This past summer I hit a wall. Both of my businesses were busy, my blog interviews were going well, the posts were generating interesting feedback, there were a myriad of extra-curricular activities and my kids were finishing their respective school years. It was all good, and it was all too much. Like many women I know, I found myself staring at far too many balls in the air wishing for a break from all of the responsibilities. I envied my kids their unalloyed joy at the prospect of a long, glorious summer. So much free time and so many fun things to do.
The busier I became, the lower my productivity fell. The faster I moved, the further behind I seemed to be. Like most people, I used to plan a few weeks of holidays and otherwise enjoy time off on weekends; but my weeks were packed with work and obligations. Every summer the beautiful weather flew by and I seemed to only enjoy a tiny fraction of it. I had had enough of that. It became quite clear to me that something needed to change.
In late June I took one day off to think. I didn’t answer the phone, reply to emails, work on active files or look at any social media. Instead, I spent the entire day thinking about my situation and evaluating what changes I both wanted and needed to make. I was reminded of the first year following Malcolm’s death.
For nearly three months after Malcolm died I was incapacitated. Grieving is a strange business that can strip you of energy and brain power – at least that’s what it did to me. When I finally lifted myself out of the fog, I panicked as I realized that I had a business to run on my own. Hundreds of thousands of dollars were on the line as I entered an important retail season without my key partner. It was terrifying. Most of my memories from that time revolve around a sense of fear and fatigue, two “f’s” that I came to know well in the months that followed. Twelve to sixteen hour days, six days a week were common fare as I desperately tried to get myself out of a financial mess.
When the key retail season was over I just kept on working long and hard to get past the next set of hurdles. It was at that time that a wise businesswoman, Mrs. C. whom I knew peripherally, invited me to lunch. She knew what I was going through and she wanted to offer her emotional support. In mid discussion I remember her leaning forward and saying, “Doris, at this pace you will drive yourself into the ground. You’re going fast but it strikes me that you’re not sure what the destination is. First, sort out your goal, then go slowly. It’s the only way. You need to go slow to go fast.”
You need to go slow to go fast. It’s a seemingly contradictory statement. If you’re going slowly, how on earth can you be going fast? And yet, that’s exactly right. I was so wrapped up in running forward from one item on my to-do list to the next that I no longer took time to think, to plan and to strategize. When I did take the time to step back and evaluate my situation, I realized that I was quickly moving toward the wrong destination. It’s counter-productive to go quickly if you’re headed to the wrong place.
When I thought about it, it occurred to me that I did not want to continue with a business that had been part of my husband’s goals. I had hopped on for the ride and in the process I discovered that I have an aptitude for business, but the particular business was not one that fit my interests and aspirations. I needed to figure out what type of business I wanted and that involved sorting out my interests, abilities and desires.
What do you enjoy? What is your passion? What do you want to do – not what do you need to do? These are not easy questions. A close friend of mine tried to help me out after Malcolm’s death by suggesting that I take on new activities to begin to rebuild my life. I had no idea what I wanted to do. “What do you enjoy?” she asked. I didn’t know. I had spent so much time living my life around Malcolm and his illness that I had lost sight of what I really wanted. It took time, reflection and many quiet moments to get answers.
Just as Mrs. C. counselled, what I really needed to do was to slow down and take the time to check in on a few fundamentals:
When I finally did that, my life began to move forward once again. Nearly fourteen years ago I learned the all-important lesson of taking regular time out to think, to evaluate and to plan. And yet despite that knowledge, in the past year I got caught up in the vortex of to-do lists, work, family obligations and fire-fighting (the metaphorical kind).
It dawned on me back in June that things needed to change, so I forced myself to stop. I cut my work load in half, I stopped writing my blog, I dropped off social media and I stepped back from several activities.
What did I do? I went swimming and cycling, a lot, with my girls. We travelled, had BBQs with friends and I spent a great deal of time thinking about my businesses. As my husband describes it, I moved from tactics to strategy.
The result? On the personal front I had one of the best summers in memory. From a professional perspective, I have begun a complete reorganization of one of my businesses and I have revamped the way my day is organized. Every week there is built-in, non-negotiable time to think, evaluate and plan. As a result I have accomplished more in the last two months than I did in the six months before that. It’s remarkable what a little bit of time to think can yield.
And, I’m back to my blog. After a necessary hiatus I’m ready to continue my goal of sharing lessons learned with other women and I’m looking forward to interviewing more remarkable widows and divorcees.
Before I sign off, here are my questions for you: How many balls are you juggling at the moment? Are you on track for your own personal and professional goals? If not, I recommend that you take Mrs. C.’s advice: Go slow to go fast. At the top of your to-do list you might want to add the following: “Think”.
I’d love your feedback. Please share your experiences and wisdom either through the comment section on this page or by emailing me directly. Thanks for reading!