Exciting Experiment Ahead: Agile Book Writing

I am writing my second book, Healing Burnout. My first book, Avoiding Burnout, focused on how I got sick and principles to prevent such a significant health collapse. I can’t write two books exclusively on my own experience as I want my books to be applicable to a broad audience and to add value to people’s lives. It is also clear to me that burnout looks different from one person to the next.

experiment

In the past few weeks I have been interviewing people about their stress and how they respond to it. I have enjoyed this process far more than I anticipated. Setting up the interviews is a little scary and takes me back to the cold calling of my previous business. But people are surprisingly wiling to give of their time and to share their experiences of stress and burnout. I’m learning things that I had not considered before and I’m observing patterns developing. I’m gaining valuable insights that I can include in my book and share with my readers.

My husband is a coach in agile software development and we both have software roots. Being the rock star coach that he is, he reads up on methods of achieving efficient product delivery. I’m reading one of these books and I’ve decided that I would like to apply this approach to my next book. I’m going to experiment with releasing draft chapters to an audience and obtain feedback.

Agile software development has a core premise of absorbing customer feedback early in the product life cycle and including it into the ultimate product. Writing a book traditionally is like developing a software product. You spend months and sometimes years working on something that you are not sure people actually want or need. The first feedback an author receives might be from beta readers or the first reviews. By then, much money and time has been spent and there might be a lot of waste. It’s risky and costly.

My plan is to release one chapter at a time to an audience that signs up via my website. I hope to receive feedback from these beta readers so as to refine and ultimately deliver a useful product that adds value. I think that this will drive a higher quality product and I can build a following of readers in the process.

experiment

This is an experiment and there is a chance that it wont work well. But it feels a lot less risky than spending the next year on a book that might not be of interest to anyone. I’m excited about the process and the leanings along the way. And I’m engaging a coach to keep me on track and to have that external accountability that I know I need.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this idea and whether you’d sign up to receive a chapter a month.

Stress’ Benefits Vanquished my Quest

I usually wait until I’ve finished a book to blog about it but this couldn’t wait. I’m reading Kelly McGonigal’s The Upside of Stress and it has shaken my very foundation. I’ve spent a few years telling people about the dangers of stress and warning them that they could get as sick as I did. And I’ve realized that it was the wrong thing to do.

benefits

McGonigal’s book explains research from many studies that show how believing stress is harmful is what’s really bad for your health. She shows that the combination of high stress and believing it will make you sick actually does. It has disturbed me a lot in terms of my quest over the past few years to help others avoid getting as sick as I did.

She writes about the many types of stress response we experience and the benefits of these. She talks about the tend-and-befriend response where we release the love hormone, oxytocin in order to build social connection when we need support. She also talks about the challenge response which drives us to perform when we have goals or deadlines. Telling yourself you are excited rather than anxious before public speaking actually improves your performance.

How do I reconcile this new knowledge with what happened to me? I burnt out from severe work stress primarily. I developed a lifelong illness and as much as I acknowledge the gifts that burnout offered, I’m still a little confused. When completing online surveys, I rated my stress as moderate before I got sick. Of course, that was not an accurate assessment. I experienced very high levels of stress but I didn’t realize it was affecting my health.

Benefits

It took me a long time to place the label of burnout onto what happened. I struggled for years with chronic fatigue and to get my health back on track. I didn’t see that stress was the trigger for a long time. How do we know when we are stressed? I can say that I’m much more in tune with my stressometer now than I was before I got sick. I know that I start feeling overwhelmed and that I’m not coping.

I think it’s very important for us to identify what kind of stress we are experiencing. There’s the stress that comes with preparing for a speech. That’s the stress that shows me I care about doing a good job and I want to be able to remember everything and to make a difference to the people I’m addressing.

There’s also the too-much-to-do stress which I’m feeling at the moment. My youngest is turning seven on Sunday and we are having a huge party this weekend. My car stopped working, the oven broke and I’m running around ordering ice cream cakes and buying prizes for party games. This stress can be managed by writing lists, putting reminders in my calendar and outsourcing where I can.

Last year I experienced the stress of my child being in distress. I didn’t manage the stress well and it affected my health negatively. I know the stress came from wanting to help my child and wanting to take away her suffering. I need to find a way to offer my children support and guidance, without letting it affect my health.

There is also the stress of a trauma. I wrote about this in my book, Avoiding Burnout, where I experienced a stressful event that ultimately triggered my autoimmune disease. Amy Myers writes in her book, The Autoimmune Solution, that on average it takes about five years for an autoimmune disease to surface after a stressful event. This could be the death of a loved one, being a victim of a violent crime or a divorce.

My health deteriorated for years after this event and finally led to a lifelong illness.  It wasn’t the only factor of course. The work I was doing was the opposite of my strengths, I wasn’t getting enough sleep and I was pushing myself physically and mentally beyond breaking point. I have been reading a lot about burnout lately and I know that the standard warning signs were there: an increasing cynicism and a sense of hopelessness. My thoughts were spiraling negatively and I couldn’t see a way out of the misery.

It’s hard for me to see how I could have prevented getting sick and if I could have been educated to see stress in a different way. If that’s not possible, then I have no quest. If I’m not able to steer people away from the type of illness and suffering I endured in my three years of recovery, then I’m doing the wrong thing.

How we think about stress matters. Believing it is harmful and is to be avoided does not serve us. I accept the  notion that there are positive responses that help us to live in modern times where stress is unavoidable. But we do still want to avoid burnout. I’m wondering how viable it is for me to influence people to change their lives in order to avoid burnout. Would you listen? I know I would not have.

All the Effort has been Worth it!

At the end of 2014, my health started to collapse. I experienced a range of symptoms that I finally labelled as burnout. It took some time to get the right medical diagnosis and medical care but I was treated eventually for two things. Firstly, Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, an autoimmune disease where the immune system attacks the thyroid gland causing fatigue, weight gain and a range of unpleasant symptoms. This illness is for life and requires monitoring by an endocrinologist. I am also more likely to develop other autoimmune conditions.

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Secondly, my adrenal glands malfunctioned and were not releasing enough of a hormone known as DHEA which is responsible for energy and is used in generating a number of other hormones. This imbalance was not originally picked up by the doctors I approached and was only treated a year into my illness after finding the right practitioner. After spending a full year at home, not working, my blood tests revealed the lowest possible score in the range, indicating the chronic fatigue I was experiencing.

My thyroid function was chaotic at first. At the end of 2014, my thyroid became overactive, causing troubling symptoms such as tremors, heart palpitations, sweating, overheating, fatigue, weight gain and many more. It is hard to describe how terrible I felt but I thought I was dying. During 2015 my doctor slowed down my thyroid with medication. Since then, it is working and all my efforts have been on making sure it doesn’t collapse.

With my immune system attacking my thyroid gland, tissue is destroyed and I am at very high risk of becoming hypothyroid. For this reason, I have been working very hard in the past few years to calm down the attack. This is done by managing stress which is  not so easy, as well as cutting gluten out of my diet.

I sought a lot of medical care from a range of practitioners. The most valuable ones were my endocrinologist, homeopath and integrative (or functional) practitioner. The costs have been enormous, including consultations, medication, blood tests and supplements. I healed many aspects of my health that were contributing to fatigue. This includes eliminating viruses, improving the function of  lymphatic and digestive systems as well as reducing inflammation.

I have made many difficult life changes. I changed the work I do, relationships and many aspects of my lifestyle including sleep patterns, diet and exercise. It was a struggle to make these alterations and I kept wondering if it was worth it. I also spent a lot of time and money on alternative healing, addressing emotional and spiritual aspects of recovery. I sought the help of a psychologist for a few years to help me in unpacking how I got sick and to build my resilience.

I did my best to alter my life and direct it towards a happier existence but it is impossible to avoid stress completely. In times of high stress, for example at the end of last year when we had to change schools for our girls, my health deteriorated. I felt demoralized at times like this when I went to the endocrinologist and he increased my medication. I felt like I was on a downward spiral, despite all the hard work I put into healing and recovery.

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This week I had blood tests and my DHEA levels are as high as someone in their twenties. Of course, this is not ideal for a 43 year old but what it means is that my body is making enough such that I don’t need as much supplementation any longer. For the first time in four years, I can reduce my medication for the adrenal glands. My endocrinologist said that the adrenals are the key to thyroid recovery so this bodes well.

I finally feel that all of my efforts in the past four years are worth it. All the struggles to eat well, to get enough sleep, to make myself meditate. It’s worth it and it actually works. I felt like a failure after burning out and on top of that I just couldn’t seem to make headway with my health. This week’s news has given me such a boost in knowing that I have been doing the right things and all that effort was indeed worth it.

Personal Development

I am a big fan of personal development. I read many books on self improvement and I am passionate about building a better life for myself. I like to learn things and the top thing I like to learn is how to be better. This doesn’t mean that I’m particularly  unhappy with who I am but there is always room to grow and learn.

Development

This week I went to Cape Town for six days for a course in personal development. It cost more than I would usually spend and I was apprehensive about whether I’ll get my money’s worth. My cousin recommended the course and said he thought it would make a big difference in my life. It was complicated logistically because it’s school time and it’s a little tricky to enlist my husband to do all the homework, lunches and laundry. Of course, I’ve done all of the childcare when he has been away but he’s only a guy, after all.

I worried a lot about whether the family would cope without me and whether my health was strong enough to manage the long days in a room with other participants. When we travel, my husband usually handles the car hire and the accommodation. It was a challenge for me to sort out the logistics and I was very nervous about the whole trip and the course itself.

I figured out how to get around and navigated my way between the hotel and the training venue. I managed to drive a strange little car with manual transmission for a few days. The content of the course was good and I gained a lot but I also gained an insight from the mere trip. I realized that my health is strong enough to do what other people do and I handled the logistics and the long days of the course without issue. I’ve been feeling handicapped, or broken in some way. I spent three years recovering from burnout and I see that I became fearful, holding myself back in case my health deteriorates. That’s getting in the way of doing the things I need to do to move forward in my life and career.

I did a yoga class while in Cape Town and for the first time, I didn’t put any medical issues on the signup form. I actually feel that I can live life like a ‘normal’ person, not that there’s such a thing. I realized that I can accomplish much more than I have been allowing myself to imagine. Feeling as empowered as I do after the course, I created a list of things, all starting with ‘I can’ and I got to twenty one before I ran out of paper.

I spent two days in Cape Town after the training, enjoying the city. I went to the beach and spent time with the sand between my toes. I had fun on my own without the responsibility of getting people to dancing on time, getting homework done and feeding a bunch of other people. I had two days fully to myself which felt like an unbridled indulgence. I bought myself delicious meals like sushi and enjoyed the break from cooking. I slept late, I did whatever I felt like and I felt completely entitled to it. I can’t tell you a time in my life when I’ve felt more free.

I know I have to return to reality but it was such an important experience and I want to hold onto it. In the course, I learnt about reconnecting with relationships that I’ve let become distant and damaged. I realized that I’ve hardened my heart to many people who are close to me because I want to protect myself from hurt. But when we do that, we stop ourselves from letting the love in and I don’t want to do that anymore. I want to risk being hurt because it’s worth it.

On the course, I spent time with people of a variety of cultures, backgrounds and ages. I saw prejudice and grace. I laughed along with my fellow countrymen and women, enjoying the unique aspects of our people. I was touched by the stories people told of their traumas and experiences. I was moved and inspired to make my life better and to stop whining about my problems when I saw such potential in others who live with larger constraints.

I spent many years in recovery from burnout. I became isolated and disconnected from the world and the everyday people of my country. I feel part of humanity now and I have recognized that I need to connect with those I love and care about. Research shows that social relationships are the biggest contributor to our happiness. I need to implement what I’ve learnt and deeply invest in the relationships in my life.

It made me realize that I want to be back in the world again. I don’t want to sit on the outskirts, wondering if I’m well enough to participate in life. I am ready to dive in and be the person I am meant to be. I am ready to bring my gifts into the world and I can’t wait to get started. I am ready to live fully again.

Development

We become absorbed in our lives with all our routines and problems like they are insurmountable. I’ve gained a new perspective. It’s so good for us to get out of our environment and typical company now and then. It’s so valuable to challenge ourselves. We might find out that we can achieve more than we ever realized, or even wanted to achieve. The training material brought me closer to my calling and I’m more inspired than ever to bring my message to the world.

Surrender to the Silence

This month has been confusing. I thought it would be so busy considering it contains National Women’s Day and I love to talk on self-care. I only had one speech early in the month and no opportunities since. I expected a bumper month with at least three speeches. It has been my second highest month in book sales, second only to my launch month. But I’m surprised about the silence.

silence

When you earn income for yourself, a quiet month is not a good thing. My inbox is empty, my phone doesn’t ring and there are no prospects in the near future. It can be alarming and I did panic at first. I started to worry about what I’ve done wrong, what I haven’t done or even if this is the right path for me.

I used the time to meditate and to get admin done. I like to draw cards daily to see what messages might be available. I consistently get the message to just let life unfold as it should without trying to force it. If you operate without faith, you tend to be dominated by your mind and you can get yourself into a downward spiral of worry and doubt. You try to fix and force your way but this doesn’t work, in the long run anyway. There are times to just surrender and to go with the flow.

I decided to do just that, to let go and to trust the messages. I’ve spent more time meditating, I’ve had fun with my kids on the trampoline and swings and I’ve indulged in creativity. This holiday we have made candles, slime, mosaic and mandalas. I’ve worked on a crochet blanket for my oldest daughter and it’s close to completion. We have baked, laughed and connected with each other. Earning money is important but I think these experiences have been even more important.

Silence

Tomorrow it is back to school and I feel mixed emotions. Usually I can’t wait for the kids to be out of my hair and for me to be released of the guilt of working when they want to be with me. I usually feel relieved that I’m no longer torn between my girls wanting to spend time with me, and getting work done. This time, with no work to be done, I feel a little sad as I’ll miss the time spent together.

While they have been on holiday, I’ve enjoyed reading in place of homework. From all the books I’ve read, I’ve collected so many ideas on what to include in my next book. It feels like something is shifting in me, the calm before the storm. I’ve had afternoon naps and I’ve taken care of myself. Instead of punishing myself for some unknown failure that has led to the silence, I’m enjoying it. I surrender to the path my soul is taking me on. I’m grateful for all that has led me here and I’m excited about what’s next.

I’ve done a lot of networking in the past year and it has been rewarding. However, I’ve reached a point where I need more challenge in my work. I want to be making a bigger impact in the world. A while ago, I thought perhaps I need to go back into the corporate world and earn good income again. Selling books and doing speeches is something that can happen in the background. Writing my next book is probably also something I can do in my spare time if I get sufficiently organised. So, being ready to return to the working world, I applied for many jobs and nothing came of it. More silence.

I’m going on a training course in two weeks’ time in another city. This course is designed to bring out the best in the participants so it feels like the right thing for me now. I’m hoping this course opens up ideas, opportunities or contacts that lead to something new and exciting for me. I’m eager to see if this is something that will challenge me sufficiently to be a meaningful contributor to society. Even a change of scenery is often enough to spur ideas and to find creative solutions to problems.

Sometimes when things are not going the way we expect them to, or want them to, we panic. That creates a desperate energy that isn’t very useful and is not the place from which good decisions are made. Instead, I’m feeling calm. I’m not rushing into anything just to fill the silence. I’m not blaming myself or others. I’m just accepting that this is what is, right now. There is probably a reason for it. I didn’t get to this place of calm suddenly or easily, of course. Being the person I am, I tried so many things: job applications, contacting a speaker bureau, letting my network know I’m looking for work. And at the end of it all, the silence persists.

So, I’ve surrendered into it. This must be a time of quiet, perhaps a time of contraction before expansion. And maybe this is just what I need to give me the strength and enthusiasm for what’s coming. We are in the last week of winter so I should probably align myself with the seasons. Just relax until spring arrives with all its enthusiasm, optimism and energy. This feels a lot less stressful than trying to make things happen when it’s just not working. I’ve tried the A-type struggle and it led me towards stress and unhappiness. For the first time, I have enjoyed the silence instead of fighting it. Let’s see where this takes me…

Does Burnout mean Mental Breakdown?

I used to judge those with a ‘mental breakdown’ as being weak, as someone very different from me. It took me almost a year to insert the label of burnout onto what happened to me. My health collapsed, I got chronic fatigue and I developed an autoimmune disease that I will have for life. I have been very irritated when people I interact with say that I’ve had a mental breakdown. I’m not a mental case. But perhaps this is the thinking that’s been holding me back.

I got quite stressed recently about a few things. I had a speech for a client recently, and a case of fraud with a telecoms provider that I’m still trying to resolve. I let myself get so stressed about these things, worrying about whether my speech will land well, be worthwhile for the audience and whether it was worth spending the time and energy on it.

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I sold my book at a book fair last weekend and someone called me ‘the burnout lady.’ I’m not too thrilled about that label but that’s how my brand is evolving. I did feel compelled to call my book Avoiding Burnout. I’m not sure why, but I had to follow that instinct and I know that my next book has to be Healing Burnout. It’s not progressing very well, if you’re wondering.

The next book I write after Healing Burnout has to be about joy. I really want to show people that it’s possible to live a better life. But I have to get my act together first. I can’t spend weeks stressing about a speech that is just one part of my job. I can’t let myself get so stressed about normal events in life, that it affects my health. I need to find a way to do this work that I want to do, enjoy it and lead others towards joy at the same time.

I don’t want to be the burnout lady. I don’t want every speech to be about burnout. I know that my message is not as powerful unless I speak about how my life collapsed. In my speeches, I explain what happened to my health, and my life, as a result of becoming sick from stress. I know that many people don’t understand burnout and I must confess that before I got sick, neither did I.

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Like many people, I thought it was a mental breakdown. I imagined a sufferer of burnout in a straight jacket or maybe sedated in an asylum. The option of being hospitalized was offered to me. My psychologist said that I could check into a hospital and the minimum stay would be three weeks. For the first three days, I would be sedated to the point where I wasn’t conscious and I wouldn’t be able to see my family. Just to let my brain calm down from the extreme stress I was under.

I didn’t choose that option. I chose to carry on with life, doing my best to make changes in my own way. I didn’t want to have a psychiatric stay on my record because people judge it and perhaps I wasn’t ready to accept what was happening. I probably prolonged my recovery by making that choice and I wonder if it was the right one. Because people judge anyway. They judge me for having burnout. I keep wanting to call it something else, like ‘stress-induced illness’ so that people can see beyond the mental illness into the real issue: a lifelong autoimmune disease and the chronic fatigue.

It has become my quest to share with people what can happen to our lives if we let it. I want to educate people that they can develop a lifelong chronic illness as a result of too much stress. I want to help people to avoid the suffering that came with my illness. The effect on my life from the chronic fatigue. The effect on my children, my husband and my relationships. The effect on our lifestyle and financial situation. I want to help the world know this. But I think some people can’t get past the mental illness component.

Or maybe it’s me that can’t get past it. Maybe I’m judging myself for letting this happen, for not managing my stress well and for not seeing it coming. Maybe I’m the one I need to convince that there’s more to burnout than the failure. It’s possible that there are people who suffered burnout without the lifelong illness. Perhaps there are people who took the hospital stay and that helped them enough.

Maybe it’s okay to talk about depression and to admit that my brain wasn’t functioning that well when I was diagnosed. I know that I was very irritable, especially with my family but also at work. I know that my decision-making was compromised by the level of stress I was under. I know that I wasn’t leading my business and staff well at that time.

Perhaps what is needed is for me to acknowledge that and to forgive myself for all of it. The depression, the irritability, the shouting at my children, and the bad choices at work. I’ve been working on self-love and it isn’t an easy thing to get right for me. But perhaps this is part of it and if I can embrace it all, maybe that will lead me to a path of peace.

I might be able to be a more-encompassing representative for people who want to talk about burnout and what it did to their lives. Perhaps if I stop judging myself for the mental aspects, I’ll be at ease in talking about this topic and being the burnout lady others want to engage with.

Lonely in a Crowd

Yesterday, I had a busy day. I went to a celebration of women at my children’s school. At our previous school, the culture and the people didn’t feel right to me and I always felt that I didn’t fit in. Even though, it was my school and I should have felt at home there. I thought I’d fit in better with the mothers at the new school but I still feel so different and I realized yesterday that I’ll never fit in, anywhere.

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In the afternoon, I did some painting with a lovely group of ladies. I got the chance to be creative and I got to escape a few more hours of childcare. I love my children and I love being with them, but I do need a break sometimes from the relentless demands of being a mother.

On the way home, I felt this overwhelming sense of loneliness. I felt that feeling of being lonely in a crowd. I had been out all day with people and yet I felt so lonely. I couldn’t wait to get home to see my children and to be around people who love me, who need me and who understand me. I felt the opposite of needing a break from them. I really needed them.

When I got home, I went into the TV room where my girls were playing and I told them I felt lonely. They hugged me and invited me into their game and to sit with them. It was a great feeling and I am so very grateful to have these beautiful people in my life. I don’t always do the right thing and I often mess up but they love me anyway. They think I’m legendary despite all my faults and it feels so amazing to be loved and accepted this way.

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about the grief of a lifelong illness. There is so much loss and I’m still figuring out how to process it. I lost the ability to run ultra marathons which was a significant part of my life. It’s sad to know that I’ll never feel that excitement and the great energy of the crowd at the start of a race. I’ll never feel the sense of accomplishment that comes with crossing the line after a grueling few  hours of struggle. I’ll never be able to share stories and time with my running friends as we work towards common goals and achievements.

I’ve also lost the ability to simply eat and drink whatever I want. I had to give up gluten on my doctor’s advice since it has a harmful effect on my thyroid. I have to plan when going to functions, I stock my handbag with snacks or I eat before I go. I often have to put the host in a difficult situation in that I can’t eat so many things. I feel awful being the person who rearranges the menu around their needs. I feel like I’m the fussy and difficult one. I used to be the person who was willing to try anything – the fearless adventurous one. Now, I come from this place of fear, worried that I’ll make myself sicker by eating the wrong thing.

I miss being able to drink alcohol. It affects my adrenal glands in a negative way and it affects my sleep which is critical for someone who suffered with chronic fatigue for years. I can’t just enjoy a beautiful glass of red wine at a party or a dinner out. I’m always the designated driver, the wet fish, the sober one. I wish I could have a glass of port while watching the fire in our lounge in winter. I wish I could join in with everyone and feel part of every function. I wish I could just be like everyone else. But I’m not.

I know it sounds like I’m feeling sorry for myself. I am. Often, I just get on with it and find my way around it. But it is a loss. My life will never be the same and I mourn the old, carefree me. I used to taste all the food to tell my husband if it contains vegetables. Now, I can’t even have crisps for fear of the seasoning containing gluten. No one can understand my journey and how much life changed for me in the past few years. No one has felt my exact struggle. No one understands fully.

I have moments where I acknowledge that my life is better after my burnout than before. I know that I had to get very sick to get this message fully. I know that I’m now able to live the kind of life others envy. I’m nor aligned to my calling, I love my work and I am happy. But I also miss all the things that I’ve lost. I mourn my old life in many ways, even though it wasn’t healthy or sustainable.

lonely

I had a spiritual awakening as part of my life collapsing. My beliefs shifted fundamentally and in a way that feels very positive for me. I am very happy with my new beliefs and gifts that burnout offered me but it hasn’t been easy. It’s difficult to live this life and to make choices that make you feel so different from others. Fitting in is no longer an option. I feel far too different in my thoughts, views, beliefs and behaviors to fit in anywhere. I find that hard.

But there’s no going back now, and I won’t ever be able to unsee what I’ve seen and unlearn what I’ve learnt. The burnout I experienced was the catalyst to changing my life and to becoming a guide to others towards their best life possible. That is my path and I accept and celebrate it. I have to live in my truth and to be my authentic self. There is no alternative, but it’s still lonely.

Giving yourself permission to receive

Last week was a crazy week. I have been doing a lot of public relations to promote my book and I did four interviews in one week. Three radio and one television. It was a completely new experience for me and it felt like a whirlwind. At the end of the week, I was pretty tired so this week has been a quiet one.

For most of my life, I’ve been someone who shies away from the limelight. As a child I took on the belief that I wasn’t important enough to be center stage. I remember at my wedding being very uncomfortable about being so visible and I have had to do some internal work to be comfortable being seen. It’s important for me as a public speaker and a writer that I’m willing to be in the public eye as it will be impossible to spread my message otherwise.

receiving

I think this is quite a common feeling for many people. We struggle with things that might not be obvious. Things like receiving: love, money, opportunities, attention. There are many of us who like to give and that brings a certain feeling of control. We give to charity, we give our time and we give love freely to many people we come into contact with.

However, receiving feels different. Receiving is much more vulnerable and it’s often quite challenging for people to receive gracefully. Have you noticed sometimes how people can’t even accept something as simple as a compliment? I have friends who are such kind people that even when you give them a thank you gift, they share it with others immediately. How easy is it for you to sit back and enjoy something someone has given you? Are you able to receive with grace?

Before I got sick, I had a lot of trouble receiving. Even if someone took my children out for the day, I’d spend it cleaning, tidying or doing something unpleasant. I didn’t even give myself the permission to enjoy the afternoon off and to just relax and indulge in some TV time. When we dig down deeper, we see that at the heart of this behavior is a difficulty in receiving, and a low level of self-compassion.

Last Tuesday a cold front hit and the temperatures plummeted. I’ve been working hard looking for opportunities and also in getting a lot done in case I need to work full time. I’ve been stretching myself and I realized on Tuesday that what I really wanted was to be warm and a little more rest. After my family left for school, I got back into bed for another ninety minutes. I then had a long, luxurious bath and emerged mid-morning. In the past, I would never have given myself permission to do that,  mostly for fear of what people will think or say.

As children we long for the opportunity to do whatever we want. We think that as adults, we will have that freedom. The truth is, we do have more freedom than we think. It is sometimes difficult to see, however, that we are the source of the bars we put around our time and our lives. We have the keys, we just need to give ourselves permission to unlock.

In getting so sick from stress, I had to rebuild my life. In many respects, I set new rules for myself. I had to learn self-compassion and I continue build it as a skill, knowing that it has an impact on my stress levels. I have to keep reminding myself that I’m in charge of my life and if I want a few hours of rest and indulgence, I’m entitled to  it. I work really hard and I put in a lot of effort to build this new career as a writer and to keep our household running smoothly. I really deserve some rest occasionally.

The fact that I allowed myself to get back into bed and to have that lovely bath, shows me how far I’ve come. Three years ago, I would never have accommodated that. And who else is going to give me permission to care for myself if it’s not coming from me? How many of us are waiting for someone else to give us the things we want?

I have always been very hard on myself and I expect a lot. I expect to be further along my path of personal growth, healing and professional accomplishment than last week. I get so frustrated at set-backs like colds and flu because it knocks me off my pattern of progress. This kind of thinking is what led me to burnout in the first place so I need to keep checking myself and making sure that what I’m doing is bringing me joy and is what I really want out of life. For so long, I did things out of obligation and things I didn’t gain any joy from.

Early this week, I felt quite miserable. Maybe last week was quite heavy and I needed some rest and some fun after all the expectations and commitments. I kept asking myself what brings me joy and I realized that what I really want to be doing is creating things. I love drawing mandalas, I love crochet and making blankets for charity, and I love writing of course. I have just finished making some blankets and I didn’t have a new crochet project. Yesterday, I went to the wool store and bought myself a bunch of new colors. I can feel the excitement in my body of the possibilities, what new stitches I’m going to practice and learn as well as the joy of creating something.

Receiving

It is so important to connect with what brings us joy. We spend so much time chasing obligations, paying the bills and looking after everyone else. How about receiving something and doing it graciously? Give yourself permission to have some fun, to enjoy life and to connect with what brings you joy.

Focus on the Present

The last few weeks have been rough and in my previous post I wrote about how I’m looking for a job. One of the big realisations I had is that I’m not feeling happy. I’ve spent years researching what makes us happy and sharing those lessons with the people I encounter. I’m a guide towards living a happier life. Your best possible life. And yet, I wasn’t feeling the joy.

Present

I think every business owner has a lot of doubts at first. The first few years are tough and it’s normal to feel like what you’re trying isn’t working. It takes a long time to establish a brand and to gain interest in what you’re trying to achieve. I’m selling inspiration which is a difficult thing to quantify in terms of value.

I enjoy healing in many forms and I’ve experienced a lot of alternative healing in the past few years. Many people have told me that I’ll be enormously successful in my book sales and my endeavour. I keep getting the confirmation that I’m on the right path and that I’ve found my calling. It just feels like it’s taking so long and sometimes, it’s tricky to know what the next step is.

I think one of the reasons I  haven’t been feeling the joy lately is that I’m too focused on the future. I keep thinking about what life will be like in ten years time and I’m so excited to see my goals being achieved. However, I haven’t been focused on the present, on what’s happening now in my life.

Looking back a few years, I was so miserable. I was desperately ill from burnout, with no visible signs and not many people could empathise. I couldn’t do what everyone else completely takes for granted. I couldn’t go out twice in one day. I couldn’t manage to attend a children’s party with my kids. I even struggled to cook dinner at night. I felt so frustrated that it would take me years to be able to function normally. I just wanted to wish the time away.

And now, I’m able to do all of those things. I’m able to exercise and work a full day. I have energy to be with my kids and to care for my family. And yet, I’m still looking into the future for my happiness. I’ve been taking for granted what I longed for in the past. And this is why I haven’t been feeling happy. It’s one of the most obvious teachings of positive psychology: mindfulness.

Present

Research resoundingly shows that mindfulness increases happiness. I have been meditating but it has felt like a grudge activity. One that gets in the way of the other stuff I have to do. I haven’t been focused on enjoying the work I’ve been doing and the freedom that comes with working at home. I haven’t been grateful for the energy that I have and how well my body has recovered.

I’m doing my best to find a job. In the meantime, I’ve committed to myself to enjoy what I’m doing. Since I might be working full time soon, I’ve realised that I need to get everything done as quickly as I can. Just having this pressure has been such a positive thing for me and I’m accomplishing a lot more. That also builds my confidence and makes me feel good. Sometimes, a small mindset shift is all we need to galvanize our efforts towards what is needed in our lives.

Even if I take a few months to get a job, or if I simply can’t find one, I’m going to make the most of the next few months and try to achieve many things that will help me move towards my future goals. I’m not ready to let go of my long-term goals and I still dream of making a big difference in the world. I just can’t let my focus only be on the future because I’m losing out on enjoying what’s happening in my life right now.

Needing to be Valuable

I’ve had a tough few weeks. I got flu in May and then again last week. But I’m talking so nasty that you struggle to get out of bed and function at all. My two children were sick at the same time and needed a lot of care. I took them both to the doctor and had to administer medication every few hours for a week. My nanny also developed the flu and I was on my own with the kids for a few days.

valuable

I got so angry once I had enough energy. I am tired of being sick and I want to move forward with my career and my life. I know that our lives are exactly the way we created them so I began worrying about whether I’m making myself sick in order to avoid something. Perhaps it’s success, receiving opportunities or something else.

I recently had a meeting with a fellow networker who, on finding out what I have to offer, said “Is that it?” That didn’t do me a lot of good. I started to wonder, is that all I have to offer? What else do I have that’s useful and valuable for the world? I felt small and sad and I doubted this journey I’m on, my purpose and what I’m doing with my life.

Suffering from burnout had a big impact on me. When I got sick, I struggled with my self-concept. All my life, I defined myself by my work. I was a business analyst, a manager, a leader or a business owner. Once I resigned and could not work, I had a crisis of identity. If I could not work, and provide value to the world with my work, was I even valuable? I thought I’d dealt with these issues and found a way to feel valuable without a job title and a label. But I don’t think I have resolved this.

When this guy asked whether I had anything else to offer, I doubted even the things I do know I have.How come it’s so easy to shake me from my foundation when I’ve worked so hard on my new life? And I know I should work on this and have coaching or healing or something to feel more solid in my own value, but I’m tired of it. I’ve worked on myself so much that I actually just want to get on with living.

This year, I’ve accomplished a lot. I’ve distributed my books countrywide, I’m doing PR for my book and I’ve done several speeches. I’m spreading my message in a way that I thought was valuable. I’m working on other projects such as an audio book, and my deck of cards. I’ve done quite a few things and taken action to move my career forward.

However, I’m still not earning anywhere near enough money to cover my costs. And it will take years to build up to the point where I can cover them comfortably. I don’t want to spend another few years in debt and worrying about how much I spend on my tyres and my kids’ clothes.  Knowing you’re valuable is one thing, but paying the bills is another.

Last week I got so angry. I’m doing everything I can to further my calling. I can’t wait around any longer to sell more books and find more speaking opportunities. I’m just done. I’m so done with all this hope and belief. And I feel like a fraud to you, my readers. I feel like I can’t build the happy, successful life I’ve been talking about for years. Sure, I’ve had moments of pure unadulterated joy but it’s moments. That doesn’t feed my family.

So, I’m looking for a job. I’m hoping to do some consulting and to enter the workforce again. At first, I felt sad and disappointed that I could not make my dream work. I felt like a fraud, that I’ve misled my followers. And a fool for hoping to make money off writing and speaking.

But, after some thought, I’ve realized that it can take years to establish my own brand, and maybe I can earn some money in the meantime. Perhaps I can influence others in the workplace to find more happiness in their lives. Perhaps working is a way to reach more people with my message. Perhaps it will also make me feel more valuable which is better for me, and my family.

valuable

Following my passion and getting a job might not be mutually exclusive. Maybe, this is what the next step looks like towards living my best life possible. I can still write and I”ll probably be able to sell more books because I’ll be interacting with more people. I’ve put together my resume and I”m applying for jobs. I know it will be scary to re-enter the workplace after a few years off, but I’ll probably enjoy the work and the people. Hold thumbs for me.