Why You Should Stop Trying to Save the World

Our obsession with “multitasking” and “leaning in” is impacting our ability to be effective and impactful.

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Man Carrying the World

I get it. You’re committed to making a difference in the world. You love you what you do and you’re good at it. But you struggle with finding the right balance between your work and having a fulfilling personal life. Your life is further complicated by the daily barrage of emails, texts, tweets, meetings, and other distractions that stress you out.

The Challenge

If this sounds like you, chances are you’re suffering from what I describe as Intention Deficit Disorder (I.D.D.), or a lack of intention or clarity about why you’re showing up to your life. This means you’re probably crystal clear about the mission and vision of the organization you serve but have much less clarity about your own personal mission in life. Or that you give so much to your work that you barely have anything left over for yourself and your family and friends.

I know because I used to be like you, and I’ve helped countless professionals just like you over the years. During my previous career, I was often on the edge of burnout trying to do my part to fulfill my organization’s vision of a world free of HIV and hepatitis. Things were so out of control at one point that I was depressed, had gained a ton of weight, and wasn’t eating or sleeping right.

But no matter how long, hard, or smart I worked, there was never enough time or money to get it all done. I realized that even if I worked myself to death, the work wouldn’t stop. The emails would keep rolling in and the projects would keep moving ahead — this time without me.

Why It Matters

The truth is that we all have the same 168 hours in a week and the same affliction called life, which means we all have an expiration date. It’s also true that our obsession with “multitasking” and “leaning in” is impacting our ability to be effective and impactful. Moreover, research now shows that working long hours (e.g. 50+ hours/week) makes you less (not more) productive.

After flirting with burnout and exhaustion, I realized I needed to take to time refill regularly because I couldn’t continue to pour into my colleagues and our work from an empty cup. If I wanted to make a positive impact over the long-term, I needed to start investing as much in myself as I was investing in my work.

What to Do

If you really want to make a difference, start by taking time for yourself right now because you can’t “change the world” if you’re not around long enough to make that happen. Also know that emails, projects, and other work will never stop or slow down enough for you to catch up. There will never be a perfect time to take time for you. If you’re doing worthwhile work, there will never be a shortage of challenges on your plate.

So, I hereby give you permission to stop trying to save the world. If you stop thinking you must go to work each day and save the world, you lift a tremendous burden off yourself and those around you.

Yes, go out and do good. Work hard. Make a difference. But also make time to be present for your family and friends. Have a hobby. Take care of yourself.

Most of all, take some time to consider these important questions:

  1. At the end of your life, what will your impact or legacy be (personally and professionally)?
  2. Are you currently investing your time in ways that align with the impact you want to have?
  3. What changes must you make to live a life aligned with the legacy you want to leave behind?
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