"I had this really weird thought on the way over here," I tell my therapist earlier this week. She looks interested as I continue, "I didn't want to come here today because I didn't want to do the heavy work we've been doing."
She doesn't say anything. Just looks at me with that calm therapist-y look she has.
So I go on.
"I just realized today that I am feeling very resistant to the heavy emotional stuff we've been doing because it's getting to be 'that time of the year' [my crazy busy season at work] and I feel like I have to pull everything inside of me. Kind of marshall all of my resources and gather the troops. Y'know what I mean?" I ball up my fists and pull in my arms close to my body to demonstrate, "So when I was coming over here I thought to myself that I just can't spare the energy to open myself up like I have been. I can't do the heavy emotional lifting. I can't do it and I don't WANT to do it."
My therapist nods and asks, "So, how does that feel in your body."
Considering that I have pulled my knees up, my arms are crossed, and my fists remain in tight balls...I'd say that I feel pretty tight, stressed and uncomfortable.
The thing of it is that I am coming to "that time of the year" in my job - the busiest, craziest time of the year where I'm going to be facing each day at a dead run with no stopping: lots of daily travel, client meetings most everyday, multiple presentations each day in October and November, preparing tons and tons and tons of prospect letters that I not only sign but on which I write personal notes, lots of follow up with clients in December and more client meetings, etc. etc. etc.
And, until this year, I had not ever really been consciously aware of the fact that at this time each year I do just pull everything inside of me. That I put up walls and retreat into myself in a vain attempt to save every bit of energy because I know that I'm going to be crazed and absolutely exhausted for the next few months.
The rest of my life pretty much stops from August to the end of December.
Or, at least, it has stopped in the past.
But no more.
The truth is that I can't do this to myself again. Sacrifice my life for my job.
It's slowly killing me.
Yet here's why I do it and keep doing it: I'm kind of a perfectionist when it comes to work.
I'm that idiot that's still in the building at 10:00 p.m. working on something for a client that's technically due the next day, but if I called the next day and said to the client, "I hope you'll accept my apologies, but I miscalculated how much time I actually needed to prepare these materials for you. I'm going to deliver them to you tomorrow morning instead of today" the client would - 98% of the time - be just fine with that.
I'm that idiot that says "Yes" with a smile to her supervisor and to others about taking on new projects and joining new teams when she knows perfectly well that her plate is already full to overflowing.
I'm that idiot that isn't good at asking for help or delegating tasks. Every year in September a temporary staff person is assigned specifically to me to help me during our crazy, busy season. And every year I fail to utilize that person the ways that I could and should. "It'll be better and faster if I just do it myself," is the thought that always runs through my head. Even after I was part of the hiring process last year and knew that we had hired really good, competent people.
I'm that idiot that cannot let go.
So, I pull inward to focus all of my energy into being my perfectionist self - the person that will throw herself head first into the job, work the crazy hours, take on too much, and end up exhausted and burned out from the busy season.
"How can you do your job differently?" my therapist has asked me on any number of occasions over the last year.
I entered therapy several years ago because I hated my job. Or at least I thought I hated my job. The process of therapy has uncovered SO much about me that has almost nothing to do directly with my job, but has also revealed some completely interesting reasons as to why I'm still in this job.
"How can you do your job differently?" my therapist asks repeatedly. She doesn't confirm that I need to be looking for a new job (as I tell I want to) nor does she assure me that I am most assuredly in the wrong job. No, she asks me, "How can you do your job differently?"
By asking me this over and over it seems to me now that she's basically saying without saying, "Your job is fine. Chances are that you'll be exhausted and unhappy in ANY job because your behavior and the way that you approach your job will be just the same."
I've felt totally exhausted by my work for years and years.
"How can you do your job differently?"
Until this week, I had not been able to come up with an answer to this question. I couldn't see the answer. Because I didn't truly understand the question. Because I had no awareness of just how much I was sacrificing myself to the Gods of Work each busy season.
But now I see it.
It took three years of therapy to figure it out (apparently I'm a slow learner...)
It's not the job.
It's how I approach the work. It's not the work itself.
And I realize that I can and have to do my job differently. In a way that I might actually be able to enjoy it, be successful and not end up totally burned out.
I need to really and truly plan for and prepare for the busy season.
In the past, I've done some prep for my busy season, but I realized recently that I haven't done nearly enough and thus ended up working late nights and weekends because there were numerous things that I hadn't and could have done in advance. So I took 3 days last week and I've taken much of this week to prep my materials.
I need to delegate.
There are tasks and accounts that I could certainly delegate to my temporary staff person. Stuff that I have not been willing to let go of in the past. And I need to plan ahead of time just what I will delegate. Last year, because I really hadn't prepped myself, I was doing just about everything on the fly like my hair was on fire. Yeah, that was bad...I didn't know from one minute to the next what needed doing and so I couldn't really make any informed decisions about delegating. Won't be doing that again...
I need to have a life outside of work.
There are people that I love - friends and family - my husband for goodness sake! - who I rarely see over the course of my busy season and that has to change. I can't lock myself up in my office and then my home for 5 months and expect to feel happy. I need to make time for and commit to reaching out to people. No more pulling inward and retreating. Dates with my husband! Game nights with friends! Girls Nights Out! Life goes on in the midst of the busy season. Well, it should go on. So, I have to make it happen.
I need to utilize my new art studio.
Being creative isn't an option for me anymore. It's a must. I feel alive when I'm making art and when I'm writing. So I need to get down there and use it.
I need to ask for help.
Not so good at this and never have been. But I know if I am going to be at all successful and not lose my sanity that I have to ask for help.
And, actually, I started yesterday.
"I need some help," I say to one of my colleagues.
(I actually say the words "I need some help"...It's a miracle.)
She shoots me an inquiring look.
"Here's the thing...I need to get energized for the busy season. I'm feeling kinda burned out and I just need something to re-energize me and re-inspire me for what's coming. So I was thinking that our team needs to do something. I don't know what - maybe a great team dinner somewhere or some kind of mini-retreat -"
I'm about to make some other suggestions when my colleague says, "Ooo! I'll plan it! I love doing this kind of thing!" just as my supervisor walks up with her own inquiring look.
So, I say, "I was just saying that I need some help," (there! I said it again!) "because I've been feeling like I need to get re-energized for the busy season."
"So we want to do some kind of retreat!" says my colleague.
My supervisor gives us the green light.
I put it out there in the Universe that I needed help and help arrived.
"How can you do your job differently?"
It took a long time to get to this place. I don't know if I'll be able to change behavior that is deeply ingrained in my being, but I know I have to try.
This is going to involve some seriously heavy lifting...