieve is the most important thing about us.
And it seems like things are indeed shifting for many of us.
I know my view on work has definitely changed. I’ve not finished this exploration yet, but I’m trying to take a closer look at why I’m doing what I’m doing. I want to make sure that I’m shedding all of the “shoulds” and the drive to accomplish. I’m working to be more deliberate about what I’m putting into my work life and how I’m focusing my time and energy.
Here are some of the questions I’m considering – maybe they can help you as well:
What is my definition of success?
How we define success impacts how we make choices and where we spend time. There are a number of societal definitions of success that oftentimes align with status, money, impact, or other accomplishments that are tangible or very visible or both. These values can be legitimate, but we each need to assess whether they fit into our own definition of success. When our goals align with ambition and achievement, it can feel exciting and empowering to be busy pursuing these dreams. However, when we are chasing these things because we feel we must or when we feel like our lives are centered on the daily grind of work and hustling, it can feel overwhelming and exhausting. That doesn’t feel like success.
A concept that has been percolating within me for a while – how do I create the life I want now, rather than waiting for some specific benchmark of success? This story and this book have been great mental fodder for shifting my perspective on what’s important or even possible. And it may mean redefining success for myself, which could include making very different choices on how I work now.
What do my instincts say?
When we’re caught in the daily grind, it can be easy to ignore our gut. “I just have to push through!” However, when we’re not paying attention, we can find ourselves saying yes to things as a matter of inertia rather than taking the time to check in with our inner wisdom.
I was grappling with such a decision when a friend of mine turned to me and simply said, “Take a breath – what is your gut telling you?” Instantly, a decision I was agonizing over for weeks became so clear. Slowing down for literally one minute (or less, even!) gave me the clarity that I needed. My stomach dropped, my head started feeling fuzzy, and I KNEW I needed to say no. It wasn’t a comfortable or easy no (which is why I had been agonizing), but it was one that was non-negotiable once I listened to myself. My instincts knew the right choice, but my fear and momentum kept me along a wrong path for far longer than needed.
What are the real consequences of my choices?
When we’re moving forward without thought – just accomplishing the tasks in front of us – we can get into a sort of survival mode. We’re so busy and our work is so important that everything else can be put off. Our health and our family often suffer the consequences first. It might seem like we can just make up for today’s busyness when things slow down. (aka I’ll sleep when I’m dead.)
I found myself facing some consequences of my busyness recently. I had been running on empty planning to recuperate on the weekends (or more realistically get that last little bit of work done on the weekends) while also missing my workouts. I was exhausted, not feeling well, and becoming disconnected from my family due to work conflicts and a challenge in focusing on anything else. I’ve preached to many of you about Steven Covey’s Big Rocks concept, but began to recognize that I needed to apply it to myself.
The Big Rocks concept is simple: imagine your life like a container that you fill up completely with rocks, pebbles, sand, etc. When you don’t make space for the things that are most important to you (big rocks), your life gets filled in by things that are much less important (“sand” like emails and work fires). When you try stuffing those big rocks in after the sand has taken over, good luck!
Now – taking that one step further – if you don’t have a clear sense of what your big rocks are, it can be very easy to allow all of the sand and pebbles to fill your time. OR, if the big rocks you think you should have (i.e., traditional success like prestige and money) aren’t what you actually want, you can find yourself spending your life on things that don’t fulfill you.
So, what does that mean?
As I mentioned at the start, I’m still grappling with what this all means for me AND how I apply it to my life. I feel like finding the balance between sacrificing for big, meaningful goals and enjoying life in the present moment is challenging. I don’t know that I’m pushing back from hard work and powerful dreams. I’m looking for the space that can hold both.