Coming Back to Fulfillment in Life and Work – Part I
These past few weeks, life seems extra full. Full of work, full of expectations, full of invitations. I know others feel it too because most of my individual and team coaching sessions are about managing the workload and preventing burnout. On top of our own daily reality is the weight of tension, frustration and division worldwide. Before my very eyes I am watching people break under the pressure. Giving up hope. Falling into despair. Lashing out in anger. Resigning to the bare minimum.
In moments big and small, I have done all of those things too. Back in late June and early July. I had enough. It all became too much. I had tried rest, self-care, play. None of it was working. The stress, frustration and sadness continued to build. I was maintaining my morning and evening routines that normally keep me rooted and grounded. I was doing all the things (and more of them) that should have been working and it wasn’t.
Looking back now I know what I was missing…connection, presence and engagement. I was missing the “being” in the “doing.” My spirit was disconnected from the experiences I was participating in. Although my body was swinging freely on the playground, my mind was trapped in past problem solving and future planning. As I was sitting with a client or working through a proposal, my heart was disconnected from the process. Even the fun things in life became one more thing I “had” to do.
I thought that lessening the to dos would make things better. So I took a 2-week break from work and went to the beach for part of that time. I went back through my calendar and cancelled anything that felt like an obligation. I did all the normal things I do to reset and regroup, and coach others to do, like dumping all that’s on my heart, mind and to do list and then going through and deleting, delegating and re-prioritizing. But even after a vacation and with a new, slimmed down and clearly prioritized list, things felt hard and heavy. I still felt squeezed, like I wanted to lose it every time that something changed or someone interrupted me and I had to take a deviation from my newly formed plan.
One night I was just sitting in these feelings of stress, frustration, sadness, overwhelm…the list goes on and on. I finally let them wash over me and completely consume me. Instead of pushing them away, I got curious about why they were there. Clearly there was a lesson here for me to learn and I wasn’t learning it because they were still hanging around. In the sitting, crying, thinking and praying a clear voice that wasn’t mine asked this question: “Where is your heart?”
This question that came in the midst of my tears shook me to my core and forced me to face ways of being and core beliefs I was operating from that I had been resisting and avoiding for some time. Because of my childhood experiences, I have a rescuer/protector tendency that is deeply rooted and drives most of my decisions and actions. I have done a lot of work in this area, but came to realize that night that the progress I have made is far less than what I wanted to praise myself for.
To answer the question, “where is your heart” honestly in this moment would mean to face the fact that I didn’t know. I was still doing most everything based on what others wanted me to do. I wasn’t following my heart at all. At that very moment, I didn’t even know what my heart wanted. This question also helped me realize how disconnected I was from God. My morning prayers and check-ins had become more like something to check off than something to be fully participating in. I was doing it…but not in a way that was going to matter. I wasn’t really listening for His will and desires for me…I was simply allowing space to listen and then inserting my own desires for the day. I knew this because of the posture of my heart. It was not open in a way that allowed for unexpected ideas or interruptions in my plans. I was trying to control every decision and each minute.
Because of the work I do, I initially felt ashamed of bringing these things into my conscious awareness and then remembered the truth that we always tell our clients…”We are simply fellow travelers on the same path, doing our best everyday to show up healthy and whole.” Each of us will continue to get tripped up. There is no shame in that. The real work is facing the trip up and starting again in a new and better way. That’s the work that most of the world avoids and prevents us from being healthy and whole. I also remembered, if I don’t experience these challenges I can’t know them and learn from them, which means I couldn’t help others through them. Who we’ve been and what we’ve been through are the subjects we are most equipped to teach others in.
Over the next few blog posts, I want to share my process for how I came back to fulfillment in work and life and moved from heart-less to heart-full connection, presence and engagement. For me, this has been the answer to my feelings of burnout. It wasn’t actually doing less, it was doing differently. More fully. More intentionally. More meaningfully. My calendar and lists didn’t change much, it was the way I did them that changed everything. The process I will outline in the next few posts is for those who are confident that you’ve done everything to pare down the list to what’s most important, and have a pretty solid grasp on investing your time, energy and money in the most impactful ways. If you haven’t done some of the time management basics to get your list and calendar in order, then you likely need to start with those fundamentals. But if you’ve tried all that and you are still feeling frustrated, confused, overwhelmed, or like something’s missing…then this is for you and I hope it can help you as much as it is helping me! This is the first of a multi-part series…so stay tuned!
Reset your vision and expectations. What does your ideal day look like? What are you expecting and are those expectations reasonable and realistic? Answer these questions with your heart. Yes, this ideal vision may not be possible immediately which is why most of us never explore this. Without exploring this, we can’t see the gap. In the gap we can decide how we need to change our expectations to free ourselves from frustration and what the reality is for how we could make small shifts to live more closely aligned to our ideal vision in a way that is connected, engaged and present.
For example, in my dreaming about my ideal vision I realized that in my ideal state I would be writing half of my working hours. Today, the reality is that I might write about 5% of my working hours. Most of it is on my personal time. It’s also a reality that we are building a business and jumping from where I am to half time writing would mean real sacrifices on the part of me, my business partner and my family from a financial standpoint. This created great conversation with my husband and my business partner about what a path to get to my ideal state over the next few years might look like. Mapping this out calmed my spirit because I feel called to write and now I can see a path to get to writing more.
This also freed me of the frustration I was feeling toward my daily work. I was doing my work, all the while wishing I could be writing and feeling guilty about not living out my calling. I reset my expectations for myself. The reality is that in this phase of our business, I need to devote time to client work and other things. If I am fully into that work now, then the quality of my work and satisfaction of clients will grow which will grow income and I can get to the writing sooner. We are often so focused on what we wish to be that we miss opportunities to grow now, get there faster and overlook the important contribution we can make right in front of us. It’s also a reality that I can do a little more writing right now, and I can change some things about my schedule to do that. I can sacrifice more personal time to write instead of doing other things. I have many options that I can see now after making space to reset my vision and expectations, and I feel more connected, present and engaged in the work I do everyday regardless of what it is.
A more challenging example of resetting vision and expectations is the work I am blessed to do with some middle school teachers. Resetting vision and expectations can often be perceived or feel like giving up or lowering the bar, but what I’m asking us to do is the exact opposite. We need to be reasonable and realistic about what we can do and our part when there are giant, systemic challenges we face. The day-to-day tasks can start to feel meaningless, like they’ll never move the needle and it’s in these moments we need to focus on them the most to continue forward progress and create positive change.
Many of theses lovely humans I get to work with inside the school system are facing challenges that seem impossible to overcome. The societal issues we face force teachers into taking on responsibilities that are no longer reasonable or realistic under the old vision of the education system and previous expectations. The system itself is far from evolving in a way that allows teachers to be successful. So here they are…stuck between a rock and a hard place. Fully wanting to meet the requirements of the system and the needs of their kids, knowing that reality is impossible. I can see why so many good teachers are leaving and why no one else is signing up. This is the exact place where we need to reset vision and expectations for ourselves and what we can control.
What I am asking each of them to do is reconsider what a good day looks like in their current reality. Inside the school I support the principal has centered the entire building around the concepts Safe, Responsible and Respectful. This is what a good day looks like. The reality is that in most of our communities these basic needs are not being met at a human level. People don’t feel safe. We aren’t role modeling responsibility or respect. This is the sad truth of our culture. When these fundamentals deteriorate to the point they have, there is no foundation for learning, and learning math and reading are no longer the most important priority. Yet our systems are still pushing for math and reading grades. No wonder teachers feel helpless, hopeless and frustrated. On top of that they have not been adequately prepared through their own education to support themselves, students, parents and fellow team members in the circumstances they face daily.
When we find ourselves here, we check in. Is our heart calling us to do this work even though the circumstances seem impossible? Do we still believe in the purpose and impact of the work? If so, we need to reset our vision and expectations and continue the work with the steps I will outline in future blog posts.
Do you find yourself here right now? If you could use support in how to reset your vision or expectations, reach out. Our team at The Restoration Project would love to support you through our individual coaching services (fill out the form or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org). Be on the lookout for additional resources and tools you can use for this process in 2023, and watch for the next few blog posts which will continue this process of coming back to fulfillment in life and work. Sending love. Peace be with you!
Written by: Lindsay Leahy, Dream Builder at The Restoration Project
Get it touch: email@example.com