Raise your hand if you feel like you’re not doing enough.
Accomplishments? Nothing major. Rewards? Few. Performance? Not as good as it could be. What still needs to be done? Everything.
If this sounds familiar, then you probably were on the phone with me this week, or buttonholed me at that party Friday night.
It seems so many people look at themselves with utter disappointment. What they do doesn’t matter, and if it does matter then talking about it is bragging so… let’s not talk about it. No time to rest. No time to reflect. More stuff to do. Got to keep moving.
The problem with this mindset is pretty clear. Thinking this way ratchets your stress level up to 11 on a 10 point scale, and never allows you the satisfaction of a job well done. When there’s no satisfaction in what you’re doing, there’s no way to like what you’re doing.
A man has a performance review at work. His supervisor and peers consistently rate his work at 4s and 5s, on a 5 point scale. He, however, rates himself at a 1 or a 2 on all categories. He’s mystified at how his co-workers can rate him so high — he doesn’t believe them. Don’t they know he’s a failure? He could be doing so much more.
A woman feels she’s disappointing her husband because she’s not a gourmet cook, and her housekeeping skills are not so hot, especially with the baby in the picture and given her full-time job. She spends a lot of time apologizing. He says there’s nothing to apologize about — he loves the food she cooks and thinks she’s a wonderful mother. She doesn’t believe him. Doesn’t he know she’s a failure? She could be doing so much more.
Her husband feels he’s disappointing her because he’s not making as much money as her brother, and he’s not as good with a power tool as most men. She tells him she’s proud of his work and that power tools aren’t that important, that she loves him and he’s a good father. He doesn’t believe her. Doesn’t she know he’s a failure? He could be doing so much more.
So whaddya gonna do? Well, let me suggest two things.
First, ask yourself: What will success look like? Put yourself in the successful mindset. What’s your life like then? Make a list of all the elements that compose your successful life.
Now, look at your list. How realistic is it? How much is under your direct control? If success looks like taking time to write — you can do that. If success looks like everyone obeying your commands with no argument — you can’t do that, sadly, even if you became a dictator. Dictators often die horribly messy deaths in their attempts to squash the thoughts and behaviors of others — and who wants that?
Understand where your unrealistic definitions of success come from (“I want people to obey me because I hate arguments”) and, instead of banging your head against the wall, learn some techniques to disagree effectively. You can start with the book Crucial Conversations by Patterson, Grenny et al.
Second, take a few minutes to look at what you’ve really accomplished. At this time of year, I always sit down and write out 20 Things I Have Accomplished This Year. They can be ordinary things like: got the trash to the curb every week. Think that doesn’t matter? Hey, what’s the alternative? A huge pile of smelly trash spilling out all over your yard? Believe me, getting the trash to the curb matters! As does paying your bills on time, or getting a physical, or a colonoscopy, or training a new employee at the office. Getting through the budget process, or caring for an elderly parent, or making your kid’s school lunches — they all matter. And you’ve accomplished all of them.
But you haven’t cured cancer. Or won the Nobel Peace Prize (unless you’re Al Gore). OK. But your best friends and closest family would likely give you a prize for all you do for them. Am I right?
My guess is that you are probably doing enough. More than enough. Acknowledging that and giving yourself credit for it can help reduce your stress level. And, looking a hard look at your expectations of success laid next to your actual accomplishments can provide a roadmap for your future success. Your roadmap may show that you need to reallocate your time and attention — and spend more time creating meaningful success and less time wallowing in your perceived failure.