“I feel like I’m failing on every front.”
Thousands of women had tuned in to find their momentum for change. And maybe they weren’t expecting to hear those words coming from my mouth.
After all – from the outside, it probably looked as though I had it all together. We were hosting a stellar virtual conference; with an attendance list of thousands of women around the world, and extraordinary international speakers.
On every possible measure, it was a runaway success.
And yet, there had been moments in the weeks where I’d truly felt as though I was failing on every front.
Failing at doing a great job with the business. Failing in my mothering. Failing as a wife. Failing in my ability to look after me.
Now, objectively, I’m usually able to step back from that feeling pretty quickly and know that actually, I’m doing great.
But those moments, especially seven days before my period arrives (and the whole world is ending!) I really have felt that I’m not able to manage. And I know that, if certain signs stick around, I need more than a rest – it’s time for something far more radical.
Today I’m going to share those 5 signs it’s time to take stock, and the question leaders need to ask ourselves.
But first –
How about you?
How about you, my love?
From the outside, do your friends think your career is great, your colleagues assume your relationship’s fine, and your kids never question that there’s cash in the bank… when on the inside, you feel like that’s far from the truth?
As leaders, many of us are familiar with that gap between the way others see us, and how we feel on the inside. And yet, there are times when we really do need to take some time out, and stop “pushing through” our feelings of overwhelm.
Let’s start with those 5 signs that it’s time to pause and take stock.
5 signs it’s time to take stock
Imagine your leadership as a platform.
Up on the top is you as a leader – your vision for what’s possible, the collaboration and support you have with those around you, your decisions and your ideas.
Underneath, you’re held up by the various core areas of your life: Relationships, finances, career, health and community.
When all is going well in most of those areas, you’re supported and able to shine.
When a few of your pillars are wobbly at once – that’s when you feel yourself in a stage of deep transformation. It’s often a sign that you’re going through a deep personal shift.
Our Head Coach, Annie, calls it the “phoenix” phase.
Which might sound very beautiful – transformation! Awakening! Discovering a new level of purpose!
In reality, it often shows up in signs like this:
- Finding that we don’t have anything in the tank. That one more thing will tip us over the edge.
- Beating ourselves up for procrastination, or feeling like we’re failing.
- Feeling a sense of inertia – like you’re wading through treacle and can’t seem to find your flow.
- Experiencing heightened emotions…
- Or the flip side – feeling quite numb and tuned out.
If these 5 signs it’s time to take stock sound familiar, you’re not alone.
This “phoenix” phase feels like really widespread among women right now. I’ve been hearing from lots of the women on our Lead the Change leadership program that this is happening for them.
And of course, when we zoom out and look at what’s going on in the world, it’s easy to see why.
Those “pillars” that support you have almost certainly taken a knock in recent months.
- Perhaps your career’s feeling challenging. If you’re a business owner you might be seeing your staff experience some ups and downs, your industry might be changing, there might be other things going on. Within organisations there’s a lot of change happening at the moment.
- After the past two years of going in and out of lockdown, many of our relationships are struggling. Our kids are struggling; our parents are isolated; our friendships have been whittled down.
- And it’s all taken its toll on our health, too. I was fascinated to read a recent article written by a doctor in the United States about the impact she’s seeing on her patients’ health – not from any one factor, but from the accumulated stress of the past 18 months.
Writing in the Atlantic, Lucy McBride states that burnout has, in her view, gone beyond a phenomenon attached to work and become a defining feature of almost all of our lives. The title of her article says it all, I think: By Now, Burnout Is A Given.
“Now is the time to redefine burnout as the mental and physical fallout from accumulated stress in any sphere of life, whether that’s work, parenting, caregiving, or managing chronic illness. To muster the energy for reentry into non-pandemic life, people need more than a vaccine and a vacation; they need validation of their experience, a broader reckoning with how they lived before March 2020, and tools to dig out from more than a year of trauma.”
Facing our collective burnout
So how can we begin to “dig ourselves out” – when we don’t have the luxury of heading off on retreat, taking a sabbatical from work, or stepping back from the support we offer to those around us?
There is no single answer that will work for all of us.
But I believe that if we learn to use our discernment, we can begin to tune in to the needs we each have at this time.
Specifically, I invite you to consider whether this is a time for you to be digging in, and actively increasing your capacity – for example through training, coaching, or new skills – or whether it’s time to surrender to deep replenishment.
What we at One of many call radical compassion for oneself.
Each of us will have a different choice to make.
For some of us, it might just be that surrender to “there’s nothing I can do”. As Susie Heath shared so beautifully back in 2020,
“There have been days when I’ve just had to go to bed and just surrender, you know, surrender to what is rather than, than pushing and fighting all the time and being OK about that. And I think that’s been the thing for me, is being okay to surrender to the challenge and go: ‘Right now I actually need to rest. I need to stop. I need to eat digestive biscuits, and be okay about that without beating myself up.’”
On the other hand, you might be feeling as though you’re ready to uplevel – to increase the impact you’re making, and use this time as a springboard to define the life you want. It could be a change of careers, or a new depth to your relationship with your partner.
And for all of us, we’ll find there’s a natural flow between those two states.
That can happen at the micro level – each day, you’ll have times when you’re more active and times when you need to rest.
And it can also happen at the macro level, as when you consciously decide to prioritise your replenishment first and foremost and decide you’ll come back in a week or a month or a season, and re-evaluate with fresh eyes.
How do you discern what we need?
So, if you’ve identified that you could do with a pause, and a rethink about where you’re headed – what can you do?
There are a few tools I’ve found really powerful when it comes to shifting where we’re at.
#1 Morning pages
One of my best loved tools comes from The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, and it’s called Morning Pages. The idea is that every morning, you take some time to write completely freely and uncensored about whatever’s on your mind. Could be the shopping list, your gripes at your partner, to the really deep stuff – why am I here, who am I. A practice of morning pages is one of the most effective ways I know to really tune into yourself and start to discern what you need.
If you don’t already have a practice, try bringing it into your routine and see what comes up.
#2 Emotional hygiene
Emotions are running high at the moment. From worry about what’s coming next, to anger at the decisions being made by politicians and frustration with the ongoing uncertainty. A practice of regular emotional hygiene can allow us to release those intense feelings safely. There are many different ways to release your emotions. Morning pages might help; for some of us, listening to music or dancing allows us to really feel what’s coming up and release it.
How do you release emotion – and can you make it a regular practice for you?
#3 Reach out
For women leaders especially, connecting and collaborating is an incredible antidote through times of stress. Find someone you can be vulnerable with, and really explore what’s going on for you. Working with a coach can be really helpful – so long as it’s one who is able to help you decide whether you need to take on more, or surrender to doing radically less. The One of many coach directory is a guide to our Certified Women’s Coaches who each have their own unique experience, combined with our specific methodology designed to support women leaders.
Use it to find a coach to help you discover what’s next in your leadership.
What do you need right now?
Have you noticed any of these signs you could do with a break – and do you know whether it’s time to rest, or time to build up your capacity? Let us know how you’re feeling in the comments – we’re a diverse community of leaders from all walks of life, and I’m really curious to know how you’re doing right now.
Got a question about coaching?
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