I was brought up to believe that I could achieve anything I wanted if I worked hard enough. It was a belief I strongly held and yes, I have achieved lots in my life: good exam results, great career…but that did come at a cost – I did have to work really hard at it.
Not only that, when my career involved being an employed Director (employed by someone else, not my own business), it seemed that everyone was conditioned to work really hard: putting in as many hours as they could, skipping lunch, and running round the building like headless chickens whilst they demonstrated just how busy and important they were. And yes, everyone was important, they were doing a great job – but the stress was so visible and a number of colleagues burnt out, including myself.
For me it was a wake-up call. My burn out manifested itself in lots of illness that wouldn’t go away – my body was literally telling me to stop. I knew that if I continued at the pace I was, my body might stop for good. As a mother of two young children, it scared the hell out of me.
It taught me a lot – about the power of stress (and how at it’s worst it reduced me to feeling useless and helpless) but most importantly, about resilience. I thought I was highly resilient – and I was. That meant that I was seen as a good worker who delivered, which meant more and more work landed on my desk. But what I learnt about resilience is that it’s all a balancing act – if our stressors exceed our resilience, then we will break (and everybody has a breaking point, no matter how resilient you think you are).
In order to become more resilient, we need self-care: we need to do things that top up our cup and make us feel good and happy. It really made me evaluate just how much I did for myself: very little. I thought about all the things I love doing such as running, walking, reading, spending quality time with my boys, spending time with friends, taking a long soak in the bath and actually, I got to do those things infrequently.
Since then I have changed my life enormously. I now have my own business which I have grown over the past four years – I spend my days coaching and training others in how to develop their business and make it successful. One of the biggest messages I give, is that in order for us to be successful we cannot work at a hundred miles per hour all the time – if we try to operate like a machine, we will burn out (and actually who leaves their machines and gadgets on 24 hours a day? We all know they will burn out and go up in smoke!). If we are to be successful we need to be clear on our strategy, focus on the important and we need to make time for ourselves; we need to unplug from the daily treadmill and do things that make us happy. It is then we have the energy and focus to live enriched lives, to deliver what’s important and to be truly successful.