challenge: 'on a time you've felt overwhelmed'

There’s been a challenge swirling around the blogosphere at the plughole end of the year, when we’re somewhere between reflective and all out of writing mojo: 75 words or more on… and someone picks a topic for you. This one came from the fab @rabbitinahat. It’s definitely more than 75 words.

Feels appropriate, since I’ve spent most of the past three months in a tearing rush of things-to-do and things-to-develop and relationships-to-build and legwork-and-admin-that-goes-with-new-projects-and-ideas-omigosh, as my job has shifted significantly (and excitingly, like this is a good thing, despite the chaos that will follow). Looking back it feels like I’ve breathed and managed to fit other things into my life (not enough sleep, though, what is this more than six hours a night if you drop straight off myth of which I hear?). At the time, though, it felt like spending a lot of evenings tidying up lose ends and writing to do lists and trying to find space in the diary and by the way sorry friends who aren’t on twitter because ahahahhahaha you haven’t heard from me since august. There was at least one night where I went to bed, only to get up again, go downstairs, boot up the laptop and re-do the to-do list and calendar for the upcoming week in a bid to fit everything in, mostly because of UNNECESSARY-PANIC! that I knew was unnecessary but still gave heed to.

But - I don’t know if it is the work on its own that overwhelms. Sure, it’s a next leap forward - or up - and that tends to involve a fair amount of clinging to the top of a cliff by your fingertips and scrambling your feet around to get a toe-hold so that you can slowly start haul yourself over the top. But on its own the difficulty and busy-ness of that would be just that - difficult and busy. It’s other stuff that makes it overwhelming.

Specifically: emotional baggage stuff. (if only you could leave that at the bottom of the cliff with the old version of the job, but noooo, it lives in your brain or somesuch, and so it has to come with)

That is: work being busy and difficult would be much less likely to be overwhelming if it didn’t come with things like Fear of Failure and OMG They’re Going to Find Me Out Now (aka Imposter Syndrome) and If I’m Not Getting Married and Having Kids Then I Need to Achieve at the Career Because Otherwise I Will Die and My Life Will Have Meant Nothing.

That last one in particular is such a drag and it means I spend my hours managing my work and attempting to balance my life so that there’s rest and play, and y’know, reading, because I know that that stuff is important and I want it too, while second guessing myself. Somehow, from somewhere, a model of Achieving at the Career has wormed its sneaky way into my brain and taken up residence. It says: hey you, you have to succeeed, and not screw things up, and if you have to apologise and say ‘I don’t know’ once a week then you’re failing, and other people need to notice you’re doing well (not like, global fame level, but, like, people outside your immediate circle), so your profile and your brand (uggggggh) grow. Oh, and now you’ve reached this stage you have to think about what the next stage is (it comes with more salary, and responsibility, and maybe managing people) and how you’re going to get there and what you have develop to do it and what you’re willing to sacrifice to get there. Because Achieving at the Career requires sacrifice.

The rest of the world doesn’t help, with its pressures and prizes and assumptions about what everyone wants and what success looks like. Even when the rest of the world is being friendly about you making the kind of choices that sacrifice progress to the next stage of the career it still feels like it’s judging you for making that choice, because, ‘Oh, I thought you were this kind of person and it turns out you might be that kind of person, and isn’t that just a bit disappointing for me.’ And now I’m second guessing myself again.

It’s exhausting. Overwhelmingly so. Crying into the pillow-ly so at times. I’m ready for it to be gone now.

Is it normal? Does everyone get this? How have we managed to create a world in which we put this kind of pressure on ourselves (and on other people)? Just because it might be normal doesn’t mean it has to stay normal, right?

Where I think I’ve got to is this: I’m almost certainly never going to boot the Achieving at the Career worm out of my head, or indeed the Emotional Baggage. I’d like to thank the Great British Educational system for inculcating that severe fear of failure though, thanks. I probably can’t stop the rest of the world making assumptions about which choices I will or should make about my career and how much of my life I choose to give to it.


I can do better at defining for myself what Achieving at the Career looks like - a job I enjoy and that gives me satisfaction, a level of challenging that I’m willing to accept, and yes, occasionally sacrificing the fun and relaxing times for the career stuff. Only I get to determine those times, I get to say that I don’t want it to look like the treadmill of ‘What Next?’ because I want to spend time with my people, and I get to remind myself that I don’t want to care so much about acclaim that I’ll talk myself onto the treadmill because I want to impress people. I’m going to write myself a plaque: the people who are going to be impressed by me choosing Achieving the Career over sanity and emotional health are not worth impressing.

Lists, ILU Lists: Books

Thinking about Coates on hope