Are you someone who tends to overcommit and then later struggle to complete everything you set out to – and then feel guilt, even if the only person that affects is you?
You don’t have to be a ‘type a personality’ to have this trait. In today’s world of needing to do, be and have it all, we can all fall victim to the perceived pressure to be a superhuman.
But here’s the trip wire – we are still human, despite the way our culture is swaying us. It’s no surprise that the pandemic of burnout is on the rise with the way we tend to put goals and achievements before self-care and living a present, conscious and peaceful life.
This is something I feel strongly about, as I’ve seen friends and clients alike fall victim to exhaustion and disappointment, simply from pushing themselves too hard.
While it’s wonderful to have goals, and this in fact gives us our essential sense of life purpose, there is definitely such as thing as too much.
Too much pressure; too many goals in a finite space of time… Too much doing and not enough being.
So how does this pressure get to us?
Well, it’s a sneaky thing, societal pressure. Essentially it’s an internal pressure that we apply to ourselves. We push ourselves to set lofty goals, and then tire ourselves out trying to be everything to everyone, and to not let ourselves down. But what you might not see at first glance is the external element to this pressure – it ultimately comes down to our sense of identity.
Let me give you some context. When you meet new people in a social situation, what’s almost always the first thing you are asked?
“What do you do?”
Our career, or certifications, accolades and achievements are how we begin to introduce ourselves to the outside world. They become our labels and our first impressions. What we ‘do’ is a part of our identity to the outside world, and over time we can internalize that, and it can become how we feel about ourselves too.
Are you with me so far?
It’s a simple process, to internalise our outside appearance – but the truth is nobody else will ever really know you quite like you know yourself. So if you want to be happy, and I mean TRULY happy, then collecting accolades or having a fancy job title (or whatever your goals look like) will not be what tips the scale.
What will ultimately tip the scale in favour of happiness, will be when you learn how to stop looking at yourself through this lens, and begin being happy with just being.
It might sound like a foreign concept, but it’s really our most natural state. Can you remember who you were before you started going to dinner parties where you introduced yourself with your ‘what you do’ label? Can you remember when you pursued goals and passions just for your own pleasure, and not for likes on Instagram?
A real example from a friend
A friend of mine is really into running – I don’t get the appeal myself! I know from her it’s one of those sports where many comparisons are made, and things like distances and finish times become badges of honour. In short, even amateur running is a competitive world.
She had initially planned to run 4 marathons in 2019, and she was almost going to do it too! However, after a bout of illness and ongoing fatigue, she has eventually (and with much deliberating) decided to downgrade her final marathon of the year to a half marathon.
She told me the decision came about after realising that all the pressure to run that specific (and very long) distance was making her so tired that she was losing her enjoyment of running. And this is exactly what I’m talking about when I refer to the goals that we impose on ourselves.
The hardest thing about letting go of the marathon goal for her was the effect on her identity. She’s that person who always rises to a challenge. So for her to admit she had overstretched herself was a big deal.
As a coach, I couldn’t be happier to see this decision being made, because it was a sensible compromise. It’s not giving up; there is the smaller race of the half marathon, and it was better for her health. But I know it must have been hard from an identity point of view.
Could you imagine yourself doing something similar? If you have too many things on your plate right now, perhaps it doesn’t have to be a case of do it or fail. Perhaps it could be a case of finding a sensible compromise – something that allows you a little more time and let’s the pressure off, without leaving you feeling like you’ve failed in some way.
I know that goals and purpose are important to us all. So what I’m suggesting isn’t to give up on anything, but rather to pace yourself and know when to take a little break.
Smaller steps can still get you to the same destination, and perhaps you will arrive there in better shape too!
We might not be ‘superhuman’, but we can do a super job of respecting our humanity by allowing ourselves to tend to our human needs. These span from chasing goals and dreams, to resting, being present, and enjoying life. When you pace yourself and compromise here and there, there is room for everything.