It’s four days into a festival that I have been planning for a year. The speakers have been brilliant and on the break between events, three separate people have told me the week has been life changing. I want to say something back, but my mind is blank, my only thought is the worry that they have overheard me crying hysterically in the coat closet.
My goal had been to change the world, and make a name for myself. However, I was, instead, on the road to becoming the world’s greatest thought leader in business crying. What the hell was I doing?
Yes, I felt so tired, overwhelmed and lost that I almost quit the work I love more than anything in the world. My guilt at needing boundaries and self-care left me with an eye twitch and back spasms that resulted in a brief pirate-like limp (I wish I was joking). This wasn’t working anymore.
However, I learned to self-care despite my workaholic tendencies with a weird, but effective 3 step solution that tricked my brain into letting me take care of myself.
STEP 1: Be your own best friend.
I am lucky enough to have a circle of incredible people in my life. People who I have laughed with until my face ached. Folks that I would happily be there for anytime things are tough. Pals I have delivered cookies to on a Tuesday night because things are awful.
If I had done that for other people, why was I yelling at myself for being lazy for the cardinal sin of wanting more than 5 hours of sleep at night?
Since the inner critic of the entrepreneur can be hard to shake (after all you always *could* be doing another thing to gain more clients). This meant I was going to have to get wily.
I made a list of things I would normally do for other people and did them for myself. While I did them I would talk to myself as if I were taking care of a beloved friend. “Hey Erin, it’s been a long day, what if you went for a walk and treated yourself to an ice cream. It’s on me!”
While I don’t recommend have anyone overhear you chatting to yourself, there is something about saying something out loud that tricks your brain into listening. If you feel strange about it, try writing notes or programming timed messages on your phone. No “get to work and maybe you can have an ice cream”. Keep things light and friendly, the way you would talk to a beloved friend.
EXTRA TIP: Have a picture of yourself as a kid on your desk. I wouldn’t say the things I’ve said to myself to a 5 year-old in a homemade superhero costume, so why can I say them to the same person 30 years later.
STEP 2: Hack your own need for productivity
You know all the spreadsheets and apps you have for keeping you on schedule for tasks like sending out business emails, getting reports done etc? Add your goof offs using a fun code. Does “Keeping Up With the Kardashians” make you happy? Write it in as “tête-à-tête with leading business women”. Now you can’t argue with that 42 minutes off blow off time.
And really, since it’s in the app, you should put the same energy into chilling out that you did into those emails. Really get into it. I have special chill out sweatpants. Much like the nice suit jacket I wear when I do talks, those pants signify to the world at myself exactly what to expect. These are relaxation pants only, I don’t wear them on laundry day or to run to the corner store. Because of that, there only association is relaxation. I swear, my blood pressure goes down several degrees every time I put them on.
The pants might have penguins on them (they do).
STEP 3: Honesty is the best policy
Be honest about how tired, overwhelmed or annoyed you are with people you care about. Yes, you read that correctly.
A lot of women I speak to are reluctant to tell anyone they can’t do everything. When asked if something is wrong, they’ll say everything is fine and smile with teeth clamped together so tightly you can hear them vibrate. I know that women are socialized to be nice, take care of others and not make trouble. A lot of us are doing too much and holding a lot of feelings back so as not to upset anyone else. But the truth is, not being honest is hurting others more.
You are actually helping everyone by being honest about what you are going through. “I’m tired and frustrated. I need to take a nap right now before I deal with this” is better than doing the favour your friend or partner asked you for and then resenting them for it.
Without honesty about your needs things build and explode. Yes, it can feel weird and bad to tell someone you care about “no”. But given the choice between an uncomfortable moment with you now and the equivalent of a screaming fight on layaway, people would choose the weird moment.
Also, be honest with your co-workers, peers and clients. If what they are asking for is impossible, tell them. If a client gives you an impossible timeline, and you spend a week of all-nighters on it to get it done, they are going to assume that you can do it again.
If you are so afraid of being vulnerable around your peers that you never let them now that sometimes you’re overwhelmed, they are going to assume you are a superhero. That will mean their expectations of themselves will be impossibly high. Also, they’re probably going to expect you to have a superhero cape, and it’s the off season.
I hope that you have found these strategies helpful. Or perhaps you’ve come up with even better ones (let us know all about them on twitter @TBMfW). But whatever you do, please make sure to take care of yourself.
It’s already hard to be a woman in business and many of us have additional challenges due to racism, homophobia, ableism etc. The world is already tough enough on you. It doesn’t need to be helped along by your refusal to take care of your needs.
I believe in you. You’ve got this.
For questions about this article, please reach out to Erin (above) or to us here.