Noticing the clouds overhead

burn out self awareness self care Jun 02, 2023
Storm clouds gathering

Earlier this year I began to feel a familiar feeling. It was a very subtle hint of feeling on edge, like my body was preparing for impending stress. I was working hard. The first half of the year tends to be full on for me work wise as I not only have a huge amount of work to do to organise and prepare the retreats that I run for doctors but I also have two teaching commitments that I prioritise for Monash University that both fall in the first semester of the year, both of which with a significant marking load. And like many other small business owners, I was doing just about everything behind the scenes to run my businesses all on my own. From marketing & socials to all admin, compliance and business development (with everything in between)- even though there was a "we" on my emails... I was the 'we'. I had been running on adrenaline for a lot of the second half of last year as I worked on growing my retreat business and this sense impending overwhelm was not all together surprising for me. I could see the storm clouds gathering overhead and my body was showing me signs that I needed to slow down.


Now, I'd like to say that as soon as I identified this familiar feeling I was able to immediately lighten my load and pare back commitments to a more manageable level. Having learnt first hand what happens when I let this feeling of impending overwhelm go unheeded, I knew I had to do something. But again, as any small business owner knows, help is often hard to find. Here in lies lesson number one of this recent experience...


1) If we wait until we need help to try and find it, it can often be too late.


And of course, as I started to look for help it was predictably difficult to find, so I found myself trying to balance more balls than I had the capacity to hold. Something had to give.

Like a lot of tough decisions in life, this was one I didn't want to make. I loved blogging & recording my podcast but I simply couldn't do everything at that point in time so I had to put them on the shelf for a little while. I turned down some speaking opportunities that had come up and I focussed on fulfilling the major undertakings that I had already committed to. I also worked with my accountability buddy (hi Jess!) to come up with a plan for how I would make finding the right people to help me my highest priority. 

Even with all the work I put into this task, it still took me months to find the help I needed. Months of madly trying not to drop those remaining balls after I had already pared life back where ever I could. I'm incredibly grateful to say that i now have a variety of team members supporting me and I can't imagine again trying to do everything I was previously without their help.

Which brings me to lesson number two...


2) Even when we know what to do, it is still hard to do it.


This is something that I say again and again- just because we know what we have to do to take care of ourselves, doesn't mean we get to bypass the hard work required to do it.

Knowing isn't the same as doing and doing is hard regardless of who you are.

I had to make space in my life for this awareness and I am very grateful (again, to my accountability buddy) for holding space for my discomfort as I worked through this process. I knew that I needed to hire some support, but having never done this before I dragged my feet big time on actually getting it done. I found every excuse under the sun to not do it but ultimately, I actually had to work through the discomfort of realising that I needed to trust someone else to care as much about this business I had worked so hard to build as I did. For a control focussed (recovering) perfectionist like me, this was hard!


Just because we know what we have to do, doesn't mean that actually doing it gets significantly easier. For most of us the discomfort of doing that thing we have to do really comes from the mental hurdles that we need to work through, rather than the physical steps. This is where an accountability buddy can be a fabulous tool to help us to stay on track with the path that we want to be on. Whether it be a friend or family member, an altruistic partnership of mutual respect as mine is, or a formal arrangement with a coach, counsellor or supervisor- bravely and vulnerably entrusting your goals with someone who is willing to compassionately keep you accountable can be a hugely transformational thing. My suggestion is that if you think this type of arrangement might help you, have a think about what you will bring to this arrangement? Do you have the bandwidth to hold space for someone else right now? If not, then perhaps a formal arrangement with a paid  supervisor or supporter would be best. And then consider what you would like to gain from it? Are you ready to be held accountable and accept help?


So I have an accountability buddy, I now have various business and admin support staff involved in the different aspects of running these businesses of mine (yes, there is more than one... eek!) and as I now spend some time reflecting on where I was a few months ago, I can't help but gently ask myself- why did I think I could do this all on my own before? Which brings me to point number three...


3) Old patterns are easy to fall back into.


In yoga we call these your samskaras- the deep ruts in the road that are worn by cart wheels as they take the same path in muddy ground again and again.

My old patterns are focussed around acting like I'm invincible and never need help. The story I very unconsciously told myself was that "I help other people but I don't need help". Which clearly is very, very wrong.

That's the problem with the things we tell ourselves without awareness- we never give ourselves the opportunity to challenge them.

Since burning myself out (with this unconscious pattern of behaviour and thought very much contributing to my path towards burn out) I've had to learn how to view these samskaras of mine with kindness. Because it doesn't matter if I feel I have worked my way through them, they will always be the deep ruts in the road for me that my cart wheels will easily fall back into when life gets busy or overwhelming. These patterns of behaviour will feel familiar to me whether they serve me or not. So learning how to be kind to myself when I find myself back here on the same path, is the key to helping me divert my wheels off this track more easily.


Am I doing any of this perfectly? Not at all.

Am I trying to show myself compassion as I find myself in familiar territory, staring at those storm clouds overhead? Yes, 100% yes.

And if I have learnt nothing else through my burn out journey, it's that this is actually enough.



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