The unintended effect of “I do what I can”

To me, “we do what we can” has always sounded like an invitation to maintain a sort of balance, especially in critical situations. I found it quite soothing hearing it from my work colleagues, as a reminder to not overdo it. That until I realised it might have actually led me into a mental trap.

It’s been a little over a year since I’ve been working at my current workplace and most of this time has been truly enriching. I have been working with amazing colleagues (some of which I now call friends) and went through lots of fun activities together (hiking, parties, team-buildings, sports events). I worked hard, I grew both personally and professionally, and my results were recognized. All in all, it’s been a wild and intense adventure and I am most grateful for the ride.

Yet, it’s only recently that I became aware of the mental exhaustion that had crept in. Truth be told, I was warned against it by all my colleagues who witnessed my way of working. Curiosity, combined with a fast learning pace, a desire to help others and getting things done can easily turn into the stepping stones of the way to burnout hell if not backed up by temperance. Yes, my natural tendencies are to overdo things, but I kept saying to myself and others that I had learned my lesson and I was working in a more sustainable way than before. There was no need to worry, I had everything under control. Little did I know. It turned out that I have been a successful liar for more than a year. 😄

I recently found a note in my journal dating February 2022 in which I was acknowledging the fatigue after each working day and the lack of energy to pursue my creative hobbies. The reality is hard to beat: in the past year I wrote 0 articles and 3 blog posts, created 6 new images for the DewDrops project (I used to create 1 or 2 each week), drew once or twice and learned 0 new skills. It broke my heart. For me, creation is an act of meditation, that feeds my soul, and to see that I was ignoring the signs for this long was hard to digest.

I started having lots of conflicting thoughts about the situation: was it only me? was it the work environment? was it the work itself? I know that prioritizing is challenging for me and I also know that work would never stop, no matter the job. In addition, the tasks were rarely too difficult and no one had unrealistic expectations of me. “We do what we can” was the daily mantra in the team, as a reminder to keep a healthy work-life balance. All things considered, it must have been my own doing. I was responsible for my current state. I failed at prioritizing my own effort. Even though the workload was challenging at times, no one expected me to do more than I COULD.

But now I am wondering… haven’t I been doing precisely this for the past year? Is it possible that because I can easily go the extra mile for completing the work, I can quickly learn new things, and I can fill in gaps when needed, I led myself to exhaustion? Could I have mastered growth, but not yet a sustainable rhythm? If that’s the case, what was the cause?

The more I think about it, the more I find it tied to my pre-crastination patterns (I wrote extensively on the difference between pre-crastination and procrastination here). I have always prioritized the “have to” over the “want to”, especially when other people are impacted. And because the “have to” keeps me away from what I want, I become anxious whenever a new thing that “needs to be done” appears. I want to get it done as fast as I can so that I can focus on what brings me joy. And I get so immersed in getting things done that I forget to take breaks and most often I get disconnected from my body. Because of that, I never seem to notice the slight decreases in my energy level, I only become aware when energy depletion has already occurred (very useful in crises situations that require high concentrated effort for a short period of time, but not so much on the long term).

So yes, I actually did what I could at my current workplace, but it has been for too long. I have been operating in a firefighting mode this entire time and I lost myself a bit. I forgot about all my productive and healthy work habits developed in my freelancing days. But not anymore. As much as it made me angry, this realization also motivated me to make some changes.

Therefore, I intend to:

  • change the “I do what I can” mantra with “I do what my well-being can sustain”. Words are a powerful manifestation tool and, unlike the human mind, the universe does not work with metaphors
  • plan short breaks in my schedule every day to reconnect with my body and energy level, and re-prioritize my tasks if needed
  • prioritize my tasks based on urgency and effort required, in order to use my natural energy levels in a productive way
  • perform the task prioritization at the end of each day, instead of each morning. My mental energy is the highest in the morning and I should use it for deep work or difficult tasks, instead of administrative activities or meetings.

Let’s see how it goes. I’m really eager to test these new strategies and see the results. My soul already knows that everything will fall into place even if I am not giving 110% all the time. It’s just my mind that needs a little more convincing.

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