I am, by nature, a Yes person. I love to make people happy and I learned early in my career that saying Yes – and just jumping in without worrying how – is a fast way to grow personally and professionally. It worked well for many years and my career progressed farther than anyone could have imagined. I grew very adept at adding new responsibilities, figuring things out, and making it all work.
For example, I left my second maternity leave 2 weeks early to launch a new client project that included regular travel. Then not quite a year after that, while I was still very active with that initial client project, I started another one. I didn’t have to do it, but the opportunity came my way and I jumped in.
The new project was local and I rationalized that while it was a heavy workload, at least I wouldn’t be away from home more than I already was. Then immediately after the launch, the client location changed to overseas. I could have backed out at that point but I believed I could make anything work so I pressed forward. Needless to say, it was overwhelming. My husband was understandably stressed with his own business and taking care of our two little ones, and I was exhausted.
This is when I learned that sometimes we find our limits by going past them.
Years later, we welcomed our third daughter. It was around that time that I was on a client project that stretched me in a new way: I found myself in the odd position of my boss and my client wanting two different things. I couldn’t please either one. I should have told my boss early on that what he expected wasn’t likely to happen, but that would have meant disappointing him, failing my assignment, and a step back in my career. Naturally, I didn’t like any of those options so I kept at it for months, trying to figure out a way to make everyone happy. I lost a lot of sleep, dreaded phone calls and meetings, wondered what it was all for and invalidated myself for not finding a win-win, all the while forcing myself to stand tall and smile. It was eventually too much. I became burned out and asked to be taken off the project. It was humiliating.
I wish I could say I learned all my lessons about my limits, when to figure things out and when to be candid, but no. I had to go through a more intense version of it a few years later in order for the lesson to sink in. The circumstances were different, the symptoms were similar but worse and at the end of it, I decided to leave my job.
Sometimes we need to eject in order to restore.
I used to think “If you can, you should” but I learned the hard way that saying Yes (or continuing to say Yes) isn’t worth it when it means:
These things happen far more than anyone wants to admit, and most of us are really damn good at hiding it. It took me a while to feel normal again. The following practices helped me recover, and even though life and work are pretty great these days, I still do these to keep from falling back into old habits: