When You Bump Up Against It

I’ve noticed something since I returned from my sabbatical in July. The relentless pace of the world of work. I mean, I knew it was busy. But coming back into it after an extended absence somehow amplifies the starkness of the difference. It’s like switching from a nice hot shower to a cold one. The initial change is a shock, and then you eventually get used to it. Or maybe just numb to it.

Except that that’s not happening for me. I’m not numb to it. I’m feeling it. Acutely. Energy management has always been something I prioritise, and it’s taking all I have to stay energised throughout the week. It’s not any one thing that’s asking of my energy. I think it’s the combination of comms channels (emails, WhatsApp, Messenger, texts, phone calls, Zoom meetings, Teams meetings), the constant juggling of demands, and the speed at which I expect myself and others to operate.

You might say “welcome to the real world! Suck it up like the rest of us mate!”

Sucking it up is an OK tactic for the short term. It’s smart to have in-built resiliency to absorb one-off shocks. Yet when your world is not a series of one-off shocks but a constant stream of activity, the ‘sucking it up’ approach falls well short. Like a drain pipe, sooner or later, the whole thing will overflow.

With burnout at an all time high, simply sucking it up doesn’t cut it. We need a bigger drainpipe. Or find ways to turn down the flow.

I see ‘bumping up against it’ happen when people attend training courses. The space and pace of a good course offers both a respite from a busier world outside, and also the opportunity to think differently about doing what you do. Yet, with all the best intentions, people leave the course and get slammed when they bump up against the ‘real world’. 

Here’s what I find helps me to stay ‘good’ amongst the relentlessness:

  • Find like-minded people who get it. Back in July, I along with three colleagues who had also recently taken sabbaticals, went into the studio and filmed a 90-minute conversation about why we took them, how we did them, and what we took from them. (Stay tuned for the release of that), Since then, we’ve been meeting regularly to help each other maintain the value from our breaks. It’s gold. Who are your ‘get it’ people?
  • Be OK with disappointment. My partner reminded me recently that “you can have it all, just not all at once.” I love to say ‘yes’ to new and interesting opportunities. Yet now I’m learning that I’m better off prioritising empty space over exciting activities. And that means being OK with disappointing myself, and potentially others. What are you OK to be disappointed about? And who are you prepared to disappoint?
  • Counteroffer. I’ve traditionally been someone who’ll automatically say ‘yes’ to the conditions offered up. Meet for breakfast at 7:30am on Friday after a huge day on Thursday? Sure! What I’m learning is that the initial offer is usually a starting point, not a finishing point. I’m getting a lot better at knowing what works for me, and then counter-offering something in that zone. What are your boundaries? How might you counteroffer?

You don’t need to take a sabbatical to know the feeling of bumping up against it. Be vigilant against the numbness. This is not a normal state for us to be in. Find your way to be in the flow, and not be overwhelmed by it.

For more like this, check out:

Fresh Insights on Unhurried Productivity

Be Kind to Your Future Self

On Cricket, the Long Game, and Being Unhurried

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