It’s the time of year when even though we should be slowing down and snuggling up (think hibernation), Christmas brings added demands and expectations on us and our time. On top of the everyday pressure to be successful that we normally live, a lot of people are in the overload zone.
In the last week, I’ve been sad to hear the high personal price of “success” for 4 people. There are common threads;
A bike accident while rushing to meet work deadlines
Exhaustion and missed family time because of a gruelling travel schedule
Private tears of desperation behind a public face of “everything’s ok here”
A stress induced heart attack
It’s shocking to hear these stories even though I know the territory, personally and professionally. My own journey of burnout and recovery prompted my interest in how we’re living and working today and to helping myself and my clients to find kinder, gentler, more satisfying ways of living and working.
Thanks, amongst other things, to media, marketing and consumerism, we are all under pressure to perform, to impress and to achieve. There’s an invisible and oh so powerful force of expectation exerting itself on us.
To a certain point we don’t experience it as pressure. It expresses itself as ambition and passion and habits of hard work, heavy schedules and high demand are established. This is generally sustainable in the short term, even for a decade or two. However, add ageing plus the social, political, economic and environmental challenges we currently live with and over time, it becomes untenable.
The way many of us are doing life in the 21st century is not conducive for healthy, happy people, organisations or communities. I’d venture to say many are surviving rather than thriving.
So, why don’t we change?
First and foremost, we’re wired to survive. We all need money to do that, so we’ll do what it takes to earn it. Although this is changing, most jobs are designed more with consideration of outputs than sustainable work conditions.
We’re continually fired up by media and marketing to crave bigger, better and more jingly-jangly goodies, houses, holidays, cars etc. We’re addicted to a form of success that isn’t delivering what really serves us.
Our habit of needing to look like we have it all handled, of hiding how we sometimes feel inside, from ourselves as well as from others, isn’t helping. As well as inducing loneliness, it means we’re collectively denying the cost of living this way. Many of us, like the stories above, keep on striving way beyond the point of benefit, even though the personal cost is so high. It’s common to be more committed to achieving goals and outcomes than we are to our own happiness and wellbeing.
In some cases, we may want a different experience but feel trapped and can’t see how.
In addition, there aren’t yet visible alternatives that can compete with the glossy screen depiction of a successful life. We’re largely still bought into an out-dated version of what “having it all” looks like. Even though there’s increasing evidence that ignoring our human need for recreation, connection, creativity, community in the pursuit of status and acquisition is quite literally dangerous (as per stories above).
The first step towards change is awareness. Too often that awareness comes via a jolt, like an accident or health issue.
You can avoid the jolt by making small changes now. You can shift your priorities step by step and reclaim what’s important to you, rather than be driven by someone else’s expectations and definitions of success.
To reclaim a happier, healthier experience, try this;
Start by allowing yourself to recognise there’s a structural problem. It’s not (as you may have been believing) that you are just not smart, efficient, fast, skilled enough to achieve success. It’s that the goal posts are continually shifting away from you.
Give yourself some time and space away from day to day demands, to connect with who you are and what makes you happy.
Look for ways to simplify, so you have less stuff to manage.
Ask yourself “what’s working well for me in my life and what’s working less well?”
Invest in support and guidance to make changes to be happier and healthier, define your own version of success and develop the confidence and courage to create it.
I hope you find this article helpful. I’d love to hear your experience and what you think - come and share your thoughts with me over on my Facebook page, LinkedIn profile or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can access my support to help you in the following ways;
Receive a free self-evaluation, plus a free weekly email of encouragement, guidance and resources when you sign up to my mailing list below: