From time to time we’ll receive an offer that we can’t or don’t want to refuse: a new job, a role, or something that we always wanted to do. These offers come with a caveat: they want our time, more time. But, we dive right into them and forget everything around us. We sacrifice our time and our health for them. The situation is similar to a boxing match, in which we are getting hit on the head multiple times. Everything seems to be well for a while until our mind and/or body say “Enough! Stop it! I can’t take any more of this.” And then, we fall and everything around us becomes dark. How many of these boxing matches can we endure?
I wrote my first blog post in Summer of 2014, gathering my learnings and rules for my well-being. I then called them my golden guardrails. They were supposed to protect me.
Two years ago, so many things changed after I took on an additional professional role I had really wanted. Right from the start, I felt responsible for everything and everyone and tried to solve all issues myself. Solving these issues became the most important thing to me. My first thoughts when I woke up way too early every morning circled around solving these past, present, and future issues. I then started to not taking the time to hold onto any of my own golden guardrails.
About a year and a half later, I began to notice that I was less and less able to physically respond to what others were saying. When I didn’t respond, people probably thought they needed to convince me by talking even more. All I really wanted was silence, to be alone, and to be allowed to think. Unfortunately, I was not able to say “Stop!”. On a late Friday afternoon, I wasn’t able to handle the constant input any longer. I used my last energy to walk away and was barely able to do so.
It’s all about spending my time wisely
Understanding what went wrong took quite some time. During my time of healing, I made some new learnings which I’m adding to my golden guardrails.
Do something in the morning for myself
A day starts so much better, if I get up to do something for myself first, before I do something for work and/or others. I begin my day with an activity I have deliberately chosen and that pleases me before anything else: read, write, learn, run, go to the gym, anything that’s good for me personally. Reacting to my inbox, messages, news, or social media feeds is not very rewarding and wastes my best time of the day and my creativity.
Take care of myself before helping others
I don’t always need to be that leader who trusts and serves the people in my charge and who always eats last, figuratively speaking. (Thank you, Simon Sinek, for planting that bomb in my head.) Being a leader doesn’t mean that everyone else in my responsibility is more important than I am. Flight attendants on an airplane tell us that, in case of loss of cabin pressure, we should put on the oxygen mask ourselves first before helping others. Only if I can breathe, I can help others.
Work at a location where I feel safe
Today’s workplaces have been designed by and are catered for extraverts. If the location and surroundings of my workplace are bad for me, I will look for a better place to do my work. Really! Otherwise, I will suffer and this will stress me unnecessarily.
Do something that I believe in
I ask myself, “why am I doing this?” and “why am I here?”. If I can’t answer these questions positively for myself, I’ll do something else.
Invest time in what is important to me
My time is valuable. At some point I’ll be dead. (Thanks, Steve Jobs, for reminding me.) Therefore, my time is the most precious currency I own. This raises the question, “what do I want to do with my time?” Some might suggest, “if I’ll get paid for it, I’ll even do work I don’t like.” Question is, how long will I be happy with how I spend my time? Of course, sometimes I can’t choose, but in general, it must be my choice whether I invest my time in something or not.
Stop endless discussions or walk away from them
I have been in too many meetings in which a discussion seems to be endless, because it is not about understanding the others and finding a solution together, but about insisting on one’s own unchangeable opinion. This can get even worse when the same topic comes up repeatedly. There is nothing to be gained in wasting time on such topics. I will stop these monologues disguised as a so-called “dialogue” in a meeting or walk away from them.
Don’t try to change others, if they don’t want to learn
Change is all about understanding and learning: Change is about understanding that one is unknowingly incapable and about learning to become knowingly capable of something new. I might be able to influence others, but I can’t make them want to learn. They must want to learn themselves. All I can do is to recognize their lack of willingness early on and not to invest any more time in them.
Don’t see the faults of others as mine
Even if I have the responsibility and/or am in a leadership position, not everything is my fault. As a leader, I may feel as if every fault of others is my obligation, but in many cases, it isn’t. If I am allowed to do something against the problem, why should I worry? I can just do something to solve the problem. If I am not allowed, then why should I worry? I am not accountable.
Surround myself with people that are good for me
Some persons are generally toxic or they feel toxic to me. I will avoid these and rather find those who make me feel better, that support me, and in whose company I am not wasting my time.
Remove people from the team
Sometimes, a person just doesn’t fit in or is just not capable of doing what I expect that person to do. Once I have understood that, keeping this person on the team just means more trouble, more work, and more stress for me, because it reduces certainty. As a team player, this is the hardest thing to do, but sometimes persons have to be exchanged for others. I’m certain, that I can sometimes achieve more without an ill-fitting person, even if I don’t have a direct replacement.
Sometimes, I have to tell others what to do
Leading others means to trust others that they will take the right decisions, and that they will do the right things on their own. I can hope that this will happen, but I won’t wait too long for others to come up with the same idea I already had. Sometimes, I just have to stand up and tell others what should be done.
Choose smaller projects
Working in larger projects or programs has its moments, because the potential reward is great when everything falls into place and the spotlight shines on all successful participants. Unfortunately, the larger a project is the more people want to be involved operatively and the higher the probability that their egocentrism and politics become more important than solving the underlying business problem. Egocentrism and politics almost always result in a project failing. The smaller the project I am working on, the more choices are entirely under my control and the less politics are in my way. I will try to stay under the radar for as long as possible.
Do something in the evening for myself
Just like I started the day by doing something for myself first, I will reward myself in the evening as well.
Believe in myself
I won’t look for confirmation from others anymore. I won’t do something so that I will receive likes or gratitude! If I do something to please others, I am turning myself into an object, an object of their pleasure. I’d like others to like me not because of what I do but for who I am. If they don’t like me for who I am, then they won’t like whatever I do. I will do something because it is the right thing to do.
Ask for help when I need it
Asking for help is most likely the toughest thing to do, because I have to admit that I can’t handle every situation alone. I won’t expect others to notice that I require help. Realizing myself that I am in need of help is a positive sign of my mental state. I will turn to my team, peers, bosses. Anyone.
Stick to my guardrails
Last but not least, what good are helpful suggestions like guardrails, if I don’t stick to them?
Trying to have a perfect day without being perfect
I fully know that not all my days will be perfect, but I have to accept that perfectionism isn’t really necessary. For me, it was about time to recognize and accept all the above things and to learn not to ignore but to listen to the signs my body gives me. We make mistakes and are allowed to do so in order to learn from them.
The guardrails are not about not making errors or ending up in a gigantic failure. They aren’t rules that may not be broken. They are meant to guide me and to allow me to recognize if I wander off in unfriendly territory.