Asking Not Asking #11: Overwhelmed
TINA ESSMAKER / Creative Coach
Outside of my career in advertising, I'm trying to start a business where I can be creative without a brief and build something for myself.
I want more flexibility. I want to start my own business so if I decide to leave advertising, I have something to count on or experience to help me develop something new.
My biggest challenge is focus. Mostly I feel like I want to make my business idea awesome and that entails so many things. I have been working on it but life/work get in the way and I've gotten sidetracked. Now I'm trying to find the time, motivation, and money (less than $1k) to get back to it and commit to the launch.
I do have some of the supplies I need and help from my boyfriend to execute my idea. I even know spaces where I can display my business.
I am very good at getting started. I can get pretty far with that motivation, but somewhere along the way I start to question myself and also try to create balance between work, life, love, fitness, etc., and I get overwhelmed and let things go.
I would love your help and guidance! Maybe even just a little kick in the butt. <3
You have a lot going for you already. You say you are good at getting started, which is a struggle for many of us, you have some supplies and the support of your partner, and the amount of capital you need is reasonable. You cite focus as the biggest challenge for you; however, you later mention starting to question yourself (doubt) and your desire to create balance among all of the things you want to do, which leads to feeling overwhelmed. So it sounds like there are three things to address here: 1) Focus, 2) Self-doubt, and 3) Balance.
I want to start with balance, but I’m not going to call it balance. I prefer to call it work/life fulfillment because the amount of energy and time you need to invest into each area to fulfill your goals might not be “balanced.” So throw the ideal of needing to balance your time equally among your roles out the window! Instead, I want you to think about each area of your life and what you would need to do to feel more fulfilled in each area over the course of one week.
Let’s make it concrete. I’d like you to write down your responses to the following:
1) What are the areas of your life that you engage in over the course of a week? In your letter, you mention work, life, love, fitness, and your own business. First, list all of the areas.
2) Now, write down your ultimate goal for each area of your life. This will be your motivation. For example, maybe your ultimate work goal is to have more flexibility and control over the work you do. Or maybe your fitness goal is to run a marathon in the next two years. Or maybe your love goal is to build a healthy, supportive relationship with your partner.
3) What activities will help you work toward your ultimate goal in each area? List 1-3 key activities for each area you identified.
Now, let’s talk about scheduling out the key activities that will support your goals for each area of your life. There is a really wonderful TED Talk by Laura Vanderkam about how to gain control of your free time. In it, she encourages us to think about our weeks ahead of time and schedule in our priorities. Look at your key activities for each area, pull out your calendar and schedule them in according to how much time you might need. Your schedule doesn’t have to be rigid. Perhaps different days or various portions of the day have a different focus. The point is to schedule everything in, not just your day job.
If it feels like there isn’t enough time to schedule in all of your key activities, or you schedule them and struggle with executing your schedule, take a look at what you can shift around to “find” time. Automate tasks, delegate, or forego an extra episode of whatever TV show you’re watching. It’s about prioritizing what is most important and that requires discipline and sacrifice. As Laura highlights in her talk, there are 168 hours in a week, which gives us 40 hour work, 56 hours for sleep, and 72 hours for other things. You can adjust that equation as needed, but you might need to let go of things that are less important to your overall goals.
I want to talk about focus and motivation together because I think they go hand in hand. This week, I had a phone date with a friend to catch up on our creative endeavors and personal lives. He told me he purchased a poster that illustrates a 90-year human life in weeks. His plan is to hang it in his music studio as a reminder that his time here is finite and if he really wants to make music, he has to choose it as a priority over and over again. If you really want to start your business, you have to choose it over and over again. I can’t tell you what will motivate you to do that, but I implore you to explore it for yourself. Perhaps it’s the knowledge that your time here is limited and you’ll regret it if you don’t try. Perhaps it’s imagining what a day in your life will be like once your business is up and running and flourishing.
In fact, I’d like you to pause and imagine what it will be like when your business is real. Set aside at least 30 minutes and dream. What will it feel like once your business is real? How will it change your life? What about running this business will fulfill you? Imagine a whole week of your life in this business. Who will you work with? How much money will you make? What opportunities will it bring your way? Really paint the picture out. If you’re ambitious, you could even make a vision board, either analog or digital, by creating a collage that answers these questions and represents what your business will mean to you. Visualizing can be a strong motivator because it makes our goals feel more tangible.
Finally, let’s talk about self-doubt. It’s normal. We all struggle with it. Regardless of outward appearances, everyone has some internal fear or doubt that can be an obstacle to doing the work. You cannot let that stop you. Engage with your inner critic. Figure out the best way to respond so that you can move forward with the work. You could say, “Thanks, inner critic, but I don’t need your input right now. I’ve got it under control.” Or, “You’re right, I’ve never done this before, but I have faith in myself to figure it out and I have all the resources and support I need.” Take what your doubt says to you and reframe it—make it into a statement that can propel you forward. A quick but brilliant read on resistance that you might find helpful in addressing self-doubt and fear is The War of Art by Steven Pressfield.
And lastly, I want to quote one of my very favorite poets, the prolific Mary Oliver, who was often dismissed by critics, but loved by the masses. Her poem, Summer Day, reads:
Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
Remember how slowly the days passed when you were a child? And how, as you grew older, the days passed more quickly, turning into months and then years? We are not in this world forever. We can choose to procrastinate, give into our self-doubt, and tell ourselves a million reasons why we can’t focus or find the time. Or we can tell ourselves we will find the time to do the work we are here to do, we will moved forward regardless of how deeply we feel the fear, and we will thank our self-doubt and do it anyway. Now go get started. You only have one wild and precious life.
To making the most of our finite lives,
Submit to the column:
Asking Not Asking is a bi-monthly column written by Tina Essmaker, a New York City-based coach, speaker, and writer who helps others live into their possibility. To be considered for the column, send and email to firstname.lastname@example.org with a short note about where you're at and where you want to be, and make sure to include the following:
- What you want more of in your work and/or life.
- Your biggest challenges to having more of what you want.
- What opportunities exist for you right now.
- What you've learned about yourself in the past year.
- Include your name or submit anonymously.