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Mistakes I made - pushing through overwhelm is a necessary on the road to achieving my goals

mistakes i made Apr 29, 2020

One of the many mistakes I made during my highly successful career as a Maths teacher was thinking I had to push through overwhelm and force my mind to focus. I thought that if I got my work done then I could recover later, that these increasing feelings of overwhelm were temporary - that as I got better at my job, learnt all the processes and honed my teaching skills, the horrid fog of cognitive overload and brain ache would lift and I would feel more like my usual high functioning, fast-thinking self.


This sometimes happened. Teachers are fortunate to get regular breaks and unlike a lot of teachers, I chose not to work in most of mine because I didn’t think it was healthy and the intensity of term time meant I was not in a fit state to anyway. I chose to compartmentalise my life into very intense over-loaded schools days and tried desperately to keep home time for the rest of my life.


The surprising thing, looking back, is that although I honed my skills and eventually contributed to simplifying some of the systems, I never really got the hang of living well whilst enjoying a career I’d worked hard for, was really good at and loved. I remember writing a blog very early on in my career entitled ‘I love my job but it’s killing me’ and I don’t think there was a single half term holiday where I didn’t sit opposite my partner in a cafe and cry with the frustration of having found work I loved that felt like a vocation, but being too utterly exhausted to do it and live the life I always intended to.


I tried so many things - I’m a big reader and love a trip down a google rabbit hole. I made huge changes to every aspect of my life - hacked my productivity, my sleep, my diet, my fitness routine. Tried prioritizing everything else that was getting sacrificed - relationships, hobbies, experiences, fun - over work. Somethings worked well for a while, some just added to my whack-a-mole to-do list and overwhelm. Some made me feel a bit crap about myself  - like I should be able to cope better.


In the end, my constant question became - why? Why am I not loving this dream life I’ve worked so hard to create. I blamed the education system, management, colleagues, parents, the government, but mostly, I blamed myself as just not being tough enough.


Eventually I, like many, burnt out. My bright shiny new career didn’t even last a decade. But it did engulf the majority of my 40s. Years I can’t get back. 


So was it worth it? I found the road out of burnout tough. It took a frustratingly long time for my energy to return, for my mind to regain its sharpness, for my body to feel truly well. But I think some of that was my fault. In fact, I would go as far as to say that my whole story could be rewritten 


Why did I believe that I had to choose between success and my very health and wellbeing? Why did I feel I had to sacrifice so much to have work I felt to be deeply satisfying and meaningful? Where do these mistaken and damaging beliefs come from?


Well, firstly they’re all around me. Secondly, I did challenge them. I do not believe it has to be this way. But I don’t think anyone really believed me. So I quit.


I quit my job with much shame and grief and sadness but in the end much relief and being me, much hope and excitement about my future in my new wellbeing business. And this is what I found. I was very surprised to find just how difficult it is to break the habits that led to my burnout. The mistaken belief that I have to sacrifice my health and wellbeing to be successful as an entrepreneur. The postponing of my life now for some future imaginary life where I am able to wake up feeling excited and energised about my day, where I have time for the people and things I love, where I prioritise my health and have a whole lot of fun.


Same shit keeps revolving - until I dared to stare it in the face and catch it out. My trickster of a mind with it lying nonsense.


Success,  by definition, surely means health, wealth and happiness. If my business makes millions but to run it I have none of those things then I am not successful.


I found a better way. To recover my energy, clarity and start living with the ease I crave I now tune in to my body and listen deeply. I realised I was treating myself a as a slave - each time my body produced an inconvenient niggle I shut it down and pushed on through. Cumulatively this led to exhaustion, physical pain and complete disconnection from my why - a rubbish place to be as a Maths teacher; a rubbish place to be as a human.


As an entrepreneur, I need to be connected to my purpose, have the clarity to focus on my goals and the energy to build my business. Tuning into my body and listening to it as the old friend it is, has taught me all this is possible - that those inconvenient niggles are, in fact, my compass. When I move towards what excites me I get immense surges of energy and inspiration and am able to create and write with ease. When I ignore these niggles - the tired eyes, the clogged thinking, the need for movement and connection, I get overwhelmed and end up going round in circles in a highly ineffective way. My body gets sick and I get frustrated and then I lose my way - a useless place to be as an entrepreneur, daring to blaze on own trail.


I quit my job to design my life in a way that works for me. What I found was the habits of burnout are ingrained from a culture that believes you can have time or money, health or success. This is nonsense. I believe we can have it all but we need to connect with our bodies and stop overusing our minds.


I feel like Yoda when I say  'the answers you seek are inside of you’ but ‘doh!’ it turns out they are. Your body - those physical sensations of exhaustion, brain ache from pushing through overwhelm, sleeplessness and unease - they are helpful signals to find your path of ease.


The easier way feels easy - in your body - just tune-in and listen.


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