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The Advice I'm Really Good at Giving (and Really Bad at Following)

“I’m overwhelmed. I’ve got too much on my plate and I feel like I’m at breaking point. But there’s nothing I can take off my plate and I don’t know what to do”.

That is the start of many (SO many) of my coaching conversations lately. In the session we will explore barriers, talk about some different tools and frameworks for prioritisation, and I will be assuring them that there is definitely something they can do – it’s just a matter of figuring out what matters, understanding and accepting some risk, and ultimately, recognising that the laws of physics – at least those governing our experience of time in the working day - are immutable.

And then I have a month like this last month. Let me tell you, there is nothing more humbling than seeing your failure to follow your own advice reflected back at you. It might seem fortunate that I spend a lot of my time surrounded by the amazing coaches I work with and know. But I ignored all of them.

It wasn’t until I burst into tears last Monday in the office (when I should have been enjoying setting up our booth at a super-fun conference) – all because I had failed to return a permission slip for my daughter’s excursion – that I finally recognised that I had pushed my limits too far. And I had failed to follow my own advice.

Never one to waste a learning opportunity, I have been reflecting on what got me to that point. Yes, I definitely said “yes” to too many things this last month. But there wasn’t anything I said yes to that I didn’t want to do. And having committed to doing them, there wasn’t anything I felt I could let go of (sound familiar, anyone?).

And boy, did I resist the challenge on that one. I was so confident that there wasn’t anything that I could say no to, that I just refused to think through the consequences and genuinely assess the risks. And in doing so, I completely ignored the risk of letting down the people around me as a result of my efforts to not let down the people around me.

But there’s a reason for that. Saying no to things you want to do, or feel you need to do, is really bloody hard. The idea that just saying no to something will bring you an immediate sense of relief is absolute rubbish. I’ve usually found that saying no brings grief before it brings relief. And maybe I had to go through this experience to remember the truth of that. It’s so easy to objectively assess a situation from the outside. But when you are juggling your own priorities – family, community organisations, your job or your business, commitments to friends, and the promises you make to yourself – there is genuine grief in deciding to let something go. Even if it is just for the moment. It has occurred to me that I’m not talking about that grief enough, as a coach and a mentor.

Today I sit in my bed, resting with a sense of urgency to try to recover from the illness that has just struck me down. I know that this virus/infection/bug has hit me so hard because I am over-committed, run down and I have no reserves. And I am saying to myself “you knew this would happen”, while mentally inspecting my actions over the last few weeks to find the opportunities I missed to avoid this outcome. And as I suspected, there were several. I can’t help wondering if I had viewed my recent challenges through a lens of understanding that I would experience grief, I’d have been better prepared to deal with it, and better prepared to make harder decisions.

Sometimes we need to learn our lessons more than once…

…and when we don’t, we definitely need some of Lynn’s “magic soup”, which she generously made and dropped off at my home this morning. That stuff is incredible.


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