On Being Realistic
I've been noticing a pattern recently.
I sat down to coaching with my boss a few months ago and explained that I was feeling frustrated and burnt out because it felt like I couldn't keep up and was failing. To my dismay, he reacted with "If you're setting unrealistic expectations for yourself, of course you're going to feel like that."
Huh? Getting to zero inbox, completing all my projects ahead of time and making everyone happy all the time is completely realistic, what was he talking about?
A few months ago I broke up with a guy I was seeing, it was the first time I had been in love in my adult life and a few weeks after the fact I admitted to Bex I was not in a good place and proceeded to list all the reasons why, how I wanted to feel and what I wanted to accomplish. And to my dismay, she said: "Wow Em, that's a lot of pressure on yourself, don't you think you're being unrealistic?"
Once again I was left saying "huh?" Working out every day, feeling my best, drinking enough water, getting enough sleep, having a full and active social life, acing work, dating, having me-time, and always doing all my chores every week is completely realistic, what was she talking about?
So today I'd like to share my thoughts on being realistic, which I'm obviously great at.
"Realistic" is defined as "having a sensible or practical idea of what can be achieved or expected." When Bex and I first launched the blog we set out to post on the blog about 3-4 times a week, we had romantic visions of ourselves on Sunday afternoons at our local coffee shops pouring our oh-so-unique viewpoints into beautifully written posts, curating compelling material and photos every day and developing a loyal fan base quickly. Obviously, that was not the case, not even close.
Soon after we launched the blog (which took months of planning and prep after I returned from my recent visit to London) we soon realized our dreams of the blog sky rocketing to success would be a longer road than we imagined.
It's easy to set unrealistic expectations for yourself, I think it's something we all have a tendency to do. I'm lucky in that whatever I've put my mind to up until this point in my life has come somewhat easy to me. I wanted to graduate high school in 3 years and travel the world, so my young-high-energy self-did just that, in college I wanted to make Deans List every semester and get an A on my senior thesis-- so with all the time in the world I spent more nights than I can remember in the library and finished what I set out to do. When we launched the blog things were picking up at work, I had just accepted a part time volunteer position with an organization I'm a part of, my social life full and happy and I was in the thick of a relationship... time was not on my side. And so I came to the conversation with my boss that left me confused, me? unrealistic? no way.
That conversation left a great impression on me and with practice, reluctance and a lot of patience I *think* I have the hang of setting and managing my expectations of myself (and others) more realistically... for the most part.
You cannot do everything and be everything for everyone at all times, it's simply not possible. I have an extremely multi faceted job where I wear a lot of hats, and while I'm blessed to have a job that I love, I think I took it way too seriously the first year and a half. Mistakes and road blocks are not only inevitable but important for growth. How you handle those roadblocks is what matters, trying to replace frustration with critical thinking is important for me in managing my expectations of myself.
On the same note, on any given day you'll be left juggling rubber balls and glass balls, the rubber ones will bounce back and can be picked up in the same form at any point in time, the glass ones will of course shatter and cannot be repaired. You will eventually drop a ball or two, just make sure you drop the rubber ones, not the glass ones. This metaphor was one my boss shared with me and has really helped me manage my expectations of myself professionally and personally because it's true. You can't get frustrated every time you drop a ball, sometimes you have to, instead, you need to prioritize appropriately so when push comes to shove you can easily drop the rubber balls and tend to the most important things first. Your rubber balls will be right there when you're ready to pick them up again.
The blog was a real sore spot for me, launching one with Bex was something I dreamed about for over a year, so I really felt like I was failing when I couldn't live up my idea of what it should look like. Bex and I have since regrouped and reassessed what's important to us content wise and we know that quality will always trump quantity for us so we make a point to not get upset if we don't post as often as we like. We know we'll be happier if we take the time to get posts right vs. posting just to post.
Take your time off seriously, this is still hard for me. Burn out is a very real and damaging thing-- it's important to pulse check yourself from time to time to figure out if you need a break. Most importantly, when you do take time off-- be off. Don't check email, don't jam pack your days with back to back activities, but also, don't just lay in bed all day. Use your time off to refresh yourself body and mind-- sleep in, do your errands, see your friends, watch that TV you want to catch up on. I found that I would burn out so hard I would often use my Sundays to lay in bed all day because I was so mentally and physically exhausted. While in the moment that felt great, on Monday I would feel even more overwhelmed because none of my chores got done, my blog post didn't get written and I didn't catch up with friends-- feeling the need to jam pack my work nights with social activities even though I have early morning workouts.
Setting and managing realistic expectations will always be a work in progress for me. Overall being kind to myself was the single most important way I learned to reset my expectations. Am I going to get to everything every day? Absolutely not. With prioritization, planning, and patience I'm better able to be realistic about what's possible on any given day. I still sometimes kick myself and feel frustrated, but with time I've learned to laugh at myself more than I kick myself and life goes on.