Plate Too Full?
One of my clients made me think of you recently because she came to me hurt and irritated that everyone from close friends to respected colleagues was telling her the same thing:
“Your plate is so full, (name here), of course you are dropping essential tasks…late picking up your kids…responding late to clients…wasting time on social media…getting sick…”
She heard this repeated message, as “You can’t handle all this. You are failing. You should try harder.”
My client runs a successful business. Early last fall she was preparing to launch new services, bringing in new clients and enjoying the freedom of being her own boss. Then life outside of the business got difficult. Two close family members died in quick succession, leaving holes in the family and complicated estates that required her attention. Her home that had been on the market prior to the deaths suddenly sold, creating both opportunity and upheaval. A long-term employee gave notice just as a new employee started. Each situation required more time, energy and engagement from my client than she had to give.
Her plate was indeed too full. And most of what filled it she hadn’t chosen.
Owning her own business also meant she didn’t get paid time off or paid vacation as she dealt with the grief as she handled the tasks.
Much of the time our plates are too full because of choices we made. We say yes too easily, misjudge our capacity, and have porous or non-existent boundaries for what is important. These are topics for a future blog.
When your plate is full as a result of situations (and emotions) you didn’t choose and couldn’t control, there aren’t easy solutions. In witnessing my client’s experience these past several months, and reflecting on my own journey, I do have some strategies to offer:
- Let yourself stop. Lay down. Rest. Breathe. Go for a walk in the woods. Our culture reinforces “doing” as a way of feeling better and in control. When the needs around you are overwhelming, it seems like doing more and working harder will make it better. But the needs keep coming, and ignoring the emotion underneath can be draining in ways you don’t realize. Once my client could give herself permission to stop, she could let go of all the voices around her, and hear the one that mattered – her own.
- Ask yourself “What do I need right now?” People around my client were trying to make her feel better by acknowledging the chaos, but their words actually made her feel worse. They didn’t know how to help her feel better because SHE didn’t know. Once she could hear her own voice again, she could identify what she actually needed – quiet. You may need something else – physical activity, a therapist, a lawyer who can interpret the issues that shut you down. Asking yourself question may open up all sorts of possibilities that you can’t see when you are focused on doing.
- Get the help you deserve. My client was surrounded by people who wanted to help, but had no idea what that meant for her. Once my client had clarity about her need for quiet, she asked her mom to take her children out, got coverage for her clients, and spent time in her home office working through the emotion AND the decisions that needed to be made. Slowing down – in complete quiet – actually allowed her to get through overwhelming and emotionally laden tasks faster.
I don’t believe there is a “right way” to navigate those times when personal challenges get in the way of our ability to be effective business owners. I do believe we all need help when the needs around us get too big to find the clarity we need to find a path forward that is integrity. That’s why I do this work.