THE CHALLENGE OF OVERCOMING AN INGRAINED WORK MINDSET

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One of the reasons I decided to begin again with a new blog was to move as far away as possible from the obligatory hustle mindset. I’m at a point in life where I want to slow the pace a little and ensure I can apportion more time elsewhere. First and foremost to myself in terms of wellbeing and creative projects but also to feel I have space to flex around my family’s needs too. 

Some time ago I recognised that I have a tendency to stand in the way of my own creativity and general wellbeing by working myself to the point of exhaustion. I always set out with good intentions and yet somehow, end up taking things too far and then take way too long to realise when enough is enough. It all becomes too much and there is no time left to “just be”. To simply stop and do nothing… or at least something that isn’t born of a work or domestic Must Do list. I suspect that I’m not alone in this by a long shot.

Ironically, this new place I’ve created to facilitate a pace of work I feel more in control of, almost lead me headfirst into another bout of too much… right after I hit publish. But more on that in a moment.

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A few weeks ago I began seeing a therapist for counselling and some CBT and it’s been completely enlightening in lots of ways… and possibly the best investment I’ll ever make in myself. She recently explained to me the thought process behind a concept called the Fertile Void. A slice of time that happens between one thing and another, and in that particular conversation, we were relating it to being the small space that comes after the work day and just before the evening segment begins. A space essential for unwinding from the plans and tasks of the day and time to just let thoughts come and go with no real agenda. Perhaps I used to have something like that on the drive home from the office many years ago. But one thing I know for sure is that I haven’t had anything akin to it since I’ve been working for myself.

Not only do I need this particular Fertile Void but if I’m to continue on with my creative work and entertain the possibility of new ideas for the business then I need a bigger one in addition. The smaller daily one is for my own sanity and wellbeing - it’s just a line to draw between Work Me and Family Me. The larger space is essential in order to carry on feeling creatively inspired. And for the longest time it feels like I haven’t been allowing myself either of them - not an inkling or a shred.

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Recognising An Ingrained Work Mindset

I’ve realised that I’m once again succumbing to the self-imposed pressure to fill every possible hour with work - I’ve left no space for rest or pause. An hour away from my desk has come to represent an hour wasted… one I could be putting to good use, ticking off more on the list(s). Same goes for an afternoon or a day off. 

Now that I recognise the trap I find myself caught in, I tried to get my head around why and where it stems from. Working from home and only having yourself to answer to sounds pretty good... and it is because it comes with a healthy degree of freedom. But it also leaves you susceptible to a certain amount of negative influence, self-doubt, comparison to your peers and sometimes a feeling of isolation. Comparison I’ve talked about before but it turns out it’s more of a challenge than I thought to keep up with practicing what you preach.

And then there's the constant possibility of being required to swing back into Mum mode at the drop of a hat - what if that need arises when I’m right in the middle of something deadline driven? The thought that it will and that I’ll have no backup when it happens is enough to send me into a tailspin… and then I become that annoyingly efficient forward planner. Except… it only makes me inefficient as it turns out. In planning for something that probably won’t happen, I end up trying to squeeze every possible hour out of the appropriate work slots in the day. Which means my productivity levels drop to below zero.

I’d be lying if I said there was no guilt factor associated with taking time out without agenda either… and just to admit this annoys the crap out of me. I’m not going to get into why, particularly as women, we insist on swathing ourselves in this needless guilt - we just do and I know I’m not alone in this. I think at this point, it’s more useful to acknowledge it and then try and address it, as opposed to questioning where it comes from in the first place.

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For me these seasons of over-doing it seem to come in cycles too. With the new blog project, I’ve been in what Jen Carrington refers to as a season of hustle and hard work. I’ve just brought a newly rebranded site to fruition. A project that began to form in my mind last September, started to intensify in March and launched just over a couple of weeks ago. So it’s only right that I should have been giving it my all in the final stages. 

But guess what I found myself doing on the weekend after the Friday launch? I forgot to stop the cycle, get off and park it awhile. Which in turn lead to me panicking about the blog’s success. How will it be perceived? How can I ensure I make sure it “takes off”. Can I deliver on my promises? What mind blowing, insightful subjects am I going to write about come Monday morning? Oh god… I need to work much harder at this!

Small Steps To Changing It

Here’s the thing. Firstly I spend ten months immersed in it and then I don’t even allow myself two bloody days to let it lie, bed in or let the dust settle. Where was my break to acknowledge the achievement, celebrate it… and re-coup a little energy? I wouldn’t treat an employee like that so why do it to myself? Come Monday morning and the moment I got to my desk in the new guise of simply START living, I froze. I felt paralysed by self-imposed pressure, exhaustion and a degree of tiredness that I haven’t felt in a long time. 

Secondly… this is not the bedrock on which this new site was built to exist. Why did I change it all up? Oh yeah… that’s right… the slower pace thing remember? Well it turns out that it's really hard to break old habits. Old habits like self-doubt, confidence in my own decisions, comparison (again) and worrying too much about what people are thinking about the change. When the reality is that they’re not thinking about it at all. 

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When you add all these elements together, you can sure as hell bet that any moments of creative inspiration I was looking forward to were nowhere to be found. So here’s how that post-launch Monday played out…

I fannied around with a load of admin in the morning - nice and safe and nothing to be judged on there. I walked the dog, during which time, these revelations were starting to make themselves apparent. I walked to my therapist appointment in the afternoon thinking I had nothing much to talk about. And then promptly spent the best part of the session in tears, admitting exactly how I was feeling about this, mixed in with some other deeper, personal stuff too. When it came to the work aspect, with her help, I realised I’d fallen back into the very place I said I no longer wanted to be in. And I was so angry with myself for allowing it to happen but also entirely grateful that I’d caught “the monster” before it properly escaped.

At times like this, small steps are required. I came home and rather than going back to my desk at 4:00pm which would be the norm, I instead took time to vacuum up that day’s round of dust created by the decorator. Then I sat down on the sofa with the dog and the next chapter of my book… which turned out to be a completely serendipitous thing.

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Space Is Essential

I’m reading Elizabeth Cairns - The Empowered Entrepreneur * and the chapter was called “Space - The Essential Component Of Inspired Work.” Not only am I so grateful that Jennie recommended this book to me a few weeks ago but to open it up and read this section on this day seemed like pure and simple fate. At 6:00pm I went into the kitchen to chop vegetables for our Monday stir fry and listen to music. By the time we sat down to eat, I felt a whole lot different than I had in a long time. I also vowed not to publish any content on the blog that first week as there were already three new pieces on there that I’d gone live with. Otherwise, when is enough enough?

A whole lot of other stuff has been going through my mind since the fateful post-launch Monday, from how badly I treat my “work self” to really wanting to step away from the habits that I’ve formed over the past ten plus years of existing in an online (read: never off) world. But it’s up to me whether I make those changes one day… or make this day one.

These are small steps and I’m only just beginning to fully understand the bigger picture. In all probability, it’s a long and gnarly pathway ahead but just like the “simplify everything” mission I find myself on, I’m vowing to go with the flow of changing this ingrained work mindset. I want to enjoy the process and remember there is no one overarching goal or “state” to be achieved. 

It’s an ongoing journey to be relished, enjoyed and celebrated along the way.


If you’re interested in reading more on the concept, I really liked this piece by Kate Northrup about her experience of the bigger fertile void and what it meant for her creativity.

Photography: Marlene Lee