Who are you doing this for?
On dealing with being overwhelmed (and other issues).
Lately, I’ve been feeling overwhelmed. Which is to say, I’ve been afraid of my calendar. Its colourful mosaic (yes, I am one of those people who colour-codes event types: red is for important, green is for self-education and wellbeing, blue is for work, etc.) stares at me with a stern look and judges me for not doing everything on time.
The worst part of it is that 80% of my calendar events aren’t even things I need to do – they’re things I want to do, which means I am the only one responsible for feeling overwhelmed (which, in turn, makes me feel guilty and overwhelmed; how about that!).
One of the hardest parts of freelancing is not that you have a lot of work but a lot of different work. Switching back and forth between projects takes an enormous toll on your mental capacity. And when you add self-study courses, personal commitments, and various wants and needs to the mix, not to mention your actual work (let’s not forget about paying the bills, alright), getting overwhelmed is pretty much inevitable.
When I get overwhelmed, I get stressed and annoyed (mostly with myself), and my frustration is visible – smoke comes out of both of my ears, like in Disney cartoons – or palpable by those who live with me.
‘Why did you bang that door so hard?’
‘I didn’t bang the door! You’re the one who’s always picking on me!’
So on, and so forth. Pretty dysfunctional passive-aggressive behaviour.
For a long time, I only knew how to deal with feeling overwhelmed by suffering through it. Life is tough, I told myself. Deal with it.
If I want to achieve what I want – and as you’ve probably noticed, yours truly is pretty ambitious – I needed to clench my teeth and move forward, I told myself. Momentum will take you places. Pain is inevitable; suffering is optional. No pain, no gain. Other BS bumper sticker slogans.
Long story short that didn’t help. I only kept feeling even more overwhelmed and pretty much sick of myself. Then I did some therapy. Now a simple question helps me deal with feeling overwhelmed. It’s trivial but powerful if you make it a habit to ask yourself that occasionally, especially when you feel overwhelmed.
Who am I doing this for?
As someone brought up by a narcissistic father and an anxious mother, I inherited two dysfunctional behaviour models: suffer through (‘I am the man!’) or panic (‘shit shit shit shit’). When the going gets rough, I can’t help but fall back on these two models. Then, again, aren’t we all a lot like our parents in certain situations?
But you can adopt many more mental and behavioural models besides the ones used by your parents, and therapy helps you discover those. One of those for me is asking myself that very question.
Who. Is. This. For.
The problem is not that we do things for others. That’s inevitable – 99% of the workforce is doing something for someone else, i.e. the boss. Even if you have a business, you do things for the customer. A startup CEO works for investors. A friend asks you a favour, and you’re happy to help. There’s nothing wrong with doing things for others as long as you know you’re doing something for others.
The problems occur when we assume we’re doing something for ourselves when, in fact, we’re doing things for someone else – and they didn’t even ask for it! Like, in my case: trying to overwork myself to the bone simply because I need to hit some mark of excellence or receive praise or validation from others (read: my dad).
Who are you doing this for?
If you’re doing it for yourself, why are you so hard on yourself? Do you need to push yourself this much? Do you need to do The Thing at all? There’s nothing worse than doing efficiently something that shouldn’t have been done at all, as Peter Drucker said once.
And if you’re doing it for others – would they want you to be so hard on yourself in the process? Do they expect you to sacrifice your well-being to get the Thing done well? In 99.9% of cases, they don’t. And if they do – do you want to be in that abusive and manipulative relationship?
Just something to think about.